GRINDHOUSE, directed and written by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, with Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodríguez, Kurt Russell and Rosario Dawson. An Alliance Atlantis release. 185 minutes. Opens Friday (April 6). Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
I remember fondly the first time I saw New York's 42nd Street in the fall of 1978, a block of nothing but movie theatres, all playing double and triple bills, and almost every film completely disreputable.
It was a street where Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia was on the bottom of a double bill continuously for the years I lived in New York.
Having gained a good chunk of my post-secondary education hanging out in movie theatres where the price of a hot dog was often higher than the cost of a triple bill, I'm more than usually qualified to comment on Grindhouse, the twin bill from Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez that strives to give us 70s-style horror and action movies in one overpriced, multiplexed package.
Each has directed a short feature, Rodriguez taking on the zombie movie, sort of, with Planet Terror, and Tarantino taking on redneck road rage in Death Proof.
We should note that Rodriguez
has been doing content-free, over-the-top action movies for years (Desperado and Once Upon A Time In Mexico are grindhouse movies par excellence), and Tarantino's Kill Bill could have been called Grindhouse, given its canny tributes to Shaw brothers martial arts films, blaxploitation and Sergio Leone westerns.
Here, they've tricked out the packaging: scratchy prints, missing shots and trailers that run between the movies done by director pals like Eli Roth (Hostel) and Edgar Wright (Shaun Of The Dead). It's a postmodern package more than mere homage.
So, looking at Grindhouse from the perspective of the grindhouse - which, despite their claims, Rodriguez and Tarantino are a bit too young to have - I've got some problems.
First, where's the nudity? Rose McGowan is playing a "dancer" in Planet Terror and she never drops her top? What kind of exploitation director are you, Rodriguez, if you can't get a C-lister like McGowan to take off her shirt for your art? You've been making kids' films for too long.
Likewise, Tarantino, you have all these attractive young females in Daisy Dukes and tank tops in a rural setting and they never decide to go skinny-dipping? There's a lot of gratuitous dialogue that could've hit the cutting-room floor. So where's the gratuitous nudity? (QT does tend to shy away from sexuality in his films. He's much more comfortable with the killing than the kissing, which helps explain why he's a god to the fanboys.)
Second, what's with all the talking, QT? Is this leftover dialogue from other scripts that you decided to use to paper over the cracks in Death Proof?
People didn't talk much in grindhouse movies. They tended - even in the slower, more innocent 70s - not to go much more than five or six minutes without a killing or a fight or some hiatus-ing TV bimbo taking off her shirt. Unless you grew up going to a grindhouse where they showed Eric Rohmer movies, Death Proof is way too chatty. Shut up and kill something.
In favour of Grindhouse, Planet Terror is almost ridiculously fun, and Freddy Rodríguez and McGowan are pitch-perfect casting for this sort of zombie extravaganza. They're big enough that the audience kind of knows who they are, but not so big that they obscure the real reason for the movie, which is the dripping pus effects and explosions.
The trailers are also fun. Edgar Wright's Don't Scream achieves an eerie tonal perfection for the trailers of the "Don't go in the basement" era, and Rob Zombie's Werewolf Women Of The SS includes all the gratuitous nudity that you'd hope for in the main features, as well as a jaw-dropping cameo.
Death Proof has a great car chase. I wish I had something else nice to say about this segment, but great car chase is about it.
Back in the day, when you could hit the old Harris on 42nd Street at 10 am for a double bill and you'd just wander in and see what there was to see, a great car chase was often enough. It was two bucks and there was another movie, and no one thought Michael Pressman was a big auteur.
But Grindhouse claims to be an arexperience. As such, it needs more.