Two For the Price of One
Tarantino & Rodriguez Wang It Up Old-School
By Cole Smithey
The palpable cinematic elation and hip vibe that wafts from the screen is more than contagious; it’s stupefying. In their overzealous double bill homage to the cheap grungy urban cinemas of yore, that featured an ever-changing orgy of back-to-back exploitation B-movies, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez have created an unparalleled irreverent concoction of dueling films. Loving attention is given to recreating the grindhouse experience of damaged film stock, melting celluloid, missing reels and trashy trailers that distorted the experience of watching something like 1974’s "Dirty Mary and Crazy Larry" coupled with "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" beside an audience of snoozing bums and pot-smoking teenagers. Rarely did the movies live up to the promise of their tantalizing posters and outrageous tag lines, but the experiences were nonetheless unforgettable. Here, the movies go far beyond anything you could imagine. It’s all about the pay-offs, and there are many.
The auteur directors share a proclivity for pulling out all the stops, and while Tarantino is famous for his take-no-prisoners approach it’s Rodriguez who pushes the limits of how many gross-out gags he can squeeze into every frame. Inspired by movies like "Zombie" and "Dawn of the Dead," Rodriguez’s "Planet Terror" leads off the set as a zombie thriller born of toxic green vapors released from a Texas military base. Cherry (Rose McGowan) quits her go-go dancer job before running into her former beau Wray (Freddy Rodriguez) at a local barbecue roadhouse. Already, wedded doctors William (Josh Brolin) and Dakota (Marley Shelton) have been overrun with sicko patients (read: zombies) suffering from bubbling facial boils, repulsive skin lesions and marinated flesh that only momentarily disguises their bent for annihilation. Juicy fake-blood-bloated zombies explode under endless rounds of ammunition as Cherry is elevated to humanity’s salvation Queen after Wray replaces her freshly amputated leg with a machine gun that she inexplicably fires without the aid of pulling a trigger.
Tarantino appears briefly in "Planet" as a recently infected sadistic soldier who takes Cherry prisoner in the lower depths of the army base. There, he attempts to rape her with his less than kosher member. Wikipedia might discover a new definition for the term over-the-top from this groan-inducing scene alone. Ravenous movie fans will appreciate cameos from Maveen Andrews ("Lost"), Michael Biehn ("Aliens"), and makeup artist Tom Savini ("Dawn of the Dead") who gets his ring finger bitten off before he’s tossed upside-down against the broadside of a police cruiser.
An intermission between the movies comes complete with a restaurant spot featuring glimpses of remarkably unappetizing food. Edgar Wright ("Shaun of the Dead"), Eli Roth ("Hostel"), Rob Zombie ("The Devil’s Rejects") and Robert Rodriguez each directed their own faux movie trailers with titles like "Werewolf Women of the SS" and "Thanksgiving" to elaborate on the ‘70s era mood of raunchy low-budget movie-going. The astonishing previews are glorious models of decade-accurate atmosphere, but with added touches of outrageous ironic humor. Gratuitous nudity and decapitations are punctuated with flashes of familiar faces, as with Nicholas Cage appearing briefly as a gleefully diabolical Dr. Fu Manchu.
"Death Proof," the fifth of Tarantino's deliberate career, draws on Richard C. Sarafian’s "Vanishing Point," and H.B. Halicki’s "Gone In 60 Seconds," as much as it does from the director’s personal predilection for slasher films and hot girls talking like splintered versions of himself. Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) quietly invades Austin’s real-life Guero’s Taco Bar where a cluster of badass gal-pals (Sydney Poitier, Jordan Ladd and Vanessa Ferlito) get their weed and drink on in preparation for a weekend getaway. A nasty scar on Stuntman Mike’s face foreshadows events when he agrees to give lone hippie-chick Pam (also played by Rose McGowan) a ride home, but abruptly changes character once she gets in the passenger bucket of his skull-emblazoned "death proof" stunt car. What follows is the most horrific car crash ever intentionally committed to film. Mike is a deranged stalker who lives to mangle the bodies of pretty girls with his car. But he more than meets his match in the third act when he attacks a trio of film industry women driving a white Dodge Challenger, just like the car that Barry Newman’s Kowalski drove in "Vanishing Point."
Real-life New Zealand stuntwoman Zoe Bell (Uma Thurman’s stunt double in "Kill Bill") shows off her best daredevil skills in a car chase unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. As Tarantino has pointed out in interviews, he has officially thrown his hat into the ring of famous movie car chases. The result is a white-knuckle experience that validates the stretches of goofy dialogue-heavy scenes that came before. It’s clear that Russ Meyer’s "Faster Pussycat, Kill!…Kill!" played into Tarantino’s version of "belted, buckled, and booted" female characters. In "Death Proof" alone, Tarantino gives more roles to female actors than three Hollywood films put together. Say what you will about Tarantino’s functional embrace of the n-word in his characters’ ever-spicy dialogue; this do-it-all writer/director/cinematographer knows how to up the stakes on bad girls with fast cars. Haaruumph!
Rated R. 191 mins. (A) (Five Stars)
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