Tuesday, February 1, 2011

At 3 hours, "Grindhouse" is enormous B-movie fun

Grindhouse (2007)
191 min., rated R.
Grade: A

"Grindhouse," Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's double-billed labor of love to grainy '70s-era exploitation films, is more than just a wild, witty, and affectionate replication of everything cheap-o and sleaze-o-rama. Two movies for the price of one, and a total blast. It's a full-bore experience of a night out at the grindhouse-multiplex, with a double-feature attraction divided by concession-stand commercials and four faux trailers, all topped off with deliberately tawdry scratches, hairs and tears in the film, shaky projections, and even entire missing reels as part of the nostalgic fun. 

Rodriguez's "Planet Terror," a gleefully cheesy, way-over-the-top orgy of gore and schlock, pays loving homage to low-budget cannibal zombie pictures. In the Texas backwater, a deadly virus leak by the military results in the town being overtaken by zombies. Rose McGowan is a cheeky, juicy standout as Cherry Darling, a former go-go dancer that adopts a machine gun for a leg, and there are plenty of funny, cute guest cameos in store, one literally coming with a wink. 

Tarantino's feature-length film "Death Proof," a slasher/revenge yarn paying tribute to "Vanishing Point," is more Tarantino than grindhouse in its gabby first half hour and one nasty, gnarly car crash. He lulls us in with lots of smartly written but exhaustingly indulgent chick chitchat for its actors to chew on before setting us up for the kill and paying it all off in one of the most wildly exhilarating (and non-computer-generated) car chases in recent memory, with a satisfying girls-kick-ass finale. Kurt Russell plays big-bad-wolf creepy to perfection as Stuntman Mike, a scarred old stunt driver who psychotically uses his muscle car to prey on women (voluptuous Vanessa Ferlito, Sidney's daughter Sydney Tamiia Poitier, and Jordan Ladd) at an Austin, Texas bar. McGowan reprises her presence as Mike's first victim. He then gets a taste of his own murderous medicine from a quartet of bad-ass Hollywood women (including Rosario Dawson, Tracie Thoms, real-life Kiwi stuntwoman Zoe Bell, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Bell is truly captivating and charismatic, playing herself as the cat-like daredevil who wants to take a for-sale Dodge Challenger for a "test drive," and yes, she does all her own stunts. 

Then there are the trailers (or “prevues of coming attractions”), all hilariously inspired parodies with a tongue-in-cheek kick of their own, that would make great B movies themselves: Rodriguez gives it another go with the X-rated "Machete," which has Danny Trejo as a bad-mutha Mexican (his character cranked up from the innocuously goofy "Spy Kids" movies) and Cheech Marin, a street-smart priest with a stash of weapons; Rob Zombie's "Werewolf Women of the S.S." is a Nazi-lycanthropic gas, featuring a laugh-out-loud surprise cameo by Nicolas Cage as Fu Manchu; Edgar Wright's "Don't" is a spot-on British gothic horror spoof; and Eli Roth's "Thanksgiving" is a giddily disgusting and twisted holiday-themed slasher flick (“White meat, dark meat, all will be carved!”). 

Minus no theatrical intermission, it's three-plus-hours of the bloody, campy, rowdy B movie to end all B movies that only genuine film buffs will “get” and adore. "Grindhouse" may not be high art, but it's a platter of brilliant trash that's so much of a so-bad-it's-good thing.

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