Youtubed “Maury” vignettes aren’t the only places to find campy, absurd, trailer-trash hoes — there’s also Temple Street. More specifically, there’s the double-feature “Grindhouse” (now playing at the Criterion on Temple) starring the luscious gam(s) of Rose McGowan, Rosario Dawson, Fergie, Marley Shelton, Zoe Bell, Tracie Thoms, et al. Whether they’re popping radioactive papules in Robert Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror” or driving decked-out hatchbacks in Quentin Tarantino’s “Death Proof” or fleeing a serial pilgrim in one of the hilarious fake trailers during intermission, these B-movie babes don’t clean house, they wreck it. Hard.
Bad in all the right ways, “Grindhouse” — or the cinematic equivalent of a “two lap dances for the price of one” deal at a roadside strip club — makes only minor efforts to be anything more than three hours of hot, gross, smutty, scandalous sin. In a typical movie, that would mean tons of nudity and violence. But at the “Grindhouse,” it means the carefree indulgence in all things antithetical to the “good filmmaking” establishment — missing reels, bad acting, plot holes, shameless sponsor-plugs, winks at the camera, ball-busting female characters and anything else that usually hits a studio’s cutting room floor. That is not to suggest that “Grindhouse” is just one long movie; as a double feature, it shows two distinct films that, besides their penchant for guilty pleasure, really only share trivial connections — a few actors and a leitmotif or two. So which, if either, is better? Read on to find out!
Although “Planet Terror” consistently entertains, nothing about it really surprises. From the get-go it’s obvious that Rodriguez’s “all-or-nothing” stylistic impulses are going to push the film over the top in nearly every way possible, similar to what he did with 2005’s “Sin City.” Exploding corpses, gross-out antics, atrocious dialogue and a very deconstructed, drive-in quality — these are the expectations that Rodriguez’s film meets, but does not exceed.
Starring McGowan and Freddy Rodriguez as Cherry and Wray, a reunited, dysfunctional pair caught in the middle of a deadly bio-chemical experiment, “Planet Terror” is like an intentionally bad, R-rated episode of “The Twilight Zone.” Long-unseen actors like Josh Brolin surface and disappear into a generally unmemorable plot about a green gas that transmogrifies regular folks into oozing, sore-covered zombies. Plenty of shock, awe and giggles keep “Planet” rotating on its axis for about 90 minutes, but the film never leaves its designated orbit, producing an effect similar to that of hearing a hilarious joke told a few too many times.
Tarantino, on the other hand, does something quite different with his film: Like “Pulp Fiction” before it, “Death Proof” starts off dialogue-heavy and, admittedly, kind of boring. Nothing seems to be happening — just a group of girls drinking, flirting and tic-toc-talking the film away. Slowly, though, the tension builds as Stuntman Mike (played by Kurt Russell) mysteriously enters the mix. As innocent and charming as a grandfather, Mike reassures the viewer that he means no harm, but when he brutally commits an act of “vehicular homicide,” it becomes clear that Tarantino has been toying with us the whole time. By then, though, it’s too late to leave — getting jerked around just feels too good.
See, for all the bitching that can be done about his watermarks (i.e. foot fetishes, foul-mouth freaks, four-letter words, etc.) Tarantino is one of the few American directors who, in the interest of creating unforgettable scenes of thrilling climax, knows just how long he can delay gratification and still come away a winner. Rather than make love the whole way through, Tarantino engages viewers in titillating, if not frustrating, foreplay, only to blast off with an end that leaves them satisfyingly stunned. It takes a bit of patience, but the reward is definitely worth it.
And that’s why “Grindhouse” performs so well as a double feature. The decision to open with the good but forgettable “Planet Terror” and end with Tarantino’s rewarding mind game was a crucial one — as thoughtful and innovative as supplanting McGowan’s leg with a machine gun.