Grindhouse Movie Review

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Longtime buddies Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez have worked together before (Four Rooms, Sin City), but this takes it to the next level. Grindhouse is their shared B-movie fantasy: a three-hour, bare-knuckled double feature epic, an unapologetic celebration of '70s-era hardcore schlock that's authentic, witty beyond expectation, and unerringly crowd-pleasing.

In a recent TV interview, Tarantino said he and Rodriguez had always wished those low-budget flicks were as good as their posters -- and they set out to achieve that, decades after the movies' heyday. With an obvious passion for the genre, the pair has recreated the experience of being at some cheap Texas drive-in with two features, fake coming attractions, missing reels, local ads, and announcements from theater management. Even if you don't catch on to everything, just watching the package is a complete thrill.

After a trailer for the knife-and-gun-for-hire drama Machete, we launch into Rodriguez' Planet Terror, a zombie gross-out full of mean military, flesh-eating disease and the "best barbecue recipe in Texas." This is the more true-to-form entry of the two movies, from its tacky on-the-mark dialogue to an ass-kicking last stand at a lonely roadhouse. Freddy Rodriguez (Six Feet Under) is the brooding Wray, who... well, we really don't know exactly who Wray is, but the reason for that's a good joke in itself. We do know this: He can shoot anything that moves and was once in love with Cherry (Rose McGowan, superb here), a go-go dancer with one less limb.

Josh Brolin, channeling some of his old man circa The Amityville Horror, nails his role as a strong-jawed doctor overseeing hospital rooms full of zombie blood and flesh while questioning the fidelity of his hot anesthesiologist wife (Marley Shelton). If it all sounds confusingly wild, wait until Wray and Cherry try zipping their way out of a medical wing gone very, very wrong. It's satisfyingly juicy and not for the faint of heart.

After a quick break for some more trailers -- Eli Roth's horror spoof Thanksgiving is happily and disgustingly depraved -- we get to Tarantino's feature, a meal of muscle car mayhem called Death Proof. In ten words or less, homicidal maniac (Kurt Russell) kills innocent girls via car crashes. But with this simple construct, Tarantino creates something more, a wicked study in setup and payoff that had preview attendees screaming with delight.

Death Proof begins like its predecessor, with funky period music and missing frames. But at the midway point, something changes. Instead of just being the joke, the film begins to reference it. Four women, taking a break from their work on a film set, discuss movies like Dirty Mary Crazy Larry -- and then become their own thrill-a-second car chase classic as Russell's stalker comes after them next. Little does he know that a) one chick's a supreme stuntwoman (Zoe Bell, Uma Thurman's double in Kill Bill, playing herself) and b) these hot broads know the meaning of strength in a post-Thelma and Louise world. Sure enough, Grindhouse loses its scratchy visual style and heads firmly into the present, as Tarantino molds one of the best vigilante sequences ever seen.

One reason the finale gets such a visceral reaction is the slow burn of "Tarantino speak" leading up to it. The main characters chew and chew on dialogue in what feels like a long, dry exposition. Is Tarantino really full of his own chitchat, or is he lulling us into comfort so the good stuff gets us to our feet? Whatever the case, it works remarkably well.

Another reason: An all-star turn by Kurt Russell, who calls on Snake Plisskin from Escape from New York only to smash the tough-guy stereotype with a solo performance that had the audience howling.

In total, Grindhouse feels like a real force of nature. The few times it seems more style than substance, some twisted joke or spot-on reference gets it back on track. And eventually sweeps everyone up in its excitement. If Tarantino and Rodriguez were hoping to make a film better than the poster, they exceeded their own expectations.

Let's get ready to grind.

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Grindhouse Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: R, 2007


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