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ISSUE 120 VOL 18 PUBLISHED 4/20/2007

'Grindhouse' disappoints

By Stephanie Soucheray
News Editor

Friday, April 20, 2007

Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's “Grindhouse” is a double feature which through winks and nods, zombies and car chases, finds itself too amused with its own tongue -in-cheek pomo film-making to be effective entertainment.

Both Rodriguez and Tarantino are hugely talented filmmakers, and the idea of “Grindhouse,” two movies (complete with fake trailers and scratchy reels) that would both parody and pay tribute to 1970s cheesy exploitation movies, sounds great on paper. But on screen, “Grindhouse,” composed of Rodriguez's “Planet Terror” and Tarantino's “Death Proof,” is a bloated and spotty piece of Gen X filmic indulgences.

Rodriguez's film, “Planet Terror” is a zombie gross-out piece staring Rose McGowan (with her infamous gun leg) and Bruce Willis. McGowan, a down-on-herself go-go dancer, gains self-confidence and ammunition when a noxious gas leak infects the people of her town, turning them into virulent zombies. Rodriguez (“Desperado,” “Spy Kids”) doesn't give the audience much plot, but “Planet Terror” does have its moments of humor.

Even though he soaks his movie in gore and pus, Rodriguez allows actress Marley Shelton some pure physical comedy moments. (Her hands have Novocain in them: That's funny.)

McGowan, pouty-lipped and fortunately removed from her Marilyn Manson days, is a seductive and arresting antagonist. She does indeed wear a machine gun for a leg, and the last victorious scenes showing McGowan roundhouse kicking zombies with a shower of bullets are thrilling popcorn-fare.

Rodriguez, from the first hip-shaking moments of go-go dancing, is clear about his intentions: He is dedicated to making a B-movie, and “Planet Terror,” though tedious, is refreshingly light-handed and goofy.

Not so for Tarantino's contribution, “Death Proof.” Tarantino, a master at blending black humor and violence while stretching actors in against-type roles, falls short with his overtly sadistic car chase movie. Like “Planet Terror,” “Death Proof” lacks plot, but it also lacks humor. Tarantino's scenes of violence and death are not touched with the goofy and farcical, but with the erotic. What follows is an uncomfortable movie with no hero.

Kurt Russell is a maniacal stuntman in “Death Proof,” who for some reason stalks and kills attractive women in his death-proof car. His first set of victims includes the lovely Sydney Poitier (daughter and namesake of Sidney Poitier) who is a radio DJ in Austin, Tex. No one knows why Russell is in Texas, or why he desires to kill, but Poitier's profession as a DJ allows Tarantino (“Pulp Fiction,” “Kill Bill”) to play great oldie gems as Russell stalks, then kills his prey by ramming his car into them. The death scene is problematic in more ways than one: First, it comes almost 30 minutes into a movie that is supposed to be about cars – that's way too late. Second, instead of humor, Tarantino gives us four attractive women whose glossed lips part and hair tosses as they get decapitated, amputated and jolted to death by Russell's car. Tarantino abandons humor in the scene for misogynistic and voyeuristic sexiness, a move that is almost never funny.

The last half of “Death Proof” sees Russell stalking a new set of girls, including Rosario Dawson and New Zealand real-life stunt woman Zoe Bell. The audience has to sit through another half-hour of dry dialogue and forced-raunchy conversations until a car chase appears. This time, however, Russell chooses the wrong girls (stuntwomen themselves) to mess with. After a harrowing 15 minutes (I won't give away all the thrills) the girls give Russell a dose of his own medicine. But unlike McGowan, these women are no heroes, no one you'd want to root for.

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