Plot: It’s two movies for the price of one. The term “grindhouse” comes from the low-budget exploitation films of the ’60s and ’70s, and this homage is replete with missing reels and classic graphics. First up is Robert Rodriguez with “Planet Terror.” Cherry (Rose McGowan) is a go-go dancer and Wray (Freddy Rodriguez) is her old love. Some chemicals get out, which means people become zombies, Cherry loses a leg, and Wray does his best to help her and the rest of the survivors fight, cut, shoot and blow their way out of town. After some fake trailers it’s Quentin Tarantino’s “Death Proof.” Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) has a killer car, and he loves to saddle up to young, unsuspecting women. But really, all he hopes for is a chance to rev-up his muscle car and take them down.
Who’s it for: The perfect audience would be die-hard B-movie fans. But beyond that, this is a movie experience with a lot of over-the-top violence and some definite cringe-worthy moments. And when I say experience, I mean long. So settle in. No seriously, get comfortable. “Grindhouse” is 191 minutes. And don’t bring the kids. I can’t imagine a worse movie getting stuck next to an 8-year-old, except maybe “Eyes Wide Shut.”
Expectations: Insanely high. Both of these directors have made movies I truly love. My only worry was that I don’t adore B-movies. Sure, I had a great time watching 1975’s “Death Race 2000” with some friends, but the joy came from making fun of the movie.
Rose McGowan as Cherry/Pam: McGowan has never been better. In fact, this is the only movie that should be on her resume. I will go on record and say there has never been a better one-legged stripper — er, go-go dancer — in the history of film. McGowan even shows up as Pam in “Death Proof.” It seems like a nothing role, but then, when she steps inside Stuntman Mike’s car … my palms are sweating just thinking about it.
Freddy Rodriguez as Wray: Rodriguez’s phone should be ringing off the hook after this film with tons of offers to be the next big action star. He was perfect (he doesn’t miss), and even was able to look tough while riding a little pocket bike.
Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike: He gets bonus points for the name and his ability to take a punch. There were many things that surprised me with “Death Proof,” and Russell’s performance was one of them. First off, he was infinitely likable in his Icy Hot jacket. Then, late in the film, I couldn’t believe he got me to laugh so much.
Zoe Bell as Zoe: At first, I couldn’t figure out why she was around. Then she got on the hood of a car and it made perfect sense.
Rest of cast: There are too many to list, but Josh Brolin and Michael Biehn prove they should be getting more work. Cameos include B-movies legends and Bruce Willis, Quentin Tarantino and Nicolas Cage. Rosario Dawson didn’t add much for me in this performance, which is rare.
Talking: “Planet Terror” spit out lines such as — “I want your balls.” … “I’m really quite attached to them.” —at the perfect speed. “Death Proof” on the other hand, tries to lull us with long-winded conversations about the boys that women date and other time fillers. Don’t get me wrong, if ANYONE is going to waste my time with dialogue, I want it to be Tarantino, but it definitely took some time getting used to the pace of “Death Proof” compared to “Planet Terror.”
Sights and sounds: The missing reels always happened when we are about to see some skin. Also, the “poor” quality of “Planet Terror” didn’t bother me at all. I actually appreciated it because it felt even more fictional. All of the ratings and feature presentation graphics are fantastic, and look for Tarantino’s usual touches such as Big Apple Cigarettes and Big Kahuna Burger. Also, with “Death Proof,” Tarantino has plenty of time to dust off his record collection and find more great tunes while filming in the insanely awesome city of Austin, Texas.
Best Scene: It comes in “Planet Terror,” and no, it’s not when Cherry gets a machine gun for a leg, though that is good. When Wray goes back to the hospital to rescue Cherry, he isn’t allowed a gun, so he takes two knives. Before this scene, I was having a good time; during it I was euphoric.
Ending: “Death Proof” has the best car chase sequence ever. And it’s a great ending that verges on being silly. The rest of “Death Proof” is just a chance for Tarantino to have conversations and play music. This isn’t bad, but it just doesn’t compare to the joyride of “Planet Terror.” I can’t believe Tarantino and Rodriguez didn’t realize the correct order would have been “Death Proof” first.
Random thoughts: The fake trailers between flicks are fun, but I was hoping for more. I wanted the fake trailers to be movies I would be desperate to see. After all, trailers almost ALWAYS look good. But these trailers were more of a nod to the genre of films, instead of taking them to another level. “Machete,” which is shown before “Planet Terror,” is the best.
Rewatchability: Here’s what I am going to do, go see it again, though I might not stay for “Death Proof.” And I will own this DVD when all the bells and whistles are added.
Overall: “Grindhouse” is a movie theater experience. It needs to be seen at night, with a big screen and lots of friends. There’s nothing better than guilt-free zombie killing and Robert Rodriguez knows this with “Planet Terror.” His ode to B-movies actually becomes the best of that bunch. “Death Proof” made me bored, scared, insanely nervous, annoyed, uncomfortable and I actually ended up liking it. It’s hard to explain. Tarantino and Rodriguez do all the little things right. If only they would have switched the order of the films.
“Planet Terror” gets an A, “Death Proof” gets a B and …
Overall Grade: 9