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Category:    Home > Reviews > Horror > Science Fiction > Satire > Drama > Thriller > Heist > Comedy > Grindhouse/The Reaping/The Hoax/The Lookout/Shooter (Theatrical Film Reviews)

Grindhouse/The Reaping/The Hoax/The Lookout/Shooter (Theatrical Film Reviews)







Reviews by Chuck O'Leary









Grindhouse - The grisly ode to '70s and early '80s exploitation cinema that filmmaker buddies Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez started with From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) continues in this double feature, which isn't just a tribute to exploitation films, but also a loving homage to a type of overall moviegoing experience that has sadly disappeared -- the lurid double and triple features shown at rundown urban theaters (aka "grindhouses") and drive-ins.


Grindhouse is two movies for the price of one along with the kind trailers and ads you'd see before and in-between the regular features at such venues.  The films themselves, Rodriguez's 86-minute Planet Terror, which comes first, and Tarantino's 87-minute Death Proof, seldom rise above the cheesy level of the very "B" movies they're emulating, but the 3 hours and 12 minutes (including four mock trailers and a few old ads) of Grindhouse is a fun throwback to what it felt like to see exploitation movies at the nabes, drive-ins and inner-city theaters during the '70s and early '80s.


Surprisingly, Rodriguez's Planet Terror is the slightly better of the two.  It's a gory zombie flick set in Texas about a mystery man (Freddy Rodriguez) and a one-legged stripper (Rose McGowan) who become the leaders of a small group of people after a deadly gas causes the townsfolk and the soldiers at the local Army base to turn into walking-dead flesh eaters.  Planet Terror is fittingly cast with B movie vets such as Michael Biehn, Jeff Fahey and Michael Parks (who plays a Texas lawman in both films).  All that's missing is Michael Ironside as the Army commander, a role that instead went to Bruce Willis, who's too A-list for this project.  The highlight of Planet Terror is a great electronic musical score by Rodriguez himself, which intentionally sounds a lot like a John Carpenter score since Carpenter's Escape from New York is the film that first inspired Rodriguez to become a filmmaker.  And the splatterful proceeds combined with the presence of the era's master of gore, Tom Savini, is a clear debt of gratitude to the films of George Romero, especially Dawn of the Dead


Also set in Texas is Tarantino's Death Proof, a tribute to great, old-fashioned, pre-CGI stunt work and two types of B movies -- '70s "fast-car flicks" like Vanishing Point, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry and the original Gone in 60 Seconds and '70s "tough-chick flicks" like Switchblade Sisters and Supervixens.  In a role originally intended for Mickey Rourke, who dropped out at the eleventh hour, Kurt Russell portrays Stuntman Mike, a cool on the outside, crazy on the inside former Hollywood stunt driver with a compulsion to kill women with his 1970 Dodge Challenger.  After sweet-talking then murdering five women with his vehicle, Stuntman Mike meets his match when he instigates a deadly driving duel with three stuntwomen test driving a 1970 Dodge Charger.  Death Proof is a little too talky and takes too long to get going, but Russell's amusing performance and some thrilling car stunts make it worthwhile.  Russell, though, doesn't get enough screen time, and Tarantino's film tends to drag when he disappears for long stretches.  Also, as played by Russell, Stuntman Mike, who's sort of a charming Burt Reynolds wannabe, is too likable to really root against.


The four trailers also pay homage to other trashy genres popular in those years.  Rodriguez's Machete starring Danny Trejo is a tribute to the era's countless revenge thrillers; Rob Zombie's Werewolf Women of the SS serves as a double tribute to silly horror titles like Werewolves on Wheels and Nazi-sexploitation such as Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS; Eli Roth's Thanksgiving spoofs the countless holiday themed slasher movies of the early '80s, while Edgar Wright's Don't pokes loving fun at all the horror films of the '70s and early '80s with "Don't" in their titles like Don't Answer the Phone, Don't Go in the Basement, etc.


For most of its 192 minutes, Grindhouse is an entertaining blast from the past, and I didn't even mind the purposely scratchy look of Planet Terror and the occasional, intentional bad cuts where a few frames are missing.  But I could have done without the deliberately missing reel and accompanying story gap in both Planet Terror and Death Proof.  It's rumored these "missing" moments might turn up as an extra selling point on DVD, but even in the good old days, missing reels would have meant a bad moviegoing experience for many of us.   Rating for Planet Terror: 7 out of 10.  Rating for Death Proof: 7 out of 10.  Overall rating for Grindhouse: 7 out of 10.




