Saw Grindhouse this weekend. I’ve seen more movies in a movie theater in the past six months than I did in the past three years. Earplugs help tremendously – since most movies are shown with the sound pretty loud, you can hear all the dialogue and ‘splosions yet all the inbreds chatting with their companions and eating popcorn with their mouths wide open seem to vanish. I’m kicking myself that I didn’t think of using them sooner.
Well, anyway, I saw Grindhouse Saturday night and I’ve been processing it ever since. No, it’s not a deep movie by any stretch of the imagination. The only thing deep about it is the dent your ass will leave in your seat thanks to the flick’s 191-minute running time. But the most fascinating thing I found about the whole experience was that I really enjoyed one segment, hated the second, but I can’t stop sulking about the one that sucked.
But actually, the best parts of the whole shebang were the much-ballyhooed trailers inserted before the main features. The trailers worked so well because they all played into the grindhouse aesthetic without having to, you know, construct actual movies around their concepts. My guess is that were, say, Rob Zombie to actually film Werewolf Women of the SS, complete with Nicolas Cage as Fu Manchu, it would be a piece of shit. (Speaking of Rob Zombie: If he ever divorces Sherry Moon Zombie, she’ll never work in movies again – she was in the Werewolf Women trailer for about 17 seconds and she was still outperformed by the props, the costumes and the titles.)
As for the main events…
Planet Terror: A success. The story: Chemical weapons are unleashed on a town in Texas. Most people become mutant zombies; those who are immune band together to battle for humanity’s salvation, or something like that. Lots of shit blows up, and Rose McGowan gets a prosthetic leg.
Robert Rodriguez’s liabilities as a filmmaker became assets in this case. The disjointed narrative was still coherent enough, the violence was suitably over-the-top, the dialogue was the perfect blend of knowing satire and pure Velveeta, the casting was damn near flawless, and of course, the whole machine gun leg thing was pretty cool. The sight of badass El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez) leading the survivors of a mutant attack down the road while riding a child’s toy motorbike was memorable, to say the least, as was Quentin Tarantino’s melting penis. And Fergie gets killed!
Is it stupid? Deliberately so, but it’s fun, too. Every movie can’t be Children of Men, you know.
Rodriguez also made Machete, a fake trailer starring Danny Trejo as a Mexican hired for an assassination who is double-crossed by his employers. Tagline: “They fucked with the wrong Mexican!” Machete was shown at the top of Grindhouse and serves as the perfect introduction. Sadly, Rodriguez doesn’t quite get the joke – apparently he’s making Machete as a straight-to-DVD feature. Why can’t people leave well enough alone?
Which leads us to Planet Tarantino, a.k.a. Death Proof. Quentin Tarantino’s shotgun wedding of road movies and slasher films comes off as My Dinner with Andre clumsily interspersed with bits and pieces of Death Race 2000. If you haven’t already guessed, this is the one that sucked.
Here’s the nutshell narrative: A trio of sexy, sassy women drive to a bar to celebrate a birthday or something, they encounter a mysterious fellow named Stuntman Mike, who ends up driving his death-proof car into theirs, killing them. Then a second gang of sexy, sassy women drive around talking before Stuntman Mike rears his ugly head, ramming their car before the women turn the tables on Mike, eventually tracking him down, running him off the road and beating him up. The End. Oh yeah, spoiler alert!
Seemingly unaware that movies are a visual medium, the mighty QT fills Death Proof with multiple interminable scenes of various hot chicks talking: driving and talking, standing around and talking, sitting around and talking. What are they talking about? Nothing much at all, of course – viewers are supposed to be so dazzled by Tarantino’s flair for scripting naturalistic dialogue and witty banter that the actual content is irrelevant. Tarantino writes dialog like a jazz cat lays down a heavy groove, motherfucker, and if you can’t hang with QT’s scene, then just shut your motherfucking pie hole and go watch The Queen or else I’ll break my motherfucking foot off in your vajay-jay, bitch.
Or so he thinks. The repartee is actually so clunky and artificial that descriptors like “ham-fisted” and “leaden” don’t even begin to scratch the surface. And there is SO FUCKING MUCH of it. These broads never shut up. Again, it’s a movie: show, don’t tell. Everything else is padding, plain and simple.
Furthermore, numerous plot threads are introduced, built up with extensive dialogue, and then dropped, e.g., Jungle Julia text messaging the dude, the two fratboys trying to get the girls drunk enough to date rape, etc. That's just sloppy writing.
What’s worse is the casting. Sydney Poitier’s Jungle Julia is an unlikable bitch. Jordan Ladd plays… some blonde chick wearing a Tura Satana t-shirt that was put there simply to impress the movie geeks (yeah, I caught it, but I’m omnipotent like that). Stuntwoman Zoë Bell plays… stuntwoman Zoë Bell, and let’s just say that as an actress, she’s a fine stuntwoman.
Worst of all, Tracey Thom as Kim gives a performance that would make Wanda Sykes blush, as it’s full of all the worst stereotypical “sassy black chick” mannerisms and inflections you can think of. It’s like Thom thought she was in an episode of The Parkers, not a Hollywood film, and in fact, it’s actually offensive; it’s such a broad, cartoonish characterization that Tarantino might as well have cast a white woman and put her in blackface.
(Speaking of crap acting, Tarantino himself couldn’t act wet if he fell out of a boat, but naturally, he has “cameos” in both Death Proof and Planet Terror, just like he does in every other damn movie he’s ever made -- remember the meme that was running around that went “He’s an actor, but he really wants to direct?” Tarnatino’s a director, but he really wants to act.)
Elsewhere, Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Lee, a vapid actress who is too girly to keep up with the main trio of cool chicks, who drop references to old movies and muscle cars and the difference between Aussies and Kiwis while Lee talks about an ex-boyfriend who liked to watch her urinate (that’s Tarantino being edgy). Lee was obviously written as comic relief, as someone for the audience to zero in on and scorn: “What a stupid bitch! She’s never seen Vanishing Point!” (All the little Tarantino acolytes in the audience have most likely never seen Vanishing Point either, but they wouldn’t dare admit that QT dropped a reference that they weren’t intimately familiar with.) But Lee comes off as perhaps the most sympathetic and certainly the most realistic character in the whole segemnt. Go figure.
Meanwhile, of course, this flick is allegedly about crazy Stuntman Mike and his ultra mega badass death proof car (it’s called Death Proof, after all), so you would think there might be lots of footage of the car speeding down wide open highways, peeling tires and the titular vehicle demonstrating is very death-proofness, but apparently Tarantino thought the gals yammering away about their boyfriends and, of course, Vanishing Point, was way more interesting.
The ultimate punchline is that Grindhouse debuted at a modest #4, well below the expected box office totals it was assumed it would garner. Hopefully this will inspire studios to reign in Tarantino's worst tendencies, which are on ample display in Death Proof.