Film >GRUESOME TWOSOME
Grindhouse sort of defies explanation, even though it can be described as Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s love letter to the “grindhouse” double features they grew up on — exploitation movies made on shoestring budgets and packed with blood, violence and oodles of sex. The unexplainable part of it all is: Why does anybody have positive memories of a genre that produced almost universally bad movies? Although that question is never asked during the three-plus hours of this modern-day double feature, once you get past the absurdity of it all, what you get is a one-two punch of fun the likes of which rarely come out of Hollywood.
Rodriguez’s Planet Terror gets first billing and tonally belongs there, as the movie is the less serious of the two and sets up Tarantino’s Death Proof’s heavier mood. It revels in its scratches, its damages to visual continuity, its missing “reels.” On the surface, it is, after all, little more than pure silliness about the zombie invasion of a small town. But Rodriguez, even as he piles on the gore, the hokey dialogue and, yes, even bad one-liners, manages to do something that Tarantino doesn’t manage with his side of the equation: Planet Terror is made up of characters you actually care about, like Cherry, a one-legged go-go dancer with a machine gun as a prosthetic (Rose McGowan) and her ex-boyfriend, a killing machine named El Wray (Freddy Rodríguez). There are even a few moments where you consider shedding a tear. That is, before another zombie’s head explodes or Tarantino’s balls literally melt (he has a part here as “Rapist”).
Death Proof, on the other hand, is split into two halves, the first focusing on three hot friends who are going to hit the bar and, since this is a cautionary tale, act slutty and invite danger. There, they run into Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell), a grizzled but charming movie daredevil with a Charger who happens to be homicidal with a nifty way of killing his victims. A hint: The film’s title refers to a stuntman’s ability to make a car “death proof” by reinforcing every inch of it. Of course, as Stuntman Mike points out, you only really get that benefit if you’re in the driver’s seat.
Death Proof’s second half switches gears and turns our attention to four new gals who are in town working on a movie. Two of these women happen to be stuntwomen, including real-life stuntwoman Zoe Bell (this gives a whole new meaning to actors doing their own stunts). They also happen to be Stuntman Mike’s new prey and, when they set out to test-drive a 1970 Charger, a car-to-car battle royale is set. Of course, Stuntman Mike didn’t know he was dealing with stuntwomen. Not only that, but stuntwomen who can kick ass with cars, pipes and fists.
However, as mentioned earlier, Tarantino’s movie is tonally off when compared to Rodriguez’s. But that’s part of the fun, as they are, at the end of the day, two very different movies from two very different directors — both born out of a similar passion. The real problem with Death Proof, though, is Tarantino, whose dialogue and outstanding camera work (this is his first outing as director of photography) usurp the homage’s effect by drawing too much attention to the auteur’s hand.