Monday, 20 May 2024

Comic turn in 'Done': Pulp gone wild in 'Grindhouse'


There are so few comedies suitable for the family that it would be unseemly to get bogged down in quibbling about absurd plot contrivances or the minor flaws that could easily induce a reality check.

Picking up somewhere “Are We There Yet?” left off, the Ice Cube comedy vehicle keeps rolling along, to somewhat better effect this time, in “Are We Done Yet?”

Probably the biggest surprise is seeing edgy hip-hop artist Ice Cube, though his scowl remains intact, playing the part of a cuddly G-rated family man, more like an urbanized Ozzie Nelson, even if he’s befuddled with the household routine.

“Are We Done Yet?” finds its humor in the nightmare of home improvement that once plagued Tom Hanks in “The Money Pit.” Notwithstanding more contemporary references, the film makes it clear that its source of inspiration is a vintage screwball comedy, the Cary Grant classic “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.”

Since his last film, Ice Cube’s Nick Persons is newly married to Suzanne (Nia Long), even though it makes him stepfather to a pair of moody adolescents, 8-year-old Kevin (Philip Daniel Bolden) and 13-year-old Lindsey (Aleisha Allen).

Along with the family dog, this nuclear family is trying to coexist in Nick’s cramped bachelor pad. When Suzanne announces they are expecting twins, Nick thinks it best to move to the countryside, much to the dismay of his stepchildren, who don’t want to leave the city.

Nick finds a seemingly idyllic Victorian home in a bucolic area, thought it requires dealing with unctuous real estate salesman Chuck Mitchell (John C. McGinley), who apparently is oblivious to the ethics code of his profession.

As soon as the ink is dry on the escrow papers, everything starts to go wrong with the dream house. When Nick realizes he can’t turn the house into a fix-it-yourself project, he calls for the local contractor, which also turns out to be Chuck. Soon the property is overrun by Chuck’s cronies, including the Hawaiian dry-rot specialists and the blind plumbers.

Naturally, things go horribly wrong when the premises are overrun by subcontractors coping with problems that multiply exponentially. From corroded plumbing to faulty electrical wiring, the house gets even worse when floors collapse and walls disintegrate, and pretty soon flying bats and hungry raccoons invade.

When Nick runs afoul of some of the workers, he also finds to his chagrin that Chuck is the town’s building inspector, and only too eager to issue citations and make life miserable for Nick.

Not unexpectedly, “Are We Done Yet?” is the kind of agreeable comedy that nevertheless lacks the ambition to score some knockout punches. Tending to be blander than daring, the humor is obvious in an inoffensive manner.

The movie’s biggest surprise is that Nick has ostensibly deep pockets. But at least Ice Cube is a likeable, charming character, while John C. McGinley chews the scenery with his manic personality.



Trash cinema is alive and well in “Grindhouse,” a double dose of exploitation thrills that include zombies on a rampage and a psycho serial killer’s roving, racing death machine.

“Grindhouse” pays homage to the cheap slasher and splatter films that could be seen in dilapidated all-night theaters and drive-ins that cranked out three and four movies in one viewing.

To achieve verisimilitude of 1970s-era exploitation cinema, “Grindhouse” is a collaborative effort of two directors, Quentin Tarantino (“Pulp Fiction”) and Robert Rodriguez (“El Mariachi”), who also wrote the two screenplays for this modern take on the independent horror and schlock genre.

The beauty, if you can call it that, of “Grindhouse” is its brilliantly over-the-top and ridiculously lowbrow descent into glorification of bad action-packed movies. Style is as important as substance, considering that the film itself is presented as a double-bill deliberately made to look scratchy, complete with missing scenes.

Best of all, there are “Coming Attractions” for nonexistent, low-grade movies that are so perversely funny and outrageously bizarre that you keep wishing for more.

The first part of “Grindhouse” is Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror,” a cheesy zombie horror story that turns a small Texas town into a horrible vision of chemical apocalypse. An experiment gone badly wrong casts a plague on townsfolk who turn into pus-oozing mutants on a rampage to mutilate, dismember and destroy those not infected.

Doctors William and Dakota Block (Josh Brolin and Marley Shelton), facing a meltdown of their marriage, are working the graveyard shift to cope with the heavy influx of people bloodied and maimed.

Among the wounded is Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan), an exotic dancer who loses her leg during a roadside attack. Her ex-boyfriend Wray (Freddy Rodriguez) is in trouble with the law, but he’s at her side, and eventually helps her to get a machine-gun as a prosthetic device.

As the legions of zombies continue to multiply, Cherry and Wray set up shop at a seedy Texas barbecue joint and lead a team of accidental warriors into the night to fight the ghoulish flesh-eating fiends who seek to annihilate everyone.

“Planet Terror” is loaded with interesting and mysterious characters, such as Bruce Willis as a secretive military operative and Naveen Andrews who has an unhealthy obsession with certain body parts. Then there’s the bodacious Stacy Ferguson, better known as the singer “Fergie,” whose best features are on display until she’s viciously attacked by flesh-eaters.

Tarantino delivers on his part of the double feature with “Death Proof,” the tale of a psycho killer behind the wheel of a souped-up Chevy Nova in a high-octane car chase with his female victims. It’s also classic Tarantino devotion to camaraderie that allows for plenty of observational dialogue.

Pretty Sydney Tamiia Poitier’s Jungle Julia is an Austin DJ hanging out with her friends at a local tavern, where the sinister, scar-faced Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) takes notice of the ladies. His interest proves deadly on a deserted stretch of country road.

The action shift to Tennessee where real-life stuntwoman Zoe Bell plays herself, and is joined by Tracie Thoms’ Kim as a fellow stuntwoman on location for a film shoot. Also joining them are Rosario Dawson’s Abernathy, a makeup artist, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Lee, a young actress.

Enjoying some time off, this quartet of lively women find time to test drive a 1970 Dodge Challenger, in what clearly pays homage to “Vanishing Point.” Their daredevil antics on the back roads draw notice from Stuntman Mike, now driving a Dodge Charger. This time, the movie really takes off with exciting car chase sequences, and the action becomes a full-throttled chick-revenge flick.

“Grindhouse,” rated R for good reason, is likely to draw heavily on the younger male audience revved up for action and thrills heavy on guns, guts, gore and chase scenes. There’s plenty of clever stuff here that spoofs the exploitation genre, turning this whole enterprise into a guilty pleasure.

Running at slightly more than three hours, “Grindhouse” is an endurance test that requires a certain perverse fascination with the genre.

Tim Riley reviews movies for Lake County News.



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