April 12, 2007

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Grindhouse (R)
Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez team up to produce not just a violent movie full of skin and explosions, not just two violent movies full of skin and explosions but a whole skin-, explosion- and violence- filled experience, as though you were attending some kind of Pulp Fiction interactive dinner theater, in Grindhouse, a fabulous double feature movies Planet Terror and Death Proof, two tales of blood and butts.

Signs in the lobby of the theater warn you not to complain about the skips, scratches and missing reels of Grindhouse — the movies were made to show off the grime of the period to which they are an homage. (There is a 1970s aesthetic to these films though technically these movies take place in the present day.) From the first shaky, blurry title cards telling us of “prevues” (which then leads to a hilarious trailer for a movie called Machete), Grindhouse puts us in the sticky-floored, dirty-lens theaters that would run a marathon of movies where over-glossed lips and belly-baring shirts are more important to the success of a movie, than, say acting or plot or even including all the reels.

So who’s the fairest movie maker of them all?

Robert Rodriguez starts the party with Planet Terror, a tale of military-created zombies who take over a Texas town. Cherry (Rose McGowan) is a go-go dancer-looking for a better life but who soon finds herself minus a leg after she’s in a car accident and cannibal zombies run off with her severed leg. When she wakes up in the hospital, she soon finds that she and her ex-boyfriend Wray (Freddy Rodriguez) are some of the few people left not infected by a horrible boil-causing illness that turns an ordinary person into a mutant cannibal. Teaming up with Dr. Dakota Block (Marley Shelton), barbecue expert J.T. (Jeff Fahey), his brother the sheriff (Michael Biehn), a scientist named Abby (Naveen Andrews) and a small group of other un-infecteds, Cherry and Wray must fight back the zombie hordes, find a way around an equally sinister army and get to safety so that they can perhaps repeat the sex scene that we don’t see because the film burns out and then a reel goes missing.

After an interlude of fake local business ads and more movie trailers — (Werewolf Women of the SS directed by Rob Zombie; Thanksgiving directed by Eli Roth, and Don’t Scream directed by Edgar Wright), Quentin Tarantino’s tale begins. In Death Proof, the demented Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) gets his jollies by freaking out the girls with his tricked out stunt car. The first victims we see are a group of girls hanging out at a bar in Austin, Tex. First Pam (McGowan) gets a very short ride home and then a foursome of girls (Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Monica Staggs) is stalked by Stuntman Mike and his very scary black car.

When he picks his new victims, however, Mike might find himself outmatched. Stunt drivers Kim (Tracie Thoms) and Zoe (Zoe Bell) and their plucky friend Abernathy (Rosario Dawson) prove to be girls well-equipped to take care of themselves.

Planet Terror and Death Proof are both fantastically kick-ass movies, though they are kick-ass in different ways. Planet Terror is campy and delightfully silly even during its moments of horror. Limbs are torn, heads explode, bubbling flesh boils explode into goo and giddy spurts of blood decorate every piece of scenery. There is a cheerfulness to all the gore and a chipperness to the high camp of every line of cheese-coated dialogue. It is a crispy order of fries, a greasy tub of chicken, an extra-loaded plate of super nachos to enjoy each fast-foody morsel of this fryolatered movie. The cast takes it seriously so we and Robert Rodriguez don’t have to — few movies so blood-soaked have been so much gleeful fun, from the camera angles to the big gaudy shades of red that seep through every aspect of the scenery to the overwrought dialogue.

Death Proof takes us back to the self-conscious unselfconsciousness that defined cool in the early Tarantino oeuvre. Only this time, instead of black-tied men, we have groups of women, most sporting short shorts, idiosyncratic hair and a sort of all-over shininess. In the cases of both girl groups who meet up with Stuntman Mike, we meet them first through their conversations — the kind of fascinating, slang-filled, exaggeration-laced conversations about nothing in particular that make Tarantino movies as fun to listen to as they are to watch. The juxtaposition of these calm moments and the sudden bursts of extraordinary car-violence help give Death Proof its punch.

Grindhouse isn’t just a double feature but an amusement park ride, one that roller coasters you through the scary minds of both Rodriguez and Tarantino with brief sidetrips to the warped minds of their friends. And even at more than three hours long, it’s a ride I’d happily get on again and again. A-

Rated R for strong graphic bloody violence and gore, pervasive language, some sexuality, nudity and drug use. Written and directed by Robert Rodriguez (Planet Terror) and Quentin Tarantino (Death Proof) as well as guest direction from Eli Roth (for fake trailer for Thanksgiving), Edgar Wright (fake trailer for Don’t Scream) and Rob Zombie (fake trailer for Werewolf Women of the S.S.), Grindhouse is three hours and 11 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Dimension Films.