Monday, April 09, 2007

FILM: "Grindhouse"

Grindhouse isn't just a double-feature from two of the smartest, most enjoyable filmmakers of today, it's an experience, a deliberate package of hackneyed dialog and exploitative gore that's sheer right down to the fake trailers that bridge the films and the false advertisements for local dining establishments. On their own, Planet Terror and Death Proof are simply enjoyable B-movies, the former coasting on pure adrenaline and squeamish effects, the latter a slower, more passionate combination of hot girls, mean men, fast cars, and just deserts. But together, the evening takes on the emotion of an era, the terrible thrill of flimsy film, and is a must for movie lovers. It's smart to be stupid, but it's even better to be struck dumb.

Talking about plot in a grindhouse picture is beside the point, so instead I'll mention the overall momentum of this atypical adventure. In Planet Terror, the deliquescent dead attack with bone saws and pistols as our hardwired heroes dispatch them with wall-flipping panache and knife-slicing mayhem, each shot designed not for elegance but for maximum splatter. Nothing bad happens to characters, only the somethings worse are worth filming and exaggeration is the name of the game. A doctor's hands are paralyzed simply for the sadistic glee of watching her try to unlock a car door, a go-go dancer's leg is chewed off so that it can be replaced first with an awkward wooden splinter (giving a whole new meaning to the term "walk the plank") and later with a glossy, fully-automatic, missile-launching machine gun. Where the film would be crippled by exposition (or, unfortunately, by a sex scene), the reel simply goes missing, and we skip to the next moment; whenever we might possibly grow bored, Rodriguez simply explodes another person's head. It's more fun that way. Add in some militaristic mutants, led by the one-line magnet that is all that remains of Bruce Willis, and you've got yourself a real picture.

On the other end of the spectrum, Death Proof spends thirty minutes ratcheting up the tension before the otherwise lovable Stuntman Mike (a simply flawless Kurt Russell) reveals his bad side. Tarantino evokes the subtler side of grindhouse: because he spends so much time sharpening his ax of a film (in addition to how he's already honed his craft), his swings are more efficient and last longer than Rodriguez's, whose endless gore grows a little redundant, and is all-too-often forced to rely on humor in the face of tedium. The climactic car chase isn't just a culmination of classic cinema, it's also genuinely thrilling: a moment of the genre overcoming its own hangups, of the sheer joy of the ride peeling back the decrepit paint of the vehicle.

The only problem with both features is that they sometimes feel a little forced: whereas the four short trailers for fictitious films can focus on the money shots (I dare you not to shudder at the unnecessarily brutal shots of Thanksgiving, and I double-dog dare you not to crack up at the ghastly ghost story of Don't or the ludicrous concept of Werewolf Women of the SS), there are moments of banal grossness in Planet Terror and get-to-the-point chatter in Death Proof. Tarantino's flaw is more excusable, as his dialogue always seems to roll off the tongue, but Rodriguez is blood for bloodness's sake: not as gleeful as Sam Raimi, not as chilling as Rob Zombie, just there, like a free condiment that one simply must use, even though they're full.

Then again, why settle for less? If you've got a mini-scooter, don't you have an obligation to find a way to put your hero on it? Isn't it infinitely funnier for him to shoot zombies on a tiny cart, and isn't that joviality infinitely cooler than simply having him save the day? Hollywood is all about style over substance, and I say it's about time that two directors had the balls to squeeze that tube until the style splattered everywhere, leaving nothing of meaning behind. Grindhouse is a kegger in an arthouse, and Cristal in a slum, and it's proof that bad movies don't have to be bad so long as they're bad ass.

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