Outside of Spike Lee, in the past 15 years, no two directors have taken more chances on screen than best friends Robert Rodriquez and Quentin Tarantino. Each has had both commercial and critical success with earlier work, but it seemed to act as a prelude for the cinematic experience of 2007, the exhilarating “Grindhouse.”
The much-hyped homage to 1970s cinema, “Grindhouse” seemed destined to be a midnight fixture, in the vein of “Rocky Horror Picture Show.” The experience not only includes a double-feature but also four “faux” trailers, which are also uproariously funny and perverse.
In Rodriquez’s “Planet Terror,” a poisonous gas has been unleashed from a military base on a small Texas town, initially infecting them and later turning them into zombies. Led by the vicious Lt. Muldoon (Bruce Willis), the soldiers are seeking payback for a botched military assignment that left an entire platoon infected. But a small group of uninfected survivors, led by El-Ray (the sensational Freddy Rodriquez) and go-go dancer, Cherry (Rose McGowan), tries to defeat the walking dead and escape the town.
Meanwhile, there’s a cheating wife, a suspecting husband, dueling brothers, flesh-eating zombies, a mysterious hero and an amputee’s explosive emergence. By the conclusion of “Planet Terror,” you’ll feel as if you’ve come to the end of a long rollercoaster ride as Cherry morphs from a one-leg killing machine to a post-apocalyptic Harriet Tubman.
Tarantino’s film, “Death Proof,” tells the story of a scarred Stuntman, Mike (Kurt Russell), who stalks innocent women for his perverse pleasure. He drives a car that has been reinforced, which gives him the ability to survive any crash; hence, his vehicle is death-proof. He stumbles upon a local radio personality, Jungle Julia (Sydney Tamilia Poitier), who is hanging out with her girls at a local bar. Arlene (Vanessa Ferlito) is suspicious of Stuntman Mike. “Are you afraid of my scar,” Stuntman Mike asks Arlene. “No, it’s your car, she replies. Unfortunately, her intuition is correct but too late to save her and her friends.
Fast-forward several years later, and another crew of ladies, featuring the feisty and colorful Kim (Tracie Thoms), adventurous Zoë (real-life stuntwoman Zoë Bell) and Abernathy (Rosario Dawson). Zoë is interested in buying a car, when they catch the attention of the lecherous Stuntman Mike. Kim and Zoë are to “Death Proof” as Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent (John Travolta) were to “Pulp Fiction.” What starts off another story of women in peril becomes a thunderous display of sisterhood, in a major way. The film features some of the most amazing stunt work ever captured on film.
“Grindhouse” is full of over-the-top effects, campy, colorful dialogue and larger-than-life heroes and villains. Rodriquez captures the honor and sheer audacity of “Desperado;” Tarantino matches him with the ferocity of “Reservoir Dogs” and the pro-feminist fervor of “Kill Bill.” The two together give viewers a visceral jolt that has not been witnessed at theaters in a long time.
No matter what other films are released this year, none will match the rush and excitement of “Grindhouse.” To call it a mere film is a disservice; Rodriquez and Tarantino have reached back into their past to give filmgoers cinematic hope for the future.