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(2007) (Rose McGowan, Kurt Russell) (R)

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"Planet Terror" - Horror: Inhabitants of a small town must deal with an experimental gas that turns people into boil-covered zombies.

"Death Proof" -- Suspense: A man terrorizes two separate groups of young women with his reinforced muscle car.

Directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez provide a double-feature bit of homage to exploitation films of the past.

In "Planet Terror," Cherry (ROSE McGOWAN) is a go-go dancer who wants a change in her life. She unexpectedly gets it not long after meeting her ex, Wray (FREDDY RODRIGUEZ), at a barbeque joint run by JT (JEFF FAHEY) where a young woman, Tammy (STACY "FERGIE" FERGUSON), is having car troubles.

She's the former lover of anesthesiologist Dakota Block (MARLEY SHELTON) whose marriage to fellow physician Bill (JOSH BROLIN) is on the rocks. The various strained relationship issues fall by the wayside, however, when an experimental gas created by biochemical engineer Abby (NAVEEN ANDREWS) for military man Lt. Muldoon (BRUCE WILLIS) develops bad side effects. Covering anyone it touches with horrendous boils, the gas also seems to turn the afflicted into zombies.

With Sheriff Hague (MICHAEL BIEHN) and his men on the case, those fortunate enough not to be infected try to avoid and must battle the zombies who want to infect and/or kill them.

In "Death Proof," Jungle Julia (SYDNEY TAMIIA POITIER) is an Austin, Texas deejay who's out celebrating with her friends Shanna (JORDAN LADD) and Arlene (VANESSA FERLITO). They end up in a bar where weathered stunt driver Stuntman Mike (KURT RUSSELL) has agreed to give a ride to Pam (ROSE McGOWAN). Belying his friendly demeanor, he proceeds to terrorize all of them.

Some time later, New Zealander Zo (ZO BELL) has joined friends Kim (TRACIE THOMS), Abernathy (ROSARIO DAWSON), and Lee (MARY ELIZABETH WINSTEAD) during their hiatus from some filmmaking. Zo is desirous of taking an old Dodge Challenger out for a spin, hoping to perform a stunt with Kim who happens to be a stunt driver. With Abernathy in tow and Lee left back with the owner, the women set out for some driving fun. Their plans are shortchanged, however, when Stuntman Mike decides to have some deadly fun with them, unaware of their resolve to get even.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
For those who fear for the future of moviemaking due to many of tomorrow's filmmakers being raised on video games and music videos today, one can always be assured that those currently making movies didn't necessarily always watch the crme de la crme back in their formative days.

Of course, that could explain why so many contemporary movies are bad, but at least there are some filmmakers who know what they're doing and have an appreciation of who and what preceded their places in the biz. Chief among them is Quentin Tarantino, a self-professed film geek who turned his encyclopedic knowledge of all things movies into a lucrative and acclaimed career behind the camera.

Following the success of films such as "Pulp Fiction" and the "Kill Bill" pictures, he's now decided to do a bit of homage to one of his favorite moviemaking styles and presentations. Named after those various sorts of films, "Grindhouse" is an anomaly in today's slickly produced, corporate world of filmmaking if, for anything, simply being a double feature like they used to show in old, rundown, urban theaters.

With friend and fellow filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, Tarantino has crafted a release that truly fits the bill of not making them like they used to. For those not familiar with the grindhouse approach, those were releases of the 1960s and '70s that were nothing but purely exploitative flicks, often shot in a hurry and usually on ultra low budgets.

From cheap horror pics to foreign martial arts movies, blaxploitation films and much more (including movies about women in prison, vigilantes and such), the releases moved from city to city and theater to theater, getting progressively scratched and losing footage and even entire reels in the process.

All of which led to some of their charm, at least in the eyes of aficionados. Tarantino and Rodriguez (along with a handful of guest directors such as Eli Roth, Edgar Wright, and Rob Zombie) are obviously among them. Accordingly, they've attempted -- and mostly succeeded at -- recreating that grindhouse experience.

From the double feature itself to faux movie trailers of coming attractions, cheap looking ads and primitive graphics and such commonly seen in movies decades ago, the filmmakers have obviously had fun with the approach. That's even if the film's target audience won't likely get most of those cultural references and the dredging up of cinematic cultural memories for those over the age of 40.

