Driven to Distraction / Worlds Collide

A killer double biller: Two takes on the 'Grindhouse' duplex

The house that Rodriguez and Tarantino built is constructed on two levels. In Planet Terror, a deliciously repellent zombie apocalypse (of love), Rodriguez showers the screen with icky globs of glorious nonsense. The convenient thing about riffing on grindhouse is that it gives you a license to thrill at will: Casual plotting, randomly generated protagonists, spectacle for its own sake, and questionable ethics come with the territory. That plays well to Rodriguez's strengths (sight gags, Grand Guignol) and weaknesses (patience, coherence) as he mounts a hilariously haphazard scenario pitting a clutch of the uninfected (Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez, Marley Shelton, Michael Biehn) against the peckish undead (makeup effects by Greg Nicotero).

Where Rodriguez does grindhouse more or less straight up, Tarantino takes greater license with Death Proof—which is to say the tradition he's elaborating on is the Tarantino Movie. Only tangentially related to the vehicular mayhem genre (Vanishing Point is name-checked repeatedly), this sneaky contraption is booby trapped with twisty talk, structural shocks, berserkoid set pieces, and unabashed foot fetishism. Kurt Russell plays Stuntman Mike, a genial psychopath with a thing for running down babes in his customized Dodge Charger. His targets include Jungle Julia (Sydney Tamiia Poitier), Zoë (Uma's Kill Bill stunt double, Zoë Bell), Abernathy (radiant Rosario Dawson), and the inevitable Tough Black Chick (Tracie Thoms as Kim), whose incurable case of Tarantino-style Tourette's—bitch this, mothafucka that, nonstop nigga-pleez—strikes what may be the only truly gratuitous note in this ostensible exploitation epic.

Tarantino is a big supporter of the neo-exploitation crowd (two of whose luminaries, Eli Roth and Rob Zombie, contribute ingenious trailers for imaginary films alongside Edgar Wright and Rodriguez), but his own sensibility is sweeter. Death Proof expends most of its energy on boozy barroom camaraderie and baroque restaurant chitchat. Even the villain is rather a dear, while Tarantino clearly relishes his rehabilitation of Russell, on whom he lavishes as much affection as his girls gone wild. And wild they go, pedal to the metal, brandishing iron poles, turning the tables on Stuntman Mike in a giddy automotive assault that climaxes with the finest syncopation since Before Sunset.

Like I said, from first frame to last—and by the time you exit this blockbuster-as-block party behemoth, you'll have taken in a quarter-million of them. This monumentally pointless movie is best summarized by a line from Planet Terror: "At some point in your life, you find a use for every useless talent you have." Rodriguez, Tarantino & Co. aim for nothing more noble than to freak the funk, and it's about goddamn time.

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