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‘Grindhouse’: An epic homage to ’70s schlock

Tarantino and Rodriguez combine forces to make a must-see B-movie. By Christy Lemire
/ Source: The Associated Press

If you’ve got a taste for blood and three hours to kill, “Grindhouse” is for you.

It’s an epic homage to ’70s B-movie kitsch from longtime friends Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, who each wrote and directed an entire feature-length film and asked buddies to pitch in with fake trailers in between. (The one from “Hostel” director Eli Roth is especially inspired. Dude is twisted, let’s just say that.)

The name comes from the fact that theaters would grind out double and triple features of blaxploitation flicks, badly dubbed kung fu movies, salacious sex romps — the kind of giddy schlock Rodriguez and Tarantino grew up loving and since have made a career of copying.

Whether or not you prefer this particular flavor of cheese, and many film geeks do, it’s worth seeing simply because there’s nothing else like it. It’s not just a movie, it’s an event, one that demands your attention and perseverance. You can’t get up to go to the bathroom or grab a soda in between features. You wouldn’t want to anyway — much of the allure comes from the details, the filler, the scratched-up promos with their dated graphics and warbly sound.

If nothing else, “Grindhouse” transports you to another place and time. Rodriguez and Tarantino have yet to create a truly original film, but they’re masters of recreating genres. And while they’ve plowed this ground countless times before between the “El Mariachi” trilogy, “Pulp Fiction” and the “Kill Bill” movies, “Grindhouse” represents the formidable strength of their combined knowledge and abilities.

The movie comes on like absolute gangbusters with the Rodriguez segment, “Planet Terror,” about a plague that spreads through a small Texas town, turning people into pus-riddled, blood-spewing, zombie-like predators.

Marley Shelton and Josh Brolin (whose rugged looks are perfect for the era) play husband-and-wife doctors trying to stave off the infection at a hospital, while barely bothering to save their marriage. Meanwhile, a group of vigilantes tries to take back the town, led by Freddy Rodriguez as a gunslinger known as El Wray, and Rose McGowan as a go-go dancer named Cherry Darling (of course), who loses a leg and gets a machine gun in its place.

(McGowan’s dramatically sexy features are ideal here; she’s a girl who knows she’s gorgeous but has enough of a sense of humor to play with her own image.)

“Planet Terror” is a total blast — funny, gloriously gory and over the top. The intentionally trashed footage and supposedly missing reels add to the authentic charm — as if we truly are watching a movie that has barely survived being trucked from town to town and unspooled over and over.

Then comes Tarantino’s contribution, “Death Proof.” And it’s so typically verbose of him, it nearly kills all the momentum that had built over the previous two hours.

Kurt Russell simmers menacingly as a grizzled drifter named Stuntman Mike, who likes to stalk women with his muscle car. (Russell, the veteran of such John Carpenter films as “Escape From New York” and “The Thing,” also exudes just the right vibe.) Among his targets are McGowan (again), Rosario Dawson, Tracie Thoms, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and real-life stuntwoman Zoe Bell, who is truly a specimen to behold.

But first his potential victims talk. And talk, and talk. What Tarantino’s trying to do is lull us in — place us in a comfort zone with these women through the rhythms of their discussions about sex and romance — just to yank us out of it with the film’s climactic and truly dazzling car chase, which is a marvel of staging and timing.

Until then, though, it ends up feeling just plain boring — an unfortunately inane letdown after such a thrilling buildup.

Nevertheless, “Grindhouse” is still a must-see. Just to say you survived it.