Following a funny fake movie trailer for "Machete" (featuring Danny Trejo, Cheech Marin, many guns and the title object), Rodriguez gets first crack at the homage with "Planet Terror." With plenty of scratches (that, sorry kids, isn't remotely original), rough edits, warbly sound, bad acting and less than state of the art special effects, the director of "Sin City" and those "Spy Kids" films tries his hand at the zombie genre.

While there are some fun, funny and decidedly over-the-top gory moments (and the likes of Michael Biehn, Jeff Fahey and Josh Brolin among others obviously having fun chewing on the scenery), the film follows a number of recent zombie flicks. Thus, it doesn't quite have the innovative punch it might have had if audiences hadn't been inundated of recent with the living dead.

The money shot for this film, however, and that for which most fan boys are probably salivating after seeing the trailers, is that of Rose McGowan playing a go-go dancer sporting a high caliber machine gun/canon where her leg once existed before zombies ripped it from her scantly clad and quite buff bod.

Instantly comfortable with the new hardware appendage (that replaces a crude peg leg she uses to put guest star Tarantino -- as a sadistic military rapist -- in his place), she dispatches the zombies with relative ease and kick-butt glee, not to mention some impressive firepower usually not associated with that part of the body. That development thankfully gives the first film some figurative and literal kick near its conclusion, thus preventing all of the standard run and shoot the zombie scenes from becoming too redundant.

Following additional primitive graphics and a few more faux trailers (including one making fun of Thanksgiving being the next holiday of choice for a horror movie and another that keeps warning its characters and viewers "Don't..." in the style of vintage, sensationalistic advertising such as when they used to say the theater wouldn't allow anyone into the movie in the last 10 minutes due to the shocking ending), Tarantino gets his turn at bat.

Combining the madman on the loose and car chase subgenres, he offers "Death Proof," another exploitative film where Kurt Russell stars as Stuntman Mike who preys on pretty girls by running them off the road with his souped-up, stunt-ready, muscle car. Split into two parts featuring two separate groups of potential victims, his film takes its time in getting up to speed.

Like Rodriguez's pic, it might look and feel old, but it's set in contemporary times, and thus the various women speak in open and frank ways not commonly heard decades ago, be that in the movies or real life. Of course, Tarantino is doing this to lull the viewer into some semblance of safety and security, as well as make the characters engaging to some degree. This works better in the second half of this second film, mainly because that's when Zo Bell, Tracie Thoms, and, to a lesser extent, Rosario Dawson collectively become an amalgamation of the last woman standing character usually found in such slasher films (where she ends up fighting back against her tormentor).

To showcase that rote development, Tarantino delivers the film's coup de grace, a fairly riveting and rather lengthy if somewhat illogical at times car chase sequence featuring a real-life stunt woman doing some impressive, real-life stunt work sans any sort of special effects enhancements.

While doing a reckless maneuver called The Masthead (where one woman lies on a muscle car's hood holding onto two belts tied to both front doors), Russell's speed-happy psychopath decides to play bumper car with them in hopes of knocking her off. Yet, she does more than just hang on (in some fairly perilous, edge of your seat moments) when she and the other ladies get into some serious table-turning).

The sequence is so riveting that many viewers might not notice that Tarantino abandons the "aged" approach (meaning the scratches, bad sound and missing footage) during such moments in favor of some rather pristine looking material. While there is a funny moment earlier in "Death Proof" where an anticipated lap dance is never seen due to a missing reel, the filmmaker seems intent on not only paying homage to the subject matter, but also putting his own modernist spin on it.

That said, the overall experience is far too long at more than 190 minutes for both films, the trailers and all of the rest. And while some of Tarantino's trademark, crackerjack dialogue is present, it's not as delicious as in most of his previous offerings.

Although any cutting would somewhat ruin the double-feature approach and related retro vibe the filmmakers are trying to pull off, one can't help but feel that a fairly substantial amount of filler is present to pad out the two films to get each to feature length. The result is that the trailers preceding and bridging the two films are sometimes more entertaining than the main pics mainly because they get the point across with the least amount of effort and time.

Part gimmicky self-indulgence, part fun and sometimes funny homage to exploitation films and a filmgoing experience from a bygone era, "Grindhouse" has its moments (mainly the car chase sequence in the second half of the second film), but separately or collectively doesn't come off as either director's best work. It rates as a 5.5 out of 10.

Reviewed April 3, 2007 / Posted April 6, 2007

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