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Wild, bloody and deliriously entertaining: Fun with a capital "f"!
Because of low box office returns in the USA (total gross: 25 million $; movie's budget: 100 million), that outrageously mouth-watering experiment known as Grindhouse was split in half for the European release: first came Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof, a masterful reinvention of the slasher flick, the main strength of which was focusing on characters and atmosphere rather than film references; and now comes Planet Terror, Robert Rodriguez's zombie opus which has "excessive" (read: fun) written all over it.
That this is going to be a different cinematic experience is obvious before the movie's even started, as it is preceded by the RIP (Rodriguez International Pictures) logo and the fake trailer Machete (the other three are not included in the separate cut), starring Danny Trejo: a bona fide B-movie advert, so gloriously OTT the MPAA would never approve it in real life (swearing, nudity and explicit violence: not good). After that, it's straight into the action: some virus turns people into flesh-eating freaks, spreading panic all over the country. While most poor fools get eaten, a small group organizes some kind of resistance. These people include Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan), a former go-go dancer, her ex-boyfriend and martial arts expert El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez), a nurse (Marley Shelton) who is about to leave her husband (Josh Brolin) and a few law enforcers (Michael Parks, playing Earl McGraw for the fourth time, and Michael Biehn). Against them, aside from the zombies, is the military, who for some reason wants to keep the virus around. And as the inevitable final battle approaches, the blood keeps flowing freely.
At first sight, Planet Terror may seem like the lesser of the two Grindhouse halves, mainly because the director, unlike Tarantino who made the separate version of Death Proof longer and better-looking, hasn't modified his segment at all (aside from reinserting half an hour worth of excised material): the scratches and aging signs are still there, and the "missing reel" (a love scene between the two leads) is still missing. But that's probably because Rodriguez, in true B-movie tradition, was more concerned with the style, of which the aging stuff is an integral part. So, while it is undeniable that QT's episode is superior artistically speaking (smarter script, better dialogue, more artful direction), it is equally undeniable that RR, knowing he can't bring anything new to the genre (George Romero and 28 Days Later... have already done it), puts all his energy in the execution (pun not intended) and delivers exactly what the audience demands: from sexy start to gory finish, Planet Terror is a 105-minute long, shamelessly overblown money shot, a picture that dumps all pretensions and sets out to simply entertain.
The focus on blood and guts (and there's plenty of them), however, does not make the film a mere exercise in style, because while he may not be as skilled a writer as his partner, RR manages to deliver some memorable lines (a satirical stab at Bin Laden being the standout) and craft excessive yet immediately likable characters, all played with almost puerile joy by a terrific cast: McGowan, who was killed off immediately in Death Proof, makes up for it here by giving flesh (and what flesh) to one of the toughest babes ever to hit a screen (the image of her with a machine gun instead of her missing leg is already iconic); Freddy Rodriguez, having stolen scenes for five years in Six Feet Under, is completely at ease in the role that should make him an A-lister; Naveen Andrews, best known for playing Sayid on Lost, has the fun of a lifetime shaking off his nice guy image as a testicle-collecting (!) scientist; and finally, people like Bruce Willis and Tarantino (whose part is ten times as crazy and hilarious as his Death Proof cameo) pop up briefly to memorable effect for one simple reason: they just want to have a good time.
A good time: that is all Planet Terror has to offer, no more, no less. And those seeking sheer entertainment, albeit delivered with gusto, should be able to enjoy this riotous adventure, as long as they are able to stomach sequences so insanely violent they make Desperado or Kill Bill look like children's flicks. In other words: this is a damn good "bloodbuster".
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