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The Big Movie: 'Grindhouse' (R)

Weekend!Movies: Double feature packs plenty of good gory fun
by: courtesy of The Weinstein Co., Kurt Russell and a tricked-out Chevy Nova star in “Death Proof,” the segment of “Grindhouse” from “Pulp Fiction” director Quentin Tarantino.

When discussing the films of Quentin Tarantino, detractors inevitably will use the phrase 'self-indulgent.' They say it like that's a bad thing.

Tarantino is, indeed, one of the most self-indulgent American directors working today - his indulgences, however, are almost entirely cinematic in nature, and if you share his love for lowdown, dirty, exploitive, made-on-the-cheap, viscerally entertaining popcorn flicks, then you can't help but love what he does as a director.

In 'Grindhouse,' Tarantino and fellow sleaze merchant Robert Rodriguez ('Sin City') attempt to re-create the experience of watching a double bill of craptastic '70s low-budget movies, complete with trailers for coming attractions, 'missing reels' and scratchy film stock.

And while they get the flavor right, they fail in one important respect - both of their films are just too damn good to be genuine grindhouse fare.

Rodriguez's contribution, 'Planet Terror,' is a delicious combination of gross-out horror and take-no-prisoners action flick.

Freddy Rodriguez, who played the maddeningly wimpy mortuary assistant on HBO's 'Six Feet Under,' is El Wray, a mysterious figure who cuts a swath through crowds of disgusting, boil-covered zombies with guns and knives, assisted by his one-legged stripper ex-girlfriend (Rose McGowan), a Texas barbecue cook (Jeff Fahey), a doctor (Marley Shelton) on the run from her crazy zombie husband (Josh Brolin) and the barbecue guy's sheriff brother (Michael Biehn).

Along the way, limbs get chopped off, stuff blows up, zombie-boils explode disgustingly, and everyone has to get past an infected Army guy (Bruce Willis) and his unit of chemical gas-sucking soldiers.

Rodriguez packs his segment full of every possible element of B-movie mayhem imaginable, from hot guns to hot dames to the ultimate run for the helicopter that is conveniently waiting outside of town. It's delicious.

Tarantino's picture, 'Death Proof,' is slower and talkier - sometimes irritatingly so. He's always loved to write scenes that have small groups of characters bantering, and here they go on a little too long and aren't as clever as they could be.

But it pays off, with everything leading to a showdown between a psychotic ex-stuntman (Kurt Russell) who likes to kill women with his car, and a trio of women who give him more than he bargained for - famed stuntwoman Zoe Bell (playing herself), her best friend and stunt driver Kim (Tracie Thoms) and their pal Abernathy (Rosario Dawson), who are simply the wrong group of chicks to menace.

'Death Proof,' while less successful than 'Planet Terror,' still works, and for two reasons - it has one of the best car chases ever filmed, and it has Russell.

Craggy, charismatic and still handsome at 56, Russell is a true movie star, and he takes a risk here by playing someone who's creepy, dangerous and just plain evil. When he pits his dead-black, souped-up Chevy Nova against the girls' white 1970 Challenger (an homage to 'Vanishing Point') it's a nail-biter of a thrill ride, with Bell clinging to the Challenger's hood as the cars race down Texas backroads in an automotive death match.

What's fun about both 'Grindhouse' features is that while the directors lovingly offer up a lot of hot chicks in scanty outfits, those same chicks are more butt-kicking heroes than victims.

In both pictures, in fact, women dominate through a combination of street smarts and competence with guns, knives and cars.

Self-indulgent? Absolutely. But delightfully so, making 'Grindhouse' a three-hour double-feature fever dream, one that only Tarantino and Rodriguez could conceive.

- Dawn Taylor

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