Planet Terror (Robert Rodriguez, 2007)
My age and nationality (drive-in theaters and grindhouses aren't commodities in largely-Catholic Philippines; the lust for onscreen gore and sex is better delegated to the darkened privacy of mall-bound cinemas) has prevented me from enjoying these films as they did in America; but I've borrowed, hoarded, and viewed these films against the bidding of my concerned parents. Grindhouse for me represented that youthful abandon and accompanying rebellion in seeing exposed breasts, simulated or real sex, blood, zombies, and everything that's gratuitously crafted for our widely varied prurient tastes.
Cherry Darling, sounds like a stripper name. But it's not; it's a go-go dancer name. There's a difference. There's also a big difference between the hundreds of grindhouse features smuggled in Betamax tapes and bootleg DVDs and Planet Terror, first half of Grindhouse (divided in international markets; the decision to show the two features as one was a marketing disaster in lieu of giddy fanatisicm). The obvious is most apparent: budget. Writer-director Robert Rodriguez is backed up by Weinstein dollars, the real grindhouse films have strict and tight budgets (which is why most of them aren't made in America where there are no labor laws, and everything is cheap). One can't really blame a film for its high budget, but the lack of restraints in spending does take away a lot of the derring-do, the innovation, and the creativity from the craft. Also, the idea that grindhouse has been given a light of commercial viability takes away the inherent rebellious delight in watching them; the experience is therefore lessened and turned into something comparable to mere tittilation.
Rodriguez's film is artificially aged (a portion of the Weinstein budget goes to that visual flourish, or lack of it). Actually, almost everything in the film feels rather artificial. The acting is made to be artificially bad; the lines are written to be artificially cheesy; the story is developed to be an artificial grindhouse feature. That doesn't necessarily mean Rodriguez's film is a bad one (well, it's supposed to be bad in a grindhouse-sense), in terms of enjoyability and fun. It has all the ingredients of what makes these B-to-Z movies so fun: women with their deep cleavages and beautiful legs (or leg, since the other limb is actually a high-powered machine gun), ideas bursting out of sex and blood-addicted hypothalami.
There are hundreds of explosions ranging from huge fiery ones to those coming from humongous pus-filled facial zits. These zits separate the zombie creatures to the immune survivors. Set in a Texan town bordered by a military base, things get awry when a business deal by an enterprising and testicle-addicted biochemist and a military commander (a cameo by Bruce Willis) is interrupted; their disagreement resulting in the release of noxious gases that would infect the entire town.
A town-full of hungry zombies raging against a few survivors seems something straight from the head of George Romero, but Rodriguez lacks the visual and social/philosophical wit (and patience) of the latter. Rodriguez grounds his exercise in excess with a subplot involving military activity in Afghanistan and the icky effects of chemical warfare, but to hunt for something deeper in this undead apocalypse-mutating-into-something-else is completely a waste of time. Rodriguez crowds his film with bits and bits of weird coolness; from that fantastic opening shot of Cherry (Rose McGowan) tearfully grinding in a go-go (not strip) bar, to that moment wherein she attaches a high-powered gun and angrilly charges against uniformed ghouls to escape.
However, he edits so heavily that you can't relish on any of these moments, like when a group of zombies tears a cop to several pieces, it happens so quick that you often feel that Rodriguez has so many things he wants to copy or emulate (from different films and directors, and even from comrade Tarantino --- Marley Shelton's syringe gun-wielding anesthesiologist feels very much like a Kill Bill (2003, 2004)-afterthought), that he forgets to slow down to allow his audience to relish in the galons of blood, pus, goo, and sweat spent in bringing back memories of quickie, trashy yet well-loved productions of the not-so-recent past.