A word of warning about “Grindhouse,” the double feature send-up of 70s exploitation movies from directors Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino: if you don’t get a perverse kick out of watching deliciously bad movies occasionally, then this elaborate joke is probably not for you.
Also, if the thought of a gory zombie movie turns you off, then you will not likely enjoy the Rodriguez entry, “Planet Terror.” Granted, the violence is so over-the-top, it isn’t to be believed, but it can still be kind of disgusting.
We’ve all seen the types of films that “Grindhouse” is paying homage to at some point, whether it was in a theater or on cable TV. Rodriguez and Tarantino clearly love these bad movies and want us to share their joy. Whether or not our enthusiasm for the original product matches theirs, this big-budget wink at the audience is still a heck of a lot of fun. There are the two main attractions, “Planet Terror” and Tarantino’s “Death Proof.” Also featured are several fake trailers from guest directors for movies that look just as awful (yet hilarious) as anything the star directors have imagined.
“Grindhouse” has so far sunk financially, although I imagine the DVD will eventually sell like crazy since it has “cult hit” written all over it. Part of the problem when it comes to box office potential (it sunk to number 10 in its second weekend) is that the movie is a little longer than three hours total. That’s a pretty long time to spend at the movies for what amounts to one big in-joke.
Still, those who have a wicked sense of fun shouldn’t be discouraged because the time goes by in a flash. “Planet Terror” starts us out, and Rodriguez pulls out all the stops in aping the most sensational aspects of the zombie genre. The plot barely matters, but it basically consists of a sheriff’s department in a small town in Texas trying to keep zombie infections at bay. I particularly enjoyed seeing actors from two of my favorite TV shows making extended appearances: Naveen Andrews of “Lost” and Freddy Rodriguez of “Six Feet Under.” Rodriguez plays a biker who rides into town and helps out the movie’s protagonist, a go-go dancer named Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan). His biggest contribution is that after Cherry loses half of her right leg to zombies, he attaches a machine in its place. If that sounds ludicrous, wait until you see her in action. Not that it is any less ludicrous, but it still amounts to some pretty impressive zombie killing.
After the first feature ends, we are treated to several of the fake trailers (the first, “Machete,” actually plays before “Planet Terror”). Rob Zombie kicks off the intermission with the hilarious “Werewolf Women of the SS,” featuring a Nicholas Cage cameo as Fu Manchu. Then there is “Don’t,” which seems to be attempting to set the record for the number of times it can repeat its title in two minutes. The segment is directed by Edgar Wright, who was responsible for the wonderful 2004 British zombie comedy “Shaun of the Dead.” Finally, we have Eli Roth (“Cabin Fever,” “Hostel”) directing a trailer for the last holiday-themed horror movie left: “Thanksgiving.” Hmm. Maybe someone should do a horror movie centered around Earth Day.
Then, we finally get “Death Proof,” the Tarantino feature. It has plenty of the director’s signature qualities. Lots of dialogue with pop culture references, ridiculous situations and lots of humor. It tells the story of Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell), a movie stunt car driver who has an unusual hobby: stalking young women and killing them with his “death proof” stunt car. It is rigged to withstand the worst kind of road abuse. Unfortunately for Mike’s victims, the car is only death proof to the one driving the car.
After Stuntman Mike is introduced, he manages to persuade a blond girl (Rose McGowan in another small role) to ride with him. The initial murder offers Tarantino an excuse to give Michael Parks a cameo reprising his role from “Kill Bill” as a Texas sheriff, who also makes an appearance in “Planet Terror.” We soon meet our three protagonists, who are in town working on a movie. There is the stuntwoman Zoe Bell (Uma Thurman’s stuntwoman in “Kill Bill,” basically playing a version of herself), stunt driver Kim (Tracie Thoms) and makeup artist Abernathy (Rosario Dawson). Zoe has looked up a 1970 Dodge Charger that someone is selling and tells the girls that she wants to test-drive it. Not only that, but she confesses to Kim that she wants her to drive so she can hang off the front hood playing a dangerous game called “Ship’s Mast.” Since Stuntman Mike was introduced to us half an hour before, we have a sinking feeling about where the plot is going. Where it will end, though, is a blast to watch.
Could “Grindhouse” be considered art? Maybe not, but it takes a trashy concept and excutes it about as artfully as possible.