- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 5, 2007

“Grindhouse” is a love letter to those exploitation flicks we watched while our more respectable friends stood in line for “The Deer Hunter” or “Network.”

The double feature is the brainchild of directors Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, two man-children who haven’t forgotten the cheesy films that made them want to direct in the first place.

So why didn’t Mr. Tarantino get his own memo?

Mr. Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror” defines the grind-house experience. Missing reels. (Purposely) scratched prints. A go-go dancer with a heart of gold and a machine gun for a leg. It’s film-geek nirvana.

Then comes Mr. Tarantino’s dull “Death Proof”: All chatter and no splatter, his segment crackles only when Kurt Russell’s craggy face appears.

In Mr. Rodriguez’s “Terror,” a deadly mist is turning townspeople into melting, pus-spewing freaks, and the local hospital and sheriff’s office are quickly overwhelmed.

It’s up to a sure-shot rebel (Freddy Rodriguez), his ex-girlfriend Cherry (Rose McGowan, her ruby red lips a special effect unto themselves) and some survivors to fight back the zombie horde.

“Terror” is awash in garish colors and purposely scratched film stock. The film even blisters and melts before our eyes at one point. As hard as it tries, though, it’s still too slick to really look decades old.

Some actors get lost in purposely awful fare, but Josh Brolin isn’t one of them. He plays a doctor trying to treat the infected citizens, and he’s a righteous combination of surliness and ego.

“Terror” runs on at least 10 minutes too long, but it keeps finding original ways to make us squirm.

A trio of mock trailers in the grind-house mode provide a bloody good intermission. Directors Rob Zombie, Edgar Wright and Eli Roth do the honors here, with Mr. Roth’s “Thanksgiving” horror trailer the best of the bunch.

Then, it’s Mr. Tarantino’s turn to take the wheel.

“Death Proof” starts slowly, squandering the bulk of “Grindhouse’s” good vibes. Four young women, led by a local disc jockey named Jungle Julia (Sydney Tamiia Poitier), hang in an Austin bar, downing shots and talking dirty. It’s what Mr. Tarantino purportedly does best — write witty, realistic banter sluiced with pop cultural references. But here, well, this isn’t his finest screenplay, and these characters rank among his least appealing.

Finally, the camera finds Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) wolfing down nachos at the bar. He’s older and paunchier than anyone else around, but when he flirts with a woman, boy, does she know it.

He offers a ride home to one unlucky lady (Rose McGowan, now a blond) in his car, dubbed “Death Proof” because it can protect its driver from virtually any accident.

Where most serial killers prefer knives or axes, Stuntman Mike uses his car to exterminate his prey.

Mr. Tarantino deserves credit for trying to rescue Mr. Russell from his recent string of aw-shucks roles — and the actor responds with his most magnetic turn in years. Too bad Mr. Tarantino’s arrested development forces him to focus more on the gals. And just when we run out of patience with the initial quartet, we get four more mouthy women.

“Death Proof” does feature a car chase for the ages. It’s also a breakout for Zoe Bell, the Kiwi stuntwoman who stepped in for Uma Thurman in the “Kill Bill” films. She’s a fine, fetching heroine who overshadows her more established peers (Rosario Dawson, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Tracie Thoms).

Of course, Mr. Tarantino peppers his soundtrack with forgotten songs we’ll instantly want to download, but Mr. Rodriguez does him one better by writing his own raucous score. It’s part homage to aged horror films, part twangy rock.

Mr. Tarantino remains the greater talent, but his inability to edit himself prevents him from proving it here.

“Death Proof,” flaws and all, is a more sophisticated, nuanced film than “Planet Terror.” But in the “Grindhouse,” you lose major points for that.

***

TITLE: “Grindhouse”

RATING: R (Nudity, adult language, excessive gore, drug use and violence)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino

RUNNING TIME: 191 minutes

WEB SITE: https://www.grindhousemovie.net/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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