by Dawn Taylor
When discussing the films of Quentin Tarantino, detractors will inevitably use the phrase "self-indulgent." They say it like that's a bad thing. Tarantino is, indeed, one of the most self-indulgent American directors working today -- his indulgences, however, are almost entirely cinematic in nature, and if you share his love for low-down, dirty, exploitive, made-on-the-cheap, viscerally entertaining popcorn flicks, then you can't help but love what he does as a director.In Grindhouse,Tarantino and fellow sleaze merchant Robert Rodriguez (Sin City) attempt to recreate the experience of watching a double bill of craptastic 70's low-budget movies, complete with trailers for coming attractions, "missing reels," scratchy film stock and old-school MPAA ratings bumpers. And while they get the flavor right, they fail in one important respect – both their films are just too damn good to be crappy grindhouse fare.
"Who doesn't love muscle cars, hot chicks and pus-spewing zombies?"
Rodriguez's contribution, Planet Terror, is a delicious combination of gross-out horror and take-no-prisoners action flick. Freddie Rodriguez, who played the maddeningly wimpy mortuary assistant on HBO's "Six Feet Under," is El Wray, a mysterious figure who cuts a swath through crowds of disgusting, boil-covered zombies with guns and knives, assisted by his one-legged stripper ex-girlfriend (Rose McGowan), a Texas barbecue cook (Jeff Fahey), a doctor (Marley Shelton) on the run from her crazy zombie husband (Josh Brolin) and the barbecue guy's Sheriff brother (Michael Biehn).
Along the way, limbs get chopped off, stuff blows up, zombie-boils explode disgustingly, and everyone has to get past an infected Army guy (Bruce Willis) and his unit of chemical-gas-sucking soldiers. Rodriguez packs his segment full of every possible element of B-movie mayhem imaginable, from hot guns to hot dames to the ultimate run for the helicopter conveniently waiting outside of town. It's delicious.
Tarantino's picture, Death Proof, is slower and talkier. Sometimes irritatingly so – he's always loved to write scenes that have small groups of characters bantering, and here they go on a little too long and aren't as clever as they could be. But it pays off, with everything leading to a showdown between a psychotic ex-stuntman (Kurt Russell) who likes to kill women with his car, and a trio of women who give him more than he bargained for – famed stuntwoman Zoe Bell (playing herself), her best friend and stunt driver Kim (Tracie Thoms) and their pal Abernathy (Rosario Dawson), who are simply the wrong group of chicks to menace.
Death Proof, while less successful than Planet Terror, still works, and for two reasons – it has one of the best car chases ever filmed, and it has Kurt Russell. Craggy, charismatic and still handsome at 56, Russell is a true movie star and he takes a risk here by playing someone who's creepy, dangerous and just plain evil. When he pits his dead-black, souped-up Chevy Nova against the girls' white 1970 Challenger (an homage to Vanishing Point) it's a nail-biter of a thrill ride, with Bell clinging to the Challenger's hood as the cars race down Texas backroads in an automotive deathmatch.
What's fun about both Grindhouse[/I ]features is that while the directors lovingly offer up a lot of hot chicks in scanty outfits, those same chicks are more butt-kicking heroes than victims. In both pictures, in fact, it's women who ultimately triumph through a combination of street-smarts and competence with guns, knives and cars.Self-indulgent? Absolutely. But delightfully so, making "Grindhouse" a three-hour double feature fever dream, as only Tarantino and Rodriguez could conceive.
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originally posted: 04/06/07 17:39:12