Half of Grindhouse (Weinstein Co., 4.6) — okay, 55% or 60% — gave me a kick that I haven’t gotten from a mainstream film in a long, long time, and I owe 100% of that pleasure to director-writer Quentin Tarantino, who is definitely back in the saddle with this one and going yippie- ki-yay.
Everyone knows that Grindhouse is a double-feature movie — a pair of late-’60s style exploitation flicks intended as a jaunty tribute piece. Created by Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, it’s a film that samples and comments upon a long-dead genre without really “being” anything itself except for a showcase of hip-rich-guy attitudes. But for a film that runs just over three hours (i.e., 184 minutes) it’s a live-wire, better-than-okay ride. The problem is that it starts with a semi-dud (Rod- riguez’s Planet Terror) that you have to sit through in order to get to the really good one, which is Tarantino’s Death Proof.
Planet Terror is a tired, gloppy and mostly groan-worthy zombie movie except for Rose McGowan‘s pistol-hot action scenes with her prosthetic machine-gun leg. But Death Proof , the Tarantino film starring Kurt Russell, is a sexy, sassy hot-chick flick boasting one of the most exciting car-chase sequences in cinema history…seriously.
And no fake-ass CG footage! Every last frame in Tarantino’s car chase, shot on windy roads in the golden sloping hills north of Santa Barbara, is apparently 100% real and totally pedal-to-the-metal, and therefore on par with the car chases in Bullitt, the original Gone in 60 Seconds, Vanishing Point, Ronin, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry and any other contender you can name.
My favorite Grindhouse one-sheet
But the fundamental thing is that Grindhouse is a beautifully recreated atmospheric revisiting of the world of scuzzy B movies of the ’60s and ’70s, complete with scratches, dirt, sound pops, cheesy trailer lead-ins, and all the low-rent touches that make you feel as if you’re watching the film in some sorry-ass cave in some skanky section of Oakland or Cleveland or Elizabeth, New Jersey in 1971. It’s a high-tech recreation of an analog, low-tech movie world that no longer exists.
Plus it has three (or is it four?) fake trailers for three or four other fake-scuzzy films, directed by Rob Zombie, Shawn of the Dead‘s Edgar Wright and I forget who else.
Planet Terror is a bloody, gutsy slime-gore piece about zombies stalking and devouring a small Texas town. It’s Dawn of the Dead with gobs and gobs of yellow pus and karo syrup and animal guts, but without the class or the wit or the quiet character moments. It doesn’t advance the zombie genre one iota — it’s a total cheeseball retread. In a post-millenial context I guess I’m a confirmed 28 Days Later type of guy — I believe in muscle-bound, red-eyed zombies who run a mile in under 200 seconds, and I get no kick from the old zombie-shuffle of yore.
I’m being as nice as I can in saying that this plate of Rodriguez ghoulash is barely tolerable. For me it was mostly icky, pussy, coarse, tedious, gross, sloppy and (after 25 or 30 minutes) borderline dull. I loved the hot-chemistry attitude that McGowan and costar Freddy Rodriguez bring to their battling-ex-lover roles, but not enough to change my basic feelings.
Take away the car-chase finale and the Tarantino flick is almost all sublime, groovy-chick dialogue. This is Tarantino amblin’ country, all right — a place where very cool people (i.e., ’70s “street” archetypes) talk and talk and say it just right while sipping a Corona or smoking a Red Apple cigarette or eating a Big Kahuna burger. And yet Death Proof is not, to put it mildly, concerned with notions of unity. It’s a scattershot thing that’s basically two short films in one. Two separate moods or tones and two separate female ensembles linked by Kurt Russell’s “Stuntman Mike” character.
It starts out as a cruising-chicks-in-a-muscle-car movie, then it turns into a hanging-around-an-Austin-juke-joint, Eugene ONeil/The Iceman Cometh piece with Stuntman Mike putting the zen moves on a Hispanic hottie (Vanessa Ferlito) as her friends (Sydney Tamiia Poitier and I forget who else — the press notes should have photos to go with the cast bios) offer snappy commentary. Then it suddenly shifts into a supernatural-psycho-killer-after-hot-girls movie ending in a major wipe-out/head-on collision sequence (with individual death-and-dismember- ment shots thrown in), and then finally a hot-chicks-get-even film ending with that balls-out country car-chase.
It’s a foxy, half-crazy, smirky B-movie wallow with nary a thought or a theme of any kind, but it’s a complete fuck-all pleasure to just rock and ride along with, and the car-chase finale (the star of which is New Zealand stuntwoman Zoe Bell, who stunt-dubbed for Uma Thurman in Kill Bill) is the absolute shit.
No question about it — Tarantino really adores and understands women on a certain level, and nobody right now writes better tough-chick dialogue. Death Proof is junk, but it’s a tasty, revved-up thrill — a real fast-car, hot-chick high with back- country blacktop thrills a’plenty. Russell rules (although he’s much cooler in the beginning, when he’s a settled, contented barroom smoothie, than when he’s called upon to turn fierce and psycho — a shift that makes zero sense) but Zoe Bell is the break-out star.