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Grindhouse (April 4/07)

Grindhouse, as has been endlessly covered in the media, consists of two full-length movies from filmmakers (and close pals) Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino - with the flicks, Rodriguez's Planet Terror and Tarantino's Death Proof, augmented by four phony trailers (there's one right at the start and three during the "intermission"). And although it inevitably becomes clear that both flicks would've benefited from some serious cutting - at close to 90 minutes apiece, the movies are each overlong by at least a half hour - there's certainly no denying the effectiveness of Grindhouse as an overall experience (one that virtually demands a viewing within the context of as large and enthusiastic a crowd as possible).

Following an inspired trailer for a bloody revenge flick called Machete, Grindhouse opens with Planet Terror - a sci-fi/horror romp that is, as one might've expected from Rodriguez, a sporadically thrilling yet thoroughly uneven piece of work. The storyline - which follows several characters (including Freddy Rodriguez's Wray and Rose McGowan's Cherry) as they're confronted with an airborne virus that essentially turns its victims into blood-thirsty zombies - has been peppered with a whole host of expectedly campy and distinctly over-the-top elements, and it's clear right off the bat that Rodriguez has absolutely no illusions as to the sort of film he's making here (this is, after all, a flick that eventually sees one of its characters sporting a machine gun as a prosthetic leg).

Problems ensue once it becomes clear that Rodriguez simply doesn't have enough content to sustain a feature-length running time; the subsequent inclusion of various instances of overt padding (ie much more exposition than necessary) ultimately leaves little doubt that the whole thing would've worked better as a short. That being said, there are number of genuinely exciting sequences to be had - ie a fantastic moment in which Rodriguez's Wray storms a crowded hospital and takes on one zombie after another - and the movie is certainly never flat-out boring.

While Tarantino's Death Proof is undoubtedly the stronger of the two efforts, the film - until it reaches its action-packed third act - essentially brings the proceedings to a dead halt. For the most part, Death Proof is a comedy/drama revolving around four female friends (including Zoe Bell's Zoe and Rosario Dawson's Abernathy) and their various pop-culture laced conversations - with sporadic appearances by Kurt Russell's mysterious Stuntman Mike character. Tarantino has crafted a movie that would've surely worked better as a standalone piece of work, as there's just no mistaking it for anything other than the latest effort from the filmmaker.

Then again, there is that final half hour - which is far more compelling and flat-out entertaining than anything in Planet Terror. Russell easily delivers one of the most entertaining performances of his entire career, with the inclusion of one scene in particular (featuring a freak-out of epic proportions) that's easily worth the price of admission. Likewise, Tarantino has done a fantastic job in offering up an old-school car chase that's easily the best of its kind to come along in years (something that's due in no small part to the apparent total absence of CGI).

One final note: Those infamous scratches and assorted defects that have been purposefully added to the film contribute very little to Grindhouse's overall effect, as the novelty wears off after about 10 minutes (curiously, said problems are entirely absent from Death Proof - though this may be a result of the film not being ready for the initial round of press screenings).

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© David Nusair