Wray (Freddy Rodriguez), the ex-boyfriend who drove the walking dead off with the night scope-equipped assault rifle he just happened to have stashed in the cab of his wrecker, reassures her it'll be okay.
“Some of the best jokes are about cripples,” he observes.
Cherry's stone-faced reaction illustrates the primary problem with Grindhouse, the double-barreled blast of exploitation homage from writer/directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez: Just because the audience gets the joke doesn't necessarily mean they think it's funny.
Make no mistake, there are grin-inducing gags in both Rodriguez's Planet Terror and Tarantino's Death Proof —a couple of the best involving strategically “missing reels”—but it's nowhere near as much fun for fans to watch as it was for these fan boys to make.
Yes, we get that all the hot girls in Death Proof who sit around in bars, cars and restaurants talking endlessly about sex and drugs but never really having sex or doing drugs onscreen is a spoof of all those late-night movies that promise way more than they deliver. But that doesn't make it any more fun to sit through all the scenes in which nothing actually happens.
Until it's almost redeemed by a third-act shift into riotous Russ Meyer mode, Death Proof is a complete yawn whenever Kurt Russell isn't center stage. However slapdash the rest of his efforts are here, Tarantino has not lost his ability to craft career-resurrecting roles for faded stars. As the pompadoured predator Stuntman Mike, Russell reminds us of the B-movie badass he once was in John Carpenter capers like Big Trouble in Little China and Escape from New York. And that makes the role reversal that the psychotic stuntman in the souped-up muscle car suffers when he picks on—oops!—two psycho stuntwomen in their own souped-up muscle car all the more hilarious.
Rodriguez holds up his half of the double bill better, with Planet Terror at least having the gimcrack gimmick of a stunning stripper—sorry, “go-go dancer”—with a machine gun for a prosthesis to hobble around on.
But the Four Rooms and From Dusk Till Dawn collaborators could learn a lesson from writer/director Edgar Wright ( Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead ), whose contribution to Grindhouse —a fake trailer for a hilarious haunted-house flick—will actually have audiences screaming. With laughter.
Now, there's a man who gets the joke.
Cast: Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez, Josh Brolin, Marley Shelton, Bruce Willis, Naveen Andrews, Michael Biehn, Jeff Fahey, Quentin Tarantino and Stacy Ferguson
Director/Screenwriter: Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Kurt Russell, Zoe Bell, Tracie Thoms, Rosario Dawson, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd and Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Director/Screenwriter: Quentin Tarantino
Producers: Elizabeth Avellan and Erica Steinberg
Genre: Horror/Science fiction
Rating: R for strong graphic bloody violence and gore, pervasive language, some sexuality, nudity and drug use
Running time: 140 min.
Release date: April 6