Midway through Planet Terror -- Robert Rodriguez's contribution to the exhilaratingly sick and crazed '70s-style double-bill that is Grindhouse -- I leaned over to a friendly colleague and asked a stupid question.
"How is she supposed to be pulling the trigger?" I asked, as Rose McGowan's stripper character Cherry, an amputee with a machine-gun leg, gunned down scores of slimy, pus-filled zombies like a weed-whacker mowing down dandelions.
'Does it matter?" he said with a shrug. We both laughed and continued to take in the carnage.
At that point, were were as yet unexposed to the icing on the cake, Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof, a kickbutt, chick's-revenge fantasy that is as much homage to Russ Meyer's Faster Pussycat Kill Kill as to stripped-down, seedy chase movies such as Vanishing Point and the original Gone In 60 Seconds.
Let's not even get started with painfully cool film-geek/pop-culture references, because that way lies madness ("Look! There's Michael Parks playing the same character, Earl McGraw, that he played in Kill Bill! Remember when he starred in the TV series Then Came Bronson? And look! There's roller-derby girls Venus Envy and Punky Bruiser! Blah, blah, blah..."). Just save that stuff for Starbucks, after. Suffice to say, you'll have plenty to talk about.
Inside the theatre, sit back and prepare to be transported to an over-the-top, winking facsimile of the seedy, fifth-run theatrical experiences some of us remember seeing for 50c on a Saturday afternoon. The Grindhouse double-bill is complete with film-scratches, burns and "missing reels." The plot jumps from one place to another, skipping character arcs, etc. -- as the man said, "Does it matter? -- not to mention trailers for movies that don't really exist, such as Werewolf Women Of The SS, and a slasher film by Eli Roth called Thanksgiving (with the tagline "white meat, dark meat ... all will be carved").
Of the two movies, Rodriguez's is as much self-parody (particularly From Dusk 'Til Dawn) as genre spoof. As awash in characters as it is in splatter, Planet Terror spends more than half of its 90 minutes in set-up. There's the aforementioned Cherry, her gun-happy sometime-boyfriend Wray (Six Feet Under's Freddie Rodriguez), a demented biochemical researcher and crimelord (Lost's Naveen Andrews) who collects his victims' testicles, a psycho surgeon (Josh Brolin), his hypo-happy anaesthesiologist wife (Marley Shelton), a local barbecue wiz (Jeff Fahey) and a rogue military officer (an uncredited Bruce Willis).
All paths collide with the release of a biochemical agent that causes body parts to slime away (including genitals in a couple of scenes) and victims to develop a taste for human flesh.
Rodriguez's vision is all about pyro and high-decibel insanity, and probably ate up most of Grindhouse's combined $55-million US budget.
Tarantino's Death Proof, by comparison, is almost subtle in its rollout of its central psycho -- a deranged movie crew-member named Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell). His thing" is to dismember women via vehicular homicide. That is, until he runs into his betes noir: two car-crazed stuntwomen, Tracie Thoms and Zoe Bell (best known as Uma's stunt double in Kill Bill), and Lindsay Lohan's hairdresser (Rosario Dawson).
There's a fair parade of in-your-face pulchritude that precedes their showdown, including Sydney Tamiia Poitier as a DJ named Jungle Julia, leading a pubcrawl with a posse of friends (Vanessa Ferlito and Jordan Ladd) and one "frenemy" (McGowan again, in a blond wig).
But it's the climactic duel, with Russell chewing scenery almost into William Shatner territory, that makes Death Proof a movie that sent many of us out with smiles on our faces.
Separating those two violent acts is one of those "Royale with cheese" dialogues that Tarantino loves so much, this one having to do with the aforementioned Vanishing Point. In Grindhouse's entire three-hours-plus, this was the scene that inspired the most washroom traffic.
Still, it's less a point of criticism than a consumer alert. Unless you're such a Tarantino geek that you want to commit this portion of script to memory right away, you'll want to make use of the movie's most extraneous scene.
You can memorize it later when Grindhouse comes out on DVD.
(This film is rated 16-A)