Two exceptional filmmakers, one of whomQuentin Tarantinois his generation's best, pull off the impossible with almost inexplicable greatness and originality from a movie that's meant to suck. And just when you start to concede that movies can't be fun and/or exciting anymore, along comes this shot in the arm.
In the schlocky tradition of the venues after which it is named, Grindhouse is two separate featuresdouble the terrific badness that is exploitation cinema (or quintuple it, if you count the "prevues"). First up is Planet Terror. It opens with stripper, er, go-go dancer Cherry (Rose McGowan) working the stage, her limbs still intact. Later that night, she bumps into an old flame, bad-boy drifter Wray (Freddy Rodriguez), who is something of a human arsenal. Which soon comes in handy when they, along with a select few others (including Marley Shelton, Michael Parks, Michael Biehn and Jeff Fahey), are warding off townsfolk that have turned into blood-lusting zombies after contracting a virus. Of course, Cherry's machine-gun leg (which you've by now seen ad nauseam in the trailer) is also a helpful little gadget for slaying the walking dead. A bathroom break and two fake trailers later, we have Death Proof, whose chief weaponry is a car. Its owner, Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell), has made the driver's seat death proof; that way, whether murdering his young female victims by crashing head-on into their cars or driving at, literally, breakneck speeds, he'll survive. After taking care of a batch of young Austin, Texas, scenesters, he scouts out his next group o' gals (Zoe Bell, Tracie Thoms, Rosario Dawson and Mary Elizabeth Winstead). These ladies, however, aren't exactly afraid of a broken nailor neck.
One trick in Quentin Tarantino's large bag thereof has always been casting. In that vein, career reinvention seems one of his favorite pastimes, and Kurt Russell is Tarantino's latest pet projectthat is, his latest "cool" makeover. Russell wasn't a lost puppy like a pre-Pulp Fiction John Travolta, but the former Snake Plisskena favorite character of Tarantino'sneeded intervention. In Death Proof, Russell reminds us of his roots and that movies such as Dreamer are forgivable offenses. Because here he's psychotic, pathetic and humorous in a role that, although it doesn't actually amount to a lot of screen time, is frankly more believable than Travolta's gangster. By default, then, Rose McGowan is the Kurt Russell of Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror, and what an impeccable bit of casting that was, too. (She also appears in Death Proof.) Having never quite been paparazzi material, McGowan still has an ounce of mystery to her, and as an actress she's devilishly appealing. Thus she was perfect for the role of gun-legged Cherry, and once you mop up your own drool after the opening scene you'll see whybut it's mostly because she's game for anything! Par for the course, there are countless other big names (i.e. Nicolas Cage, Bruce Willis, Dawson, Tarantino himself and Fergie) between these two movies and three trailers. But as always with these two directors, the more obscure, the better. Freddy Rodriguez (HBO's Six Feet Under) is an impossible sell on paper but makes his drifter work somehow; Brolin is, surprisingly, the creepiest between the two movies; Shelton's performance seems more like an audition to someday take over the reigns for Uma Thurman, and she passes with flying colors; and possibly the best performance comes from Thurman's Kill Bill stunt double, Zoe Bell.
The best thing about directors Tarantino and Rodriguez is that they're every bit as enthusiastic as the fanboys that will devour this (double) moviethey're film gods and yet mere film geeks. They know what it's like to sit in a theater and be blown away by the power of the movies they love, and Tarantino is probably doing that right now in his own movie theater with his own movie. If so, he's earned it. Not that Rodriguez is some sort of slouch. His Planet Terror is what any proper zombie movie should be: no-holds-barred nastiness. It's also damn good fun while paying homage to its predecessors. His story is mostly meat-and-potatoesafter all, zombie cinema doesn't allow much wiggle room for writersbut McGowan's arc and, uh, limb deficiency is pure gore genius. Otherwise, it's all blood-and-guts geysers all the time, which, depending upon your tolerance level, is great! After the hilarious, gruesome and jaw-dropping fake trailersfrom Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz), Eli Roth (Hostel) and Rob Zombie (