The Reaping - Hilary Swank goes slumming in this stupid supernatural thriller that's only made watchable by the presence of Swank herself.  She plays a former ordained minister who lost her faith after a tragedy, and now works as an investigator traveling the globe disproving miracles.  But her newfound atheism will be tested when being called to a small Louisiana town being hit by plagues of Biblical proportions -- the lake turns to blood, livestock is dying and frogs fall from the sky.  Can swarms of locusts be far behind?  Originally scheduled for release last November, The Reaping is an amalgam of supernatural/religious-themed horror films like The Seventh Sign, Rosemary's Baby and The Omen, and it might play better for people who haven't seen those.  For me, though, it was never convincing; the bloody lake looks too much like the red dye that it is, the oversized locusts are too conspicuously digital and the ending too predictable.  The Reaping will end up doing for Swank's career what Bless the Child did for the career of another Oscar-winning actress, Kim Basinger -- nothing.  Rating: 5 out of 10.


The Hoax - Based on a true story, this is the intriguing seriocomic tale of how a failed novelist named Clifford Irving (Richard Gere) attempted to save his career by concocting a lie that the notoriously reclusive, eccentric tycoon Howard Hughes personally picked him to write his autobiography.  The Lasse Hallstrom-directed film shows the extreme lengths Irving went to during 1971-1972 to keep his publishers convinced he was secretly collaborating with Hughes, which, of course, he wasn't.  Coincidentally, The Hoax parallels the storyline of another amusing current movie, Color Me Kubrick (also in theaters/reviewed elsewhere on this site,) in which John Malkovich plays a real-life con artist who, for years, successfully pretended to be another reclusive legend, filmmaker Stanley Kubrick.  In both cases, the compulsive need for privacy by Hughes and Kubrick, and the resulting lack of public and media knowledge about them, is precisely why these outrageous liars succeed for as long as they did.  Gere delivers a good, risky performance as Irving, having the guts to portray the character as an egocentric slimeball.  And Alfred Molina is very entertaining as Irving's anxious partner in the ruse.  The Hoax is a pleasant spring surprise.  Rating: 7 out of 10.


The Lookout - A promising young actor named Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives a totally believable performance in this character-driven crime thriller.  He plays Chris Pratt, a star in high school who suffers brain damage in a car accident that renders him a bit "slow."  Chris works the graveyard shift as a janitor at a Kansas bank, and shares an apartment with a perceptive blind man (Jeff Daniels as Lewis).  The day to day struggles of these disabled characters by itself is enough to make for an interesting movie, but The Lookout turns into a thriller once a group of criminals dupe Chris into helping them rob the bank where he works.  I especially liked the subtle way Gordon-Levitt portrays his character in this movie, not making his disability obvious.  And the underrated Daniels is also very convincing as his worldly-wise roommate.  The Lookout is definitely worth a look.  Rating: 7 out of 10.


Shooter - Take a little of Rambo, The Fugitive, Sniper and Three Days of the Condor, dumb them down, add a flagrant left-wing agenda, and you have Shooter, an atrocious, boring, hopelessly generic action-thriller.  The film's anti-U.S. government screed starts early as Mark Wahlberg's military sniper is abandoned after completing a mission behind enemy lines.  He then retires to a mountain cabin where he's soon cajoled by the head of some super-secret government agency (Danny Glover) into helping plan the assassination of a fictional U.S. president.  But when the real target turns out to be a visiting African leader, Wahlberg discovers he's the fall guy, forcing him to go on the lam.  With the help of one honest FBI agent (Michael Pena), the lethal marksman will soon turn the tables on his pursuers, turning into a one-man army.  The presence of the far-left Glover playing an agent of the U.S. government is evidence enough where this movie's headed.  But add the assassination of a foreign leader because he didn't want the U.S. building a pipeline through his country, a corrupt U.S. senator (Ned Beatty) and a scene where the film's one smart, righteous FBI agent wears a Che Guevara T-Shirt, the anti-American agenda of screenwriter Jonathan Lemkin (based on the novel of Washington Post writer Stephen Hunter -- consider the source) and hack director Antoine Fuqua becomes as clear as day.  Furthermore, Wahlberg is so unconvincing here that he makes Tom Berenger's performance in the three Sniper films seem positively Oscar caliber.  If you thought Sly Stallone was inarticulate as Rambo, he's positively Shakespearian compared to Mumbles the Street Punk Wahlberg.  It's infuriating and depressing how, during a time of war against Islamic Fascists who want to either convert or kill anyone not exactly like them, Hollywood would still much rather portray the U.S. Government as the villain.  For shame.  Shooter is a real stinker.  Rating: 2 out of 10.


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