Planet Terror (18) Lions for Lambs (15)

Blood, guts and girls aplenty, but this zombie flick lacks a soul
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The Independent Culture

Planet Terror was intended as one half of Grindhouse, a Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez double bill which paid tribute to the golden age of cheap and nasty B-movies. Alas, Grindhouse flopped in America, so for its European release the producers have chopped it in two, and distributed a longer version of each segment as a separate film. Tarantino's half, Death Proof, came and went a few weeks ago.

Planet Terror is Rodriguez's half, a tongue-in-cheek zombie flick set in a small town in Texas. A military experiment has gone badly wrong, and when the townsfolk start eating each other, it's up to a pole dancer (Rose McGowan), a sheriff (Michael Biehn), and a drifter (Freddy Rodriguez, no relation) to blow what's left of their brains out.

Rodriguez has added scratches to the film stock and crackles to the soundtrack, to give us some sense of what it might have been like to see a bargain-basement horror movie in a backstreet fleapit in the 1970s. But without Tarantino's film alongside it to hammer home the joke, there's precious little left of the "grindhouse" concept. Yes, Planet Terror has girls, guns and explosions, not to mention stilted dialogue and cut-price special effects, but that doesn't make it any different from almost everything else Rodriguez has ever done.

Instead of seeming like a knowing homage to exploitation movies, Planet Terror is just another of the many other zombie films to have appeared since 28 Days Later brought the genre back from the grave five years ago. The Dawn of the Dead remake beats it for scares; Shaun of the Dead is a better pastiche; and if you want to see scantily clad Amazons machine-gunning zombies to mincemeat, there are the three Resident Evil films to choose from.

Once the blood starts flowing, there is some outrageous fun to be had on Planet Terror, but there are too many leaden exposition scenes to sit through first. Presumably those are the scenes which were left out of the original, shorter Grindhouse edit. I haven't seen Grindhouse, but I'd guess that Planet Terror was a blast when it was packed into an hour and a half. The stand-alone cut, like its mutant monsters, keeps stumbling along well after it should have expired.

Lions for Lambs mulls over America's war on terror by switching between three scenes. In one of these, a Republican senator, Tom Cruise, is spin-doctoring the government's new Afghanistan military strategy to a journalist, Meryl Streep. In the second, a university professor, Robert Redford, is trying to shake a once-promising student, Andrew Garfield, out of his apathy by telling him about two former students who joined the army. And, over in Afghanistan, those two alumni, Derek Luke and Michael Pena, are freezing on a mountainside.

Lions for Lambs has big names and big issues aplenty then, but it's less than the sum of its prestigious parts. In their strand, Luke and Pena can't do anything except wait to be rescued – a role Pena has already played in World Trade Center. The other two strands are essentially one-act fringe plays which sound as if they should be clever, but aren't.