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What’s hard about reviewing a movie like Grindhouse is that one can’t just review the two movies and the trailers included in the presentation and average their ratings together. The film has to work, overall, on its own. While there were some things I really enjoyed about it, Grindhouse doesn’t completely deliver. 

Allow me to first discuss the presentation as a whole: Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino are such film geeks (and I really do mean that in a good way) that they want to deliver the double-bill-B-movie experience to the part of the audience that has lived through the scratchy (and sometimes intentionally missing) film reels, and the part of the audience who is not even old enough to remember this breed of moviemaking. I am personally in the latter category, but I greatly enjoy exploitation films. There’s one problem with Grindhouse, and it is kind of major: the set-up of the movie. Is it clever? Yes. Do I like the idea? Yeah, that’s why I decided to go see it. (And, as of this writing, it’s at 82% on Rotten Tomatoes, so that helped in my decision-making.) But, does it work as one singular movie? No. 

If I were to judge each included movie by itself:

Planet Terror **

Okay, okay, we get it. In the days of B-movies, the film was scratched, dialogue was stiff and unintentionally funny, and the plot really got out of hand. Frankly, I believe Rodriguez aimed his efforts in the wrong area. In Planet Terror, he is too focused on making a crappy half of a double bill (probably trying to play the “bad scenes” for laughs). Because he was so concerned with his segment resembling a ’70s-era horror flick and getting laughs, he actually came off, ironically, as being too serious about the whole movie. Rodriguez knows he’s making a B-movie (bad), the characters know it (worse), and the audience knows that Rodriguez knows (worst). So even though it is kind of cool seeing Rose McGowan gun-down a row of people with her gun-for-a-leg, that one bit of joy just has no capability of outweighing the faults that lie in the style and tone of the picture.

Death Proof ***½

As its own movie, Death Proof is one Tarantino’s most thought-provoking movies and, in effect, one of his best. Kurt Russell is great as Stuntman Mike, a maniac who drives in a stunt vehicle (and is, thus, “death proof”) and gets off on killing people, or at least scaring the bejesus out of them, with his car. This is clearly a Tarantino film: his trademark dialogue and repartee are evident in most of the scenes, but I found he was a little more restrained. He didn’t hold back; he simply was more in control instead of allowing himself to go completely wild. All of his movies feel like homages, but this felt like it was “a Quentin Tarantino film” and not a rearrangement of images from old B-movies. The film has its pacing problems, and the screenplay could have used some restructuring, but once allowed to soak into the meat-and-potatoes of the story (which takes some time), it’s definitely worth the price of admission.

Back to the picture as a whole: 

Sadly and disappointedly, Grindhouse is no more than the sum of its parts: it clocks in at 191 minutes, according to IMDb. That’s about an hour-and-a-half for each movie, then four or five trailers at two or three minutes each. And that’s all it is: two movies and some trailers. If one could go to a drive-in or an independent theater and experience Planet Terror and Death Proof as two parts of a double bill, then this whole idea of bringing B-movies back would be a complete success. The issue is, though, that Grindhouse would no longer be a movie: the incorporated movies and trailers would be separate entities. At least each unit can work on its own merits instead of parts of a whole laboring toward an idea like a movie completely based on a song: the movie ends up not feeling real or organic and instead feels forced.


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