CAPSULE: CAPSULE: Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino set out to recreate the 1970s experience of seeing a bad double feature in fourth run theater. They respectively make sub-films PLANET TERROR and DEATH PROOF. PLANET TERROR is a fairly accurate pastiche of an out-of-control grindhouse film. DEATH PROOF is a frequently dull film with homages to road-rage flicks and non-1970s films. It is more a Tarantino film than a grindhouse one. The wraparounds are better than the two features themselves. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10
I suspect Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino share a sad lament. They were not around to make the sort of half-bad exploitation films they enjoyed when they were growing up. There are very few drive-ins or grindhouse theaters any more and very few small films made for the big screen. Major films have eaten up the industry. Most films we see released to theaters today are something of an event. A new "X-Men" film is an event. New minor films that are not events show up on cable and DVD, but it is not the same thing. Most people probably cannot even remember the last time they saw a film that cost under a million dollars to make on a screen wider than the people are tall. (The exceptions might be THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and Rodriguez's own EL MARIACHI, coming in at about $35,000 and a quarter of a million respectively. Each was released to make them film events.) Rodriguez and Tarantino apparently miss the 1970s, the golden age of grinding out schlock films with lurid scripts for drive-ins and run-down movie houses. Each has made his own idea of such a film and the two have been put in a frame of actual and imitation 1970s material and are being released in a single film. The films are presented in pre-washed, pre-aged, faded form like blue jeans. Each of the sub-films is about 85 minutes, though once we get into the films they seem a lot longer. Pasted together the two films are supposed to be more of a release event, a film greater than the sum of its intentionally minor parts.
Rodriguez understood the project the better of the two directors and made the more appropriate of the two films. His PLANET TERROR is no gem of coherence, and it is made even less so by a supposed missing reel. (This is, by the way, a puzzling touch. I have never seen a film shown that had a title inset claiming there was a missing reel.) The story deals with a Texas town where a military base has been careless with some sort of virus from space that eats people alive and then turns them into flesh-eating zombies. There is a plot line of a stripper (sorry, a "go-go dancer" who pole dances) and her mysterious ex-boyfriend who is much more than he seems at first. Also running around a rogue anesthesiologist with deadly hypodermics. A lot of violence and gore of over-the-top disgust value slops into your face. The film is more of a gross-out film than the originals it imitates. But this film has the 1970s exploitation film feel. It looks like a very bad print with faded colors and scratches all over the screen. It is not a great film, but it is very much the bad film that was intended.
Quentin Tarantino appears to have gotten into making his film and Then forgot what he was supposed to be doing. He gives us a film more Tarantino than grindhouse. After some faded film and scratches at the beginning of his film, he forgets about them later in the film. Nor does his film have the grindhouse feel. Tarantino's films are known for their dialogue. This film has dialogue in spades. His characters endlessly talk just like they would not have done in 1970s action films. He gives us ten- minute stretches of nothing but marking time with irrelevant dialogue. What was original in PULP FICTION (and more interesting there) does not belong here. No grindhouse film would have an unbroken ten-minute scene of dialogue, much less two or three of these sequences. The story deals with a group of girls in Lebanon, Tennessee, who are preyed upon by serial killer. The film turns into an extended road rage chase and smash between two supercharged cars. Kurt Russell plays the killer with a reinforced car. Most of the time DEATH PROOF just spins its wheels and only rarely catches. Tarantino breaks his contract with Rodriguez and with the viewer.
Ironically, what is good about this double feature is not the two films themselves, but the frame they come packed in. There are four trailers for non-existent grindhouse films and faded-to-the-point-of-nausea food ads. This is a film that is strong on nostalgia value for those who remember the 1960s and 1970s exploitation films. I suspect that many of the film critics like the film because they grew up on such exploitation films, but one spends a lot of time waiting for the next gag.
Nostalgia is the main value of the film and it is not even as successful at that as it might be. But at the man says in THE UNTOUCHABLES, "It's not supposed to be good. It's supposed to be *bought*." I cannot say I was glad I bought it. I rate GRINDHOUSE a disappointed 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0462322/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2007 Mark R. Leeper