I recently scored Grindhouse on eBay at a delightfully low price, the Blu-Ray version that shows the original cut of Grindhouse as it’s meant to be seen, as a Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino double feature with ads and fake trailers interspersed throughout. I hadn’t seen the full version since that fateful day in the theater in 2007, so I was pretty excited to relieve the experience.
Was it worth it? Absolutely…then yes. Then, eh. Then, NAH. But then, OOO, yeah! And then, HA THAT’S GREAT! And then, UGH WHEN WILL THIS END? And then, I HOPE THIS NEVER ENDS WOW!
What I’m saying is, I have mixed feelings about Grindhouse.
The opening trailer for Machete is great, and sets the table for the rest to come, bloody, gloriously R-rated and over the top. It’s no surprise that Robert Rodriguez decided to turn it into a full-length film, because it’s probably the best thing he’s ever done. And therein lies the first problem with Grindhouse.
Robert Rodriguez’s career has a been a triumph of work ethic, creativity, and practical filmmaking skill. His ability to make mid-range budget films that look like high-end Hollywood mega-blockbusters is, frankly, astonishing. Unfortunately, I tend to hate his films. Rodriguez is the king of “doesn’t that look COOL?” filmmaking, like a less-intellectual Michael Bay. Rodriguez is so excited about doing stuff that’s “neat” that he doesn’t seem to be bothered with character and thematic concerns, so none of his movies make me feel anything, ever. Saying “EWWW!!” out loud doesn’t count.
Look, it’s not like I’m looking for the second coming of Carl Dreyer. I don’t expect Antonioni with squibs. However, I do enjoy watching films that feature recognizable human beings, which has never been part of Rodriguez’s bag of tricks. “People you care about? Oh, you mean like ZOMBIES?!?!?” No, Robert. No. It would be nice if Rodriguez was as enthusiastic about his scripts as he was about making a jar of latex testicles. (“Look, they’re balls dude!! WHOAAAA!!!!”)
Still, Planet Terror is certainly fun, if overlong. (Another odd thing: Both films feel overlong in their truncated Grindhouse versions. Wha?) Basically, a bunch of ooey gooey gross stuff happens, and people get shot and the squibs explode and there’s some cool stuff and other stuff happens. It’s a Robert Rodriguez film. Who cares?
Death Proof feels extra-long in the Grindhouse version, with the momentum screeching to a halt after Planet Terror’s hyper-caffeinated tomfoolery, and a series of trailers that may be the best part of the film (especially Edgar Wright’s “Don’t”). I think this was the biggest miscalculation of the whole film: Death Proof is slow and talky to begin with, and midway through the second half of the film, I was checking my watch. A famed musician / puppeteer once told me that he thought Pulp Fiction was boring. No, Geoff. Death Proof is boring. Very, very boring.
I’ve read some say that Death Proof is a feminist film, a stirring tribute to Girl Power. I fail to see how watching a group of young, attractive women babble inane bullshit for 30 straight minutes is a triumph of feminism, unless the lesson is “Watching women eat Mexican food and talk about weed is exactly as boring as watching men do it!” Uh….awesome?
Still, Tarantino’s too good for the movie to be completely skippable. For starters, Kurt Russell is absolutely awesome. Stuntman Mike is an inherently pathetic character (his monologue about his stunt roles is one of the few moments in the pre-carnage first half that held my interest), and watching him crumble as the women get their revenge always tickles me. (Is that where all of the “gender role” crap comes from? Because the women murdered the mean man? Remember: Women won’t truly be women…until they act like dudes!)
Most of Death Proof‘s dialogue is Tarantino at his self-indulgent worst, like the lame gag about The Bride’s name in “Kill Bill” writ large. The scene where the girls “hilariously” trick the redneck into thinking the cheerleader will blow him in exchange for a test drive is the nadir of his career.
Zoe Bell is a fantastic stuntwoman. Her work in the climactic scene is a wonder to behold, as the camera gets right up in her face as she’s about to slide off the hood of the car. Unfortunately, before that happens, we have to spend 40 minutes watching her try to act. She seems nice, so I’ll just say that it doesn’t work out. (Sidenote: Remember when Bell was cast on Lost in Season 4, and ended up only having 2 dialogue-free scenes before the character killed herself? What was up with that?)
Traci Thorns plays Kim, Zoe’s mega-sassy, obnoxious friend, and Tarantino finds it insanely hilarious when she recites various cliches. “Pop a cap in his ass”?!?! HAHA, THAT’S SO SASSY!!!! QT is so in love with Thorns’ you-go-girl-osity that the climactic car chase is nearly ruined by constant cutaways of Thorns saying “TAKE THAT MUTHAFUKKA GRRR!” a dozen different ways.
Death Proof is Tarantino’s worst, easily. Planet Terror is one of Rodriguez’ best, but it’s not all that great. Still, the drive-in trappings and little details such as the missing reels in each film make the experience worth sitting through. Thanks to Blu-Ray, I can’t wait to revisit the parts I like, and skip through the rest.