I love Robert Rodriguez’s movies, since he made his low budget action flick El Mariachi in the early 90s he’s produced a string of ludicrously entertaining genre flicks (Desperado, From Dusk Til Dawn, The Faculty, Once Upon A Time In Mexico and Sin City) along with crafting successful kids films on the side.
His trademark seems to be fun flicks populated with weird, quirky characters that mix goofy humour with explosions of violence and OTT gore. So, I was pretty excited a few years ago when he teamed up with Quentin Tarantino to make Grindhouse, a homage to old low rent double features and each responsible for directing half of it.
However, due to poor audience responses it was then split into two separate films, which I was equally keen to see. Sadly, QT’s half, Death Proof was dreadful, so it was only recently that I picked up Rodriguez’ part, Planet Terror.
Its a zombie flick featuring a group of disparate characters having to fight off the infected. It kicks off with reluctant and dissatisfied go-go dancer Cherry (the jaw droppingly sexy Rose McGowan) strutting her stuff on stage before quitting and running into her mysterious ex, El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez). Meanwhile, Lt Muldoon (Bruce Willis) is doing a deal with dodgy scientist Abby (Naveen Andrews) which leads to a chemical weapon being released, turning people into savage zombies.
Cherry is attacked and her leg is torn off and stolen. At the hospital El Wray is arrested and disarmed by Sheriff Hague (Michale Biehn), and Cherry is treated by sadistic Doctor Block (Josh Brolin) who is abusive to his bisexual wife Dakota (Marley Shelton), and when her ex lover (Fergie, sadly not shown being eaten alive) is bought in as a victim he paralyses her with anesthetics and attempts to flee. Dakota recovers, and rescues her son.
El Wray rescues the one legged Cherry, and they all hole up at the barbecue joint rang by Hague’s brother JT (Jeff Fahey). But they have to flee and run into Muldoon and the imprisoned Abby.
What are El Wray and Muldoon’s secrets? What became of Block? Can they escape the infected? And how will Cherry cope with just one leg (clue, its on the bloody poster!)?
The film is definitely the better of the two, with Rodriguez really nailing the vibe of old horror B-movies, there’s a twisted side to it but at its core its a dumb, fun flick. The zombies are done fairly well and all the gore is gleefully OTT, with every bullet making bodies explode and blood splattering everywhere.
The sense of fun spills over into the ludicrous plot points and the script. We have Cherry hobbling around on one leg and complaining that this has ended her chances of becoming a stand-up comedian, El Wray escaping on a tiny motorbike and Abby’s weird habit of collecting the testicles of his enemies. Its tongue is firmly planted in its cheek and its an entertaining ride throughout, and features a great, funny script (Sample dialogue: “Looks like a no brainer” “What’s that mean?” “No brain, scooped right out of the skull”).
That being said there are moments when the tone lurches quite dramatically (one moment is genuine shocking and there’s a cameo from QT as a thoroughly sleazy henchman which is a bit sour compared to the rest of the film’s tone), but this in a way feels right due to what its a parody/homage of.
There’s also a really nice touch where midway through a title card comes up apologizing for a “missing reel” and the action resumes further along in the story, with some of the questions having been answered in the gap and only fleetingly referred to afterwards. Its a funny gag and a little disorientating, and reminded me of my Dad telling the story of seeing a Godzilla movie while abroad where the reels were shown in the wrong order.
The cast embrace it all gleefully and do very well bringing it all to life. Freddy Rodriguez gets into things as the mysterious El Wray, performing the role with swaggering, cliched badassery while also managing to be cool in his own way. He’s a deadpan zombie killing machine and its the exact kind of hero these kind of B-movies employ.
Rose McGowan is sexy and funny as Cherry, and her machine gun-legged character is possibly the most memorable feature of the film, and she’s wonderfully charming. Andrews is delightfully camp as the dodgy scientist and Biehn and Fahey as the bickering Hague brothers are engaging, especially with Biehn convincing as the tough local sheriff.
The best thing is that while it does spoof the genre and follow a lot of the genre conventions there are a few nice touches and Rodriguez does something QT seems to have forgotten how to do, make cool characters you actually do warm to and kind of like.
All in all a campy, twisted little zombie flick which is extremely entertaining and great fun. 7/10.
To add to the double bill feeling of Grindhouse QT and RR included specially made fake trailers directed by themselves and others, one of which caught the imagination was Machete, which Rodriguez went on to develop into a full length movie on its own.
It gives Rodriguez regular Danny Trejo his first lead role as the eponymous hero, a former Mexican federale who’s double crossed by his boss and left for dead by drug lord Torrez (Steven Seagal) who’s whacked his family. Three years later Machete is living in Texas, struggling to get by as a day labourer and gardener. He’s hired by a shady guy Booth (Fahey again) to assassinate a right wing Senator (Robert De Niro) who has a hard-line stance on immigration.
It turns out to be a double cross, with Machete injured and on the run, with the Senator having survived. The plan is Booth’s to gain the Senator support and popularity and enable them to have control over the border and what drugs come in.
Machete is aided by Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), who leads the local immigrants network under the alias She, and immigration officer Riviera (Jessica Alba), who starts to become interested in the loner. Machete also contacts his brother, now a priest (Cheech Marin) for help.
The Senator has ties with a local vigilante who executes border jumpers, Von Jackson (Don Johnson) who realizes the Senator has been lying to him regarding his dealings with Torrez. And Torrez heads for Texas to deal with his old enemy.
Can Machete clear his name, bring the wrongdoers to justice and survive the coming battle?
You bet your ass he can. Like with countless Charles Bronson, Clint Eastwood and other action hero flicks Machete is an unstoppable killing machine and total badass. Trejo is perfect for the role as he looks tough enough to convince as the Mexican killing machine and also delivers the lines in a brilliantly deadpan manner. His restraint at the heart of the movie balances out the madness that makes up the rest of the flick.
Trejo’s worn, grizzled demeanor also works for how the film seems to spoof the cliche of the sex machine hero, with the scarred Machete being seemingly irresistible to women.
Its a classic Rodriguez flick in that its crammed with these bizarre minor characters who don’t get enough of a chance to shine on screen, most notably is Lindsay Lohan as Booth’s daughter, who despite being hyped up in the film’s advertising only appears in a handful of scenes.
You can’t help feeling that some of the supporting cast are a little wasted, particularly Don Johnson, but they all do their work admirably and seem to embrace the film’s ridiculous tone.
Its incredibly stupid at times but there’s a certain charm to it and its got some brilliantly over the top fights. The fights are the highlight but there’s also quirky off beat humour throughout.
A fantastically daft affair and thoroughly good fun. 7/10.
Also, I’m really looking forward to the sequel especially as it stars Lady Gaga.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.