"Grindhouse" is an homage to 1970s exploitation movies – an homage to badness. Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, best known for "Sin City" and the "Spy Kids" films, combine forces to create a double bill: Tarantino's "Death Proof" is a joy riding "girls meet psycho stalker" flick while Rodriguez's "Planet Terror" aims to be the ultimate zombie movie.
A perverse glee runs through both halves of this film, which, along with a slew of hilarious trailers for mock movies such as "Machete" and "Werewolf Women of the SS," runs over three hours. The trailers may, in fact, be the highlight of the package in terms of sheer lowdown grunginess, and are the handiwork of Rodriguez, Eli Roth, and Edgar Wright.
"Planet Terror" is a straight-faced gross out involving an influx of zombies who invade a local community and overrun its hospital. Despite all the sicko shenanigans, a sort of love story of sorts emerges between go-go dancer Cherry (Rose McGowan) and her heroic ex (Freddy Rodriguez). Cherry achieves her apotheosis when she replaces her severed right leg with a machine gun and blasts away at the advancing hordes. The splat quotient is very high.
"Death Proof" is essentially two extended sections: In the first, a trio of girlfriends (played by Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd, and Sidney Poitier's daughter, Sydney) tool through Austin, Texas, and have a doomy encounter in a bar with Stuntman Mike (a low-key, maniacal Kurt Russell), whose Dodge Charger is reinforced for movie stuntwork so that it's – you guessed it – "death proof." In the film's second phase, Mike gets his comeuppance when he goes up against three Tennessee stuntwomen (played by Zoe Bell, Tracie Thomas and Rosario Dawson) in their Dodge Challenger.
Unlike "Planet Terror," "Death Proof" is more of a riff than a homage. Tarantino devotes a great deal of time to scenes of the women just sassing each other – at times it's like a grindhouse version of "The View." But the dialogue is good and the action, once it starts, is scary-funny, and done without a single CGI effect.
In all, it's a fun exercise in nostalgia but a three-hour homage to grade Z movies is a long sit. Grunge overload sets in early.
Tarantino has often fetishized movie trash, and at his best he allows us to share in his nut-brain ardor. The problem is, there is only so far you can go in this direction without fatiguing not only the audience, but also yourself. Tarantino may have moved beyond the grindhouse conventions he has routinely championed. The extended sequences with the women in "Death Proof," before the blood and the vroom-vroom set in, could be his newfound attempt to humanize his people instead of treating them as car-crash mannequins. He has such a good loosey-goosey feeling for the back-and-forth jabber of girlfriends that you almost wish he had jettisoned the skidding U-Turns and just made a film about women hanging out. Grade: B+
• Rated R for strong, graphic, bloody violence and gore; pervasive language; some sexuality, nudity, and drug use.