REVIEW: Grindhouse (Robert Rodriguez & Quentin Tarantino, 2007)

It's no secret to subscribers to Tarantino that the guy's a massive fan of "grindhouse" films - exploitation pictures you never hear about from the 70's that usually showed in cheap, smelly theaters - and he considers the stylings therein more or less a lost art. It is with this in his fanatical mind that he has gotten together with his friend and frequent collaborator Robert Rodriguez to create an homage experience to the double-features of old with Planet Terror, a zombie action thriller, and Death Proof, a fast and furious driving movie. Each 90-minute piece features a menagerie of both vaguely and vividly familiar talents who are either established (Bruce Willis, Kurt Russell), looking to become as such (Freddy Rodriguez, Marley Shelton), or simply a regular with the Troublemaker/A Band Apart studios (Michael Parks, Jonathan Loughran) and everyone involved seems to be having a great time.

A great time was assuredly had by the two feature directors, at least. Rodriguez is known for constantly pumping out films left and right while Tarantino (who is beginning to look like someone punched a young Randy Quaid in the face) does a lot of talking on the subject but doesn't seem to do any work to give his talk legs. In these respects, Grindhouse was the perfect forum for each of them to have some fun. Rodriguez could take it relatively easy with a more fun and loose piece while Tarantino could get back behind the lens without exerting the effort that one of his larger ideas like the much-discussed Inglorious Bastards would require.

For the most part, fun is to be had by the audience as well. I could complain about many aspects of Rodriguez' Planet Terror not appealing to me, but I think it simply comes down to taste. More importantly than the fact I've never genuinely enjoyed a Rodriguez picture (despite my great respect for his production style and often awesome editing that does indeed rear its sexy head here), I'm just not a horror buff so a lot of what the first double-feature installment has to offer doesn't work for me beyond uncomplicated amusement. I could also praise Tarantino's Death Proof for being more up my alley with its stellar antagonist and orgasmic soundtrack but the way Tarantino neatly giftwraps and sells it to us just works better for me on an aesthetic level.

Being a greater fan of Tarantino in general, I noticed several things about Death Proof that simultaneously add to and take from it. 'Tino spends a lot of time performing what I'll refer to as 'cinematic masturbation' during which he has his characters discuss the very films his work is inspired by and certain elements from his previous films (sets, recurring characters or fictional brand-names) make appearances. With a greater storyline these Askewniverse-esque, self-celebratory (and admitedly, occasionally fun) excursions would likely be less obvious and see greater successes. Also, the lack of a constant Rodriguez-style barrage of special effects gives the piece a more authentic feel while the overabundance of falsely bad reels and the like from Planet Terror also takes a major backseat. Beyond the taste factor, this is why I prefer Tarantino's handling of homages. As he presented extensively with Kill Bill and somewhat with Jackie Brown, his modernization of older filmmaking techniques and specific signatures of certain directors works in favor of originality while Rodriguez' film feels like a typical big-budget blockbuster of today that happens to have a bunch of computerized chemical burn.

So overall both major elements of this double-feature, particularly the latter despite its often idiotic characters, are enjoyable and well worth going out of your way for. The minor additions like fake trailers, age restriction warnings and advertisements are also just as fun as you've likely heard they are even if the movies themselves fail in their attempts at authenticity by using "grindhouse" traits only to their conveniences rather than truly teleporting the pieces back to the 70's. Let's just hope that Tarantino has gotten it out of his system and he'll now move on to something original!

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