Wikipedia defines "Grindhouse" as a downscale movie theater that showed exploitation films. Such films often had poor print quality, and featured sex, violence, and sadism.
Frankly, such movies are unlikely to be good, but they were a part of the youth of Tarantino and Rodriguez. Thus they approach the genre with respect instead of contempt, and it turns out that gross, stupid action movies can be great campy fun. Who knew, except, of course, Rodriguez and Tarantino.
Minus the trailers, which are often hilarious (my favorite was "Don't!"), we have two features. The first is "Planet Terror", written and directed by Robert Rodriguez. The second is "Death Proof", written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino has a small role in both films because, well, he can.
In the first movie, Rose McGowan is a go-go dancer. She quits, and soon encounters her ex-boyfriend, Freddy Rodriguez. The two transform from social outcasts to potential world-saving heroes following a biological holocaust spread by Bruce Willis. Soon, people in the town are turning into grotesque zombies who pursue the living.
Long story short, it is soon like the Walking Dead: bands of humans verus the zombies, with Willis and his paramilitary force straddling the line between them. Also of interest is cynical doctor Josh Brolin, his hypodermic-wielding wife Marley Shelton, and barbeque maker Jeff Fahey. McGowan loses her left leg, which is replaced by an automatic assault weapon that she uses to mow down the zombies and paramilitia.
The second story is less far-fetched, and slightly better. Two different groups of beautiful young woman are terrorized by former stunt driver Kurt Russell. The first group includes mouth-watering Sydney Poitier and Vanessa Ferlito, along with Jordan Ladd and outcast blonde Rose McGowan. The second group consists of tough girls Rosario Dawson, Tracie Thoms, Zoë Bell, and the more naive Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
The first group are heavy drinkers and tokers, and in Friday the 13th fashion, are murdered for their sins. The second group can take care of themselves, as Kurt Russell eventually learns. Except for Winstead, who is effectively traded to Deliverance-style redneck Jonathan Loughran for a classic muscle car. I hope the other three women come back for her.
How others will see it. Past Tarantino movies have had their share of memorable gross moments (who can forget the ear cut off in Reservoir Dogs) which makes him ideal to direct the genre. It is true that the movie performed poorly at the box office. But there are 160K voters at imdb.com, so we presume it has (finally) turned a profit.
The most prestigious film festivals ignored it. The best it could muster was three nominations at the Saturn Awards. But at imdb.com, the user ratings are a respectable 7.8 (out of 10) from viewers under 30, the target audience. Women over 45 give it only a 5.8, presumably turned off by the gratuitous violence.
They know that it is supposed to be humorous, and that no humans (or zombies) were harmed in the making of the movie. Nonetheless, it is too much for some. The grindhouse genre probably isn't up their alley, anyway.
How I felt about it. At least for me, Grindhouse is 191 minutes of fun. I guess I have been, and will always be, cynical enough not to care how, exactly, Rose McGowan (as the go-go dancer Cherry) fires her machine gun peg leg, or how she is able to make an immediate physical and emotional recovery from the great trauma of having her leg torn off her body by zombies.
And this is just one character from one of the stories. Similarly, there's no understanding why Kurt Russell wants to murder every hot woman he encounters. Some people are just like that, particularly in a grindhouse film.
Yes, it is a good movie, though not a great one. Tarantino has made at least three great movies, all within a five-year span (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown). They rely heavily on snappy dialogue, unpredictable resolutions, and eccentric characters. Grindhouse has all of that, but often it is cartoonish, such as the wooden plank driven into Tarantino's eye. Laugh it up, if you can.