By Vic Holtreman
Short version: While Planet Terror was a wild ride and a retro blast, Death Proof was a crushing disappointment and absolute torture to sit through.
It really stinks that I have to give a rating to Grindhouse as one film, because the two movies within that make up the double feature are so incredibly on the opposite ends of the scale in terms of a viewing experience. While Robert Rodriguez’ Planet Terror was an absolute BLAST, Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof was excruciatingly boring. We’re talking boring to the point where if I didn’t have to review it I would have walked out. Boring to the point where I wanted to gouge my eyes out just to keep myself occupied, and frankly, that sucks.
I’d purposely avoided reading a lot about this magnum opus of gore, violence and exploitation so that I wouldn’t know too much going in. I did know that Tarantino and Rodriguez are huge fans of the old grindhouse movies from the 70’s and that this was going to be not a modern day version of that genre, but an attempt to make the exact sort of film that defined it. While Planet Terror captured the best of those movies (well, if you can actually use the word “best” when describing this type of film), Tarantino’s film personified the absolute worst.
As I’ve stated before, I try to judge films not just based on how “good” they are from a high-brow perspective, but also within the context of their genre and finally on whether they are entertaining. If I were to score these films separately, I would give Planet Terror about and Death Proof , and believe me that was totally unexpected by me.
Now I’m old enough to have snuck into grindhouse movies when you could actually see them at the movies, so when Grindhouse started with the old “Previews of coming attractions” on the screen with the undulating psychedelic background my face lit up with an immediate smile. I was instantly transported back to the early 70’s (yes, I’m THAT old) and then came the fake trailer for Machete, which broadened the smile on my face even more and had me laughing and cheering out loud with it’s completely period style in both film scratches, dialog, voiceover and action. We were off to an awesome start. :-)
The first movie to be shown was Planet Terror (which is a GOOD thing for you, I’ll explain later) and it opened with the currently hot spicy number Rose McGowan as “Cherry Darling” dancing at what was once called a “Go Go” bar, now more commonly known as a strip club. She’s obviously very unhappy with her lot in life and wants bigger things…. oh hell, what am I doing? Here’s the deal: Renegade soldiers are in a shady deal with a rebel scientist type played by Naveen Andrews (from ABC’s Lost). He has apparently had a deal go bad with the commander of the soldiers, played by Bruce Willis. Some sort of gas is vented into the atmosphere which spreads and causes people to turn into really disgusting looking zombies.
So there’s your plot. Throw in Michael Bien (The Terminator, Aliens) as the local sheriff with Tom Savini (uber gross makeup effects guru/director/actor) as one of his deputies, a mysterious young guy who seems to have a gun fetish, a doctor couple on the outs and a spreading zombie population and we’re off to the races. Once this thing gets going (and it doesn’t take long) you feel like you’re on a gore-filled rollercoaster that just won’t stop. It’s so over the top that it’s incredible… filled both with scenes that are unbelievably ridiculous and just flat out nutty that you can’t help (more if you’re a guy, I suppose) but laugh your head off, especially once “Cherry” gets a machine gun/grenade launcher strapped to her amputated leg.
If you’re into this sort of flick, when it finally ends you feel a kind of happy exhaustion (no, I won’t make the comparison) and you’re primed because you know you’re only halfway through.
Well, folks… PLEASE take my advice: If you want this to be a fun experience THIS is when you should get up and leave the theater.
I AM NOT KIDDING. Sticking around for the second film is a total waste of time.
First off, the intermission trailers, while still pretty good, are not nearly as good as the opening one, plus one of them was SO disgusting that it even put ME off. Yes, I know that’s the point of these movies, but man…
Then we go into Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof. Now I’m thinking, hey, it’s got Kurt Russell (who doesn’t love Kurt in an action movie?) and from what I’ve seen in the trailer I thought this was just going to continue the lowbrow fun. But oh, how very wrong I was.
Did I mention you should have left at the end of Planet Terror?
Ok, fine. You don’t believe me… movie starts with three (or is it four?) young women driving through Austin, arguing about where they’re going to find some pot for the party tonight and how the boyfriend of one of them who’s a radio personality like TOTALLY spaced on her birthday and blah, blah… freaking BLAH. They stop at a store or restaurant where one of them spots an evil looking old Chevy Nova. Same Nova turns up later at the bar where they end up. More female chatting of the type that makes most men’s eyes roll up into their skulls. Sorry, ladies but I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. I know that when my wife has a bunch of her friends over I have to either leave the house or retreat into my office, otherwise it’s like having bamboo shoved under my fingernails.
Anyway, we meet Kurt Russel (Stuntman Mike, they call him) and he kind of picks up and is kind of picked up by a bleached blonde. Although he’s chatting with her at the bar he can’t keep his eyes off of our intrepid group of foul-mouthed ladies. Long story short, he ends up meeting with them on the highway and it doesn’t turn out well for them. At all.
After a brief interlude at the hospital we cut to another four young ladies, all in the movie business, and if I thought the “girl talk” was bad before, I had another thing coming. They talk about the kind of stuff women talk about, except throw in that they’re foul-mouthed with the f-bomb being used in almost EVERY single sentence and that there’s kind of a macho riff to a couple of them despite the fact that none of them are portrayed as lesbians. One of them is a huge fan of an old film called Vanishing Point where a Dodge Challenger with big honking horsepower is driven, and she’s found a seller of one. She doesn’t want to buy it, just drive it.
Now eventually… eventually as in 45 long….. torturous….. b-o-r-i-n-g minutes later, Kurt Russell finally shows up again to wreak havoc on this set of women. Unfortunately by this time I was so mad at having had to sit through so much mind numbing dreck dialog that I couldn’t even enjoy the car chase and what followed. No payoff could have been big enough for having been subjected to about a full hour of excruciating boredom. I don’t know what the heck happened to Tarantino, but if felt like he was channeling Oprah or “The View” through some sort of trailer park filter. It was, in a word: bizarre.
I’ve read that overseas this will be released as two separate movies. I guarantee that Planet Terror is going to leave Death Proof in the dust as far as money made at the box office if they do that.
The saving grace for Grindhouse is that the great half of the movie is the first half, so you can watch it and leave. And I’m imploring you to do so, if you don’t leave and you end up sitting through the entire three hours, don’t come crying to me.
Of course it goes without saying that if you are responsible for bringing ANYONE to this movie who is under that age of about 16, you are an absolute idiot because how this movie escaped an NC-17 rating is beyond me, but that’s the level we’re talking folks. Pay for a freaking babysitter for this one, ok?