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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

When multiplex movie theaters came along in the '70s, a lot of older single-screen movie theaters just couldn't compete. As a last resort, some started grinding out double features - bottom of the barrel, scratched-up horror films and car chase flicks. When these grindhouses eventually died out, some fans missed their low-rent aesthetic.

Directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez missed it so much they recreated the experience with a deliberately cheesy three-hour double feature called "Grindhouse." It comes complete with movie trailers, popcorn ads and even fake film scratches. You wouldn't think this would be up critic Bob Mondello's alley, but well, just listen.

BOB MONDELLO: Souped-up hot rods, buckets of gore, sexpots, car chases, zombies with exploding pustules - I mean, seriously, what's not to love? Who could resist a movie where the leading lady loses a leg in an attack of the living dead, and her boyfriend replaces it...

(Soundbite of movie, "Grindhouse")

Mr. FREDDY RODRIGUEZ (Actor): (As Wray) I made you something.

MONDELLO: ...with the perfect B-movie accessory - a snap-on, lock-and-load prosthetic machine-gun.

(Soundbite of movie, "Grindhouse")

(Soundbite of gun firing)

MONDELLO: Welcome to "Planet Terror," a spoof of zombie gross-outs in which Robert Rodriguez has fun overstating what you might call the essentials of the living-dead genre - carnage, cannibalism and cleavage. Here and there, the director also adds innovations of his own. I don't recall another zombie movie featuring melting genitalia, for instance.

And what filmmakers can do with body fluids in an age of digital manipulation goes way beyond the spattered-ketchup school of filmmaking. Doesn't sound like your cup of bile? Well, it's admittedly not for the faint of heart, or of stomach. But how do you feel about car chases?

(Soundbite of movie, "Grindhouse")

(Soundbite of car)

MONDELLO: They're the draw in the second half of the "Grindhouse" double bill. Actually, the second half of the second half, because Quentin Tarantino's car and babe-crazed epic, "Death-Proof," starts off with some seriously extended girl talk filmed in seriously extended takes. It's Tarantino showing off, both in the dialogue and the camerawork, in ways that the no-budget grindhouse movies generally didn't. But never mind that. Eventually one of these doomed young beauties is bound to forget that she shouldn't accept rides from strangers, like stuntman Mike in his supercharged Dodge.

(Soundbite of movie, "Grindhouse")

(Soundbite of laughing)

Mr. KURT RUSSELL (Actor): (As Stuntman Mike) Well, Pam, which way you're going? Left or right?

Ms. ROSE McGOWAN: Right. Right.

Mr. RUSSELL: (As Stuntman Mike) Ah, it's too bad.

Ms. McGOWAN: What?

Mr. RUSSELL: (As Stuntman Mike) Well, because there was 50-50 shot on whether you'd be going left or right. You see, we're both going left. You could have just easily been going left, too, and if that was the case, it would have been a while before you started getting scared. Since you're going the other way, I'm afraid you're going to have to start getting scared immediately.

(Soundbite of engine revving)

MONDELLO: This is - let's note - Tarantino riffing on Tarantino movies, not ones you'd have seen on a double bill decades ago. But hey, it's energetic and it sets up, after a second bout of chatter with a second set of gorgeous young women, what is maybe the most rip-roaring chase ever captured on film, one you are free to enjoy just as a thrill ride...

(Soundbite of movie, "Grindhouse")

MONDELLO: ...or for its cinematic virtues - swooping, continuous shots where cars disappear and erupt from clouds of dust, white-knuckle stunt work that's clearly not being digitally faked...

(Soundbite of movie, "Grindhouse")

MONDELLO: Now, to make this movie experience resemble what you'd have gotten in a real grindhouse, both halves of the double feature have been carefully marred with deep film scratches and even missing reels - the sex scenes, naturally, which in the old days might well have gone missing, off in some projectionist's private collection. There's talk that when "Grindhouse" is released overseas, it'll be as two separate films, and at that point each will have more material.

Might work there, but together, at three-plus hours, including some hilarious fake previews created by prominent young horror directors, "Grindhouse" is a bit too much of a good thing. If each of its films were shortened 15 minutes, the overall package would be stronger. But it's hard to argue with filmmakers who are so in love with such disreputable subject matter - so in love that they just can't bear to let it go.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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