You may have noticed that all coverage of Planet Terror has screeched open with the declaration that it is better than its Grindhouse Siamese twin Death Proof. Well, never let me stand in the way of a rather obvious consensus: this second half is fun, of the actual kind, rather than the clichéd fanboy fun you may have been dreading.
So that’s what it isn’t – what is it? At its heart is supposedly the release of a bio-weapon, turning thousands into zombie-like creatures. Quite strangely, though, the film skips most of the conventional narrative of zombies taking over. Or what exactly the zombies do. Or where they are, or why. But in the end they are really just sideline cannon fodder for a loose-knit bunch of red-neck ne-erdowells to ignore, as they instead try to knob and/or kill each other.
The plots of the disparate characters are less knitted together, so much as bundled in a heap and left in a corner. Planet Terror may have dodged the self-indulgent bullet, but that doesn’t give it a get-out-of-jail-free card; the plot is much less purposefully and casually strung together than was intended.
The characters that are worth following are all small screen stars. Charmed provides Rose McGowan in smoking hot form as a pole dancer (I’m aware I can’t really pull off saying ‘smoking hot’, but given she plays a heroine called Cherry Darling, it just kind of ‘goes’).
Freddy Rodriguez (whiny undertaker in Six Feet Under; sandwich maker in Ugly Betty) is quite the pocket-sized action hero, clearing a hospital of zombies in a couple acrobatic moves, even though he is only eight inches tall. Together with a legless Rose McGowan (something that doesn’t last for long, but if you’ve miraculously managed to avoid reading what happens, I don’t want to be the one who ruins it) they’re an unlikely action hero couple.
To complete this cast raid from the small screen is Naveen Andrews, the Iraqi from Lost who in real life sounds as cock-er-ney as a ha’penny box of chirpy sparrows. Although he doesn’t get much screen time, he steals his scenes as a suave rogue who’s a world apart from life on Mopey Island.
Past this point, though, the film could cut the vast majority of the characters. Josh Brolin’s malicious doctor is more distracting than entertaining, and Tarantino’s turn as a surprisingly tough foul-mouthed soldier only just stays the right side of self-indulgent.
And that’s the problem with Planet Terror, as was already discovered with Grindhouse as a whole – it’s absurdly self-indulgent. But considering the very low indulgency bar that was set by Deathly Boring, the second instalment does put its back into filmmaking more than you might expect. Sure, that often amounts to little more than squelchy imagination and a fair few kick-ass action sequences. But what more were you expecting?
Planet Terror may not return Rodriguez to his From Dusk Til Dawn heights, and it doesn’t redeem Grindhouse as a whole. But it is also has far fewer clichés and in-jokes than should have been expected. Take it as the action-and-cheap-laugh flick it is, and it’s an entertaining enough diversion.