Joel Siegel's Morning After: 'Grindhouse' Grinds to a Halt

"Grindhouse," lots of hype and positive hype, the reviews were excellent, including mine: rates the critics 83 percent positive.

It was also an awful lot of fun.

And it ended up just awful.

Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill" movies opened at more than $20 million ($22 million and $25 million), so did Robert Rodriguez's "Sin City" ($29 million). Not only did they do well at the box office, the lingering word of mouth on all three films and both directors was hugely positive. They did TV, they did print, they got magazine covers, the studio expected at least a $20 million opening.

"Grindhouse" opened to $11.6 million. A disaster and, according to the ninth straight TWC (The Weinstein Co.) film to underperform its first weekend out.

Yes there was a three-hour running time, which limits showings, but "Grindhouse" did have the highest screen count, 3,700. That's $3,000 per screen. That's terrible. "Snakes on a Plane" was the last film whose hype I was sure would carry it home that got carried to the Dumpster instead. A hoot, I liked that film, too. Maybe my camp consciousness is higher than the average guy's.

What happened to "Grindhouse"? I'd point my finger at the marketing.

Much of the advertising, the hype and the publicity focused on what a grindhouse was.

A student of American pop culture, I never heard of these movie theaters being called grindhouses. Burlesque houses, strip joints, yes.

I think I went to one of these theaters exactly once. In San Francisco. On Market Street. A 24-hour newsreel house to bone up on what America was being fed about Vietnam before a peace march.

Robert Rodriguez never went to these theaters. His experience with these films was at drive-ins, he grew up in San Antonio, Texas. So was mine in West L.A. (I was usually the guy in the trunk. Got in free that way.) Tarantino says he went to grindhouses and he may have but he's an L.A. kid as well, I believe, South L.A., and he would have had to trek by bus to downtown L.A. Maybe he did, I'd bet against it.

But there were theaters, shabby theaters with sticky floors in old downtowns (and, in N.Y. on 42nd Street) that showed exploitation films and that's what "Grindhouse" pays homage to.

And does it very, very well. I loved the Rodriguez films. The second best zombie film I've ever seen, I said in my review followed by "I'm not sure if it's a good thing." The conventions are there, the special effects are so over-the-top it's obvious fantasy.

Rodriguez told me he's afraid of real blood.

The Tarantino is very talky then shifts gears into a car crash film so vivid and real, Tarantino told ABC News if you knew someone who was killed in an automobile accident you probably shouldn't see the film.

Too good for the room? Too much for the audience? The phony trailers were hysterical. The audience I saw it with was there in every frame, anticipating, cheering, a great audience.

But the film couldn't enlarge its core audience.

A rumor spread early that "Grindhouse" was fighting an NC-17 rating, that a huge amount of cuts had to be made to get an R.

Rodriguez told me that wasn't true. He and Tarantino were surprised at how easy the board was. "What, we said to each other, we're not good enough for an NC-17?"

I hear this and think, aha, the studio spread the rumor. Free publicity all over the Web, