The new film “Grindhouse” is double feature extravaganza penned by two of the more creative filmmakers of our time. It is a three-hour thrill ride (with fake previews sandwiched in between) that has its peaks and valleys. The directors, Robert Rodriguez (“Sin City”) and Quentin Tarantino (“Kill Bill”), are ideal to revive the exploitation genre: low-budget, low-culture films that often ran in double features and were fueled by promises of graphic sex and violence.
Rodriguez’s half, “Planet Terror,” is a straight zombie film that has a head up on other undead films because the two central characters (Freddie Rodriguez and Rose McGowan) are strong and we care about their relationship. The second film, Tarantino’s “Death Proof,” is the better half. It’s a car film (á la “Vanishing Point”) and a slasher rolled into one and features one of the most magnetic characters of the year. Tarantino’s villain is Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell), an affable and eloquent gentleman until he gets behind the wheel of his Chevy Nova. Mike is charming, psychotic, and humorous, and it’s hard to root against him, even when he kills innocent victims with his car.
Which brings up the issue of the other characters in “Death Proof.” The two sets of girls that Mike preys upon are noisy and obnoxious (excluding Vanessa Ferlito), and Tarantino’s trademark dialogue sounds annoying and forced coming out of their mouths. However, Tarantino’s half ultimately succeeds because it is so absorbing once Mike is on the screen and because it contains one of the best car chases in film history. Rodriguez’s film is decent, but it really adds nothing new to its genre.
Though Rodriguez is hampered by an unoriginal story and Tarantino is held back by weak supporting characters and uneven pacing, “Grindhouse” is never boring and is essential viewing for zombie fans or muscle car aficionados.
Gabe Habash can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.