Made in: USA
Language: English
Director: Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez
Starring: Freddy Rodriguez, Rose McGowan, Josh Brolin, Kurt Russell, Marley Shelton, Jeff Fahey, Michael Biehn, Bruce Willis, Rosario Dawson, Naveen Andrews, Tracie Thoms, Zoe Bell, Danny Trejo
Year: 2007

Synopsis: Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino each directed a feature length movie then stuck them back-to-back in an explosive two-movies-for-the-price-of-one concept that serves as an homage to exploitation films of the 70's.

Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror is an action-packed sci-fi/horror story about a biochemical agent unleashed by a team of corrupt military guys. The deadly gas mutates the citizens of a small town into a horde of gross-looking zombies that go on a killing/eating rampage that's more horrifying than a bunch of Jenny Craig rejects at the local Sizzler.

A band of survivors led by anti-hero El Wray (Freddie Rodriguez), a one-legged stripper named Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan), and tough sheriff Hague (Michael Biehn) do their best to shoot, stab, dismember, and splatter their way to safety.

Tarantino's Death Proof features the mysteriously charming Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell), who's really a psychopathic stunt driver who is somehow obsessed with killing young women who are either dumb enough to ride in his car or who happen to be sharing the road with him.

Stuntman Mike meets his match when he confronts three hotties (Tracie Thoms, Rosario Dawson, and Zoe Bell) who just happen to be stuntwomen themselves.

The good: Before each feature you'll see trailers for several other exploitation flicks, each promising to be outlandishly gory and cheesy. Complete with bad editing and campy voice-overs, these trailers definitely add a touch of fun to the whole Grindhouse experience. Digitally produced film scratches and intentional sound dropouts also add to the atmosphere.

The over-the-top action and gore in Planet Terror is just about everything you'd expect from Rodriguez. The creativity/silliness/mayhem is plain fun and even heart-pounding when it kicks into full gear.

If you're over the age of 21, this is a great movie to watch while drunk. But if you're stuck being the designated driver, you'll still like it. For Death Proof, the climactic car chase will definitely get your pulse going. Just don't drive like Kurt Russell or Tracie Thoms when you leave the theater. Or if you do, call me in advance so I'll know to stay off the roads.

The bad: Sorry Tarantino, but Death Proof just doesn't quite work as an exploitation flick. If you got drunk and enjoyed Planet Terror, Death Proof would be a pretty rude buzz-kill. Although I'm no expert on this genre during the dark ages of bell-bottoms and bad presidents, this half of Grindhouse has way too much damn talking in it in a similar way that Lord of the Rings had too much walking.

This isn't to say Death Proof is bad. It looks and feels more like an art-house film than something you'd find in an exploitation theater. Story-wise, it feels incomplete and short despite the near-incessant gabbing that goes on earlier. I hate to say it, but this one doesn't live up to the high-octane trailer.

I'm afraid I can't let Rodriguez completely off the hook either, which I will detail below when I give my final verdict…

The final verdict: Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino love their craft, and you'll definitely get a sense that these guys were having fun while making, and coming up with the idea for Grindhouse.

Those exploitation movies of the 70s were campy, silly, and just plain bad. But if you emulate that formula you'll simply make a movie that's, well, campy, silly, and just plain bad. So herein lies the zen-like dilemma: Is it possible to consciously make a campy, silly, "bad" movie that works?

Although entertaining to some degree, I'm willing to bet that a lot of guys who made those sick films of yesteryear did not intentionally set out to make schlock. They were either deluded enough to think that they were making high art or were compelled to make trash because the voices in their heads told them to (and thus couldn’t care less about who watched their stuff).

Rodriguez and Tarantino, as influenced as they are by exploitation films made by hacks, are not themselves hacks. They may be easy-going and open-minded enough to appreciate the genre, but they are too sophisticated to be participating in it.

The acting in Grindhouse is too good, the storyline (of Planet Terror, at least) is too complex, the characters have too much depth, and the dialogue is too intelligent. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that the filmmaking styles of Rodriguez and Tarantino are genres in and of themselves.

And Grindhouse, by this assertion, is the mixing of two incompatible genres (although it may not seem that way on the surface). I mean, would you want Paul Verhoeven directing a Tom & Jerry cartoon? Yeah, both are known for gratuitous violence, but I'd probably leave the theater feeling kind of weird.

The Grindhouse experiment certainly has its moments, but it's not quite mindless enough to be as stupid as it should be. This ironically, is the reason why the film doesn't quite work.

(2 and 1/2 stars out of 4)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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