Do you long for the old days of cheap, exploitative double-feature flicks chock-filled with little plot and lots of gratituous violence and sex? If not, you really need to stay away from Grindhouse, the Quentin Tarantino-Robert Rodriguez double feature that revels in old sleaze nostaglia. There are deliberate elements of old cheap movies -- scratches on the film, "reel missing" announcements as the action is interrupted, fake trailers for more exploitation flicks -- mixed in with modern elements (text messaging, discussions of CGI and Bin Laden) -- but both movies act like they're in the '70s.
The first feature is "Planet Terror," Rodriguez' homage to cool kids and killer zombies. Melodrama abounds as Cherry (Rose McGowan), the go-go dancer with big dreams, meets up with her old flame Wray (Freddy Rodriguez), a bad boy with a mysterious past and dangerous skills. Meanwhile, at the hospital beautiful Dr. Dakota Block (Marley Shelton) is planning to leave her abusive husband Dr. William Block (Josh Brolin) for her lover (Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas). So what else could happen? Zombies!
Thanks to a clash between corrupt scientist Abby (Naveen Andrews) and military officer Muldoon (Bruce Willis), a green gas is released that's turning everyone into disgusting cannibalistic zombies. Who will survive? What is Wray's mysterious past? And will anything this summer be cooler than seeing Cherry wasting zombies with the assault rifle that replaced her missing leg? (The answer to the last is "no.") This movie is impressively superficial, which is both a blessing and a curse: You really get the feel for the simple good-vs.-evil conflicts the old movies gave their patrons, but very few actors stand out. It's sheer exploitation.
Such excess would be welcome in Tarantino's "Death Proof," the second full-length feature in Grindhouse. Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) is an older stuntman, charming ladies at a bar despite his scar. He's also a homicidal maniac, using his specially-reinforced car to terrorize and kill young women. Of course, some of these women have to fight back, leading to a long, wild car battle! This may sound exciting, and the car scenes certainly are, but Tarantino drags down the action with long scenes of dialogue that slow things down considerably. (It's a worse offense since he dedicates large amounts of time to characters who are soon killed and forgotten.) Russell has a fun time as the older guy maneuvering like a shark around the youngsters who ignore or make fun of him.
Grindhouse is fun fluff, albeit gruesome and t&a-filled fluff. It's nothing extraordinary and there's little you'll remember afterwards, but it is a fun ride while it lasts. And be honest: You really want to see the trailer for Werewolf Women of the S.S.
Overall Grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch