Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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I Sez: Grindhouse Turnout Disappointing, Movie Pretty Solid

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 10, 2007

Machine guns as prosthetic legs: Probably not as practical a choice as it might seem

When I made plans with a friend of mine to see Grindhouse on Saturday, I took heed of my recent experiences of seeing Zodiac and The Departed on opening weekend–barely getting tickets and the getting stuck in the worst corner of the theater. I made sure he bought the tickets first thing Saturday morning, for the latest showing possible (12:30), and we got there a half hour early, just in case. Of course, this all turned out to be wholly unnecessary–the theater turned out to be barely half full (and apparently the teller looked at my friend like he was crazy when he bought the tickets 12 hours in advance).

I gotta say, I’m pretty surprised. Grindhouse finished a paltry 4th in the Box Office last weekend, behind stellar efforts Meet the Robinsons and Are We Done Yet?, with an unexceptional 13mil in receipts. Now, I wasn’t quite expecting Wild Hogs numbers (I dared not even dream), but c’mon, new Tarantino mixed with new Rodriguez–I expected at least Sin City or Kill Bill type returns. What happened?

A critic for the Washington Post offered a possible explanation in his recent review of the movie, which said something to the effect of “the number of people who care about a Grindhouse revival amounts to about two–Tarantino and Rodriguez.” It’s a good point–the target market for these movies are probably single dudes between the ages of 18 and 35, and only guys towards the latter end of the spectrum would’ve been alive for the Grindhouse salad days, much less care to see it brought back. But I think such criticism misses the point somewhat. Most of the audience for this movie probably won’t give a shit about the actual Grindhouse format, but what it has to offer–mindless entertainment with hot babes, car chases, exploding zombie tongues, etc.–probably speaks to them just the same. It’s like the copious 80s film and TV references in fratboy TV favorite “Family Guy”–85% of the people watching probably won’t get it, but it’s the fact that the jokes are being made at all which is funny (or supposed to be, anyway).

Another theory is that due to the film’s poor marketing, a whole lot of people walked out after Rodriguez’s half and missed out on Tarantino’s side of the action. This makes more sense–if you weren’t a film geek and hadn’t read up on or discussed the movie with friends beforehand, the previews don’t really give you too much of an inclination that there are two different, completely individual movies on display here. Sure, there are clearly different story lines and color palettes on display here, but Sin City mixed plots, characters and visual motifs all within one feature as well–it’s entirely possible people made it through Planet Terror and assumed that was it.

Or, perhaps equally likely, people made it through Planet Terror and decided for themselves that that was it. Rodriguez’s flick is a lot of fun–if nothing else, you’ve got cameos from Bruce Willis and Fergie, lots of gunfights, and tons of performances from “Wow, so that’s what they’ve been up to?” actors of yesteryear (Freddy Rodriguez, Marley Shelton, and the still-blazing Rose McGowan among ’em). It’s not particularly interesting or exciting, though, and the thrills are as cheap and ephemeral as they come (in that respect, probably the film’s truest tribute to the nature of the Grindhouse flick). If viewers had limited patience for exploding bodies and machine gun limbs, it’s understandable that they might not want to sit through a similar 80 minutes straight after.

This is unfortunate, of course, since the Tarantino half of Grindhouse is almost infinitely superior to the Rodriguez. Smart, taut and unpredictable where Planet Terror was purposefully stupid, sloppy and crowd-pleasing, Death Proof proves what most fans going into Grindhouse probably suspected all along–that when it comes to going head-to-head with his buddy and collaborator, Robert Rodriguez is still thoroughly out of his league. Fifteen minutes into Death Proof and I could barely even remember the name of the first movie I sat through that evening.

So it’s unlikely that Grindhouse is going to start much of a revival of the long-dead format, and that’s probably for the best–in fact, the faux-trailers, faked “missing reels,” intentionally grainy footage and intentionally retro visual and sound effects are kind of cute at first, but ultimately distract from what could’ve been two (or at least one and a half) legitimately enjoyable movies in their own right. In any event, I’m sure the DVD sales will make up for whatever the film lacks in box office returns–once you can separate Grindhouse the movie from Grindhouse the best-forgotten phenomenon, it’ll probably be a lot more satisfying.


6 Responses to “I Sez: Grindhouse Turnout Disappointing, Movie Pretty Solid”

  1. Undercooked Sausage said

    Death Proof >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>. Planet Terror

    yeah, thanks for knowing, tired of browsing forums and seeing “omg planet terror is so awesome the chick has a rocket launcher or whatever”

  2. joe said

    Are there full-length credits after the first feature, or does it just go right into Death Proof and save all the credits for the end? Just wanna know if I have time for a break in between them or not.

  3. billy said

    In what alternate universe are 32-year-olds Marley Shelton (late of Sin City) and Freddy Rodriguez (just seen in the lamentable Poseidon and the lamentable-er Lady in the Water) “actors of yesteryear”?

    Not really understanding why these didn’t take off, though–probably was too much gimmickry in the way of making the stuff look dated and grainy.

  4. Andrew Unterberger said

    there aren’t full credits after Planet Terror, but there are a couple of faux-trailers and fake theater announcements in between it and Death Proof. You don’t want to miss the “Thanksgiving” trailer though.

    And yes, Marley Shelton and Freddy Rodriguez have had bit parts in plenty of things recently, when was the last time you actually saw them starring in something?

  5. Eric Melin said

    Hey Andrew!

    So many people have told me they like the raodriguez half better that I’m beginning to think I saw different movies! Glad to see we agree on that! The opening weekend is so disappointing. It just shows that there are fewer serious film fans out there than I thought. The directors’ names alone should have sold those tiickets– screw the subject matter. The US moviegoing public don’t like irony or humor in their horror– look at the recent flop “Slither.” But they’ll go see every ‘serious’ horror movie under the sun. Just look at the factthat the Hillary Swank-led “The Reaping” only performed slightly less than “Grindhouse” on the same opening weekend. “Grindhouse” should have whooped that movie’s ass, money-wise. But the humor-impaired schlock horror fans keep coming out…check out our instant video review, shot mere minutes after the screening.

    (Westerburg High)

  6. steve k said

    I agree — Death Proof was way better than Planet Terror — even if i got to see more of Rose McGowan in Planet Terror…

    steve (3 men)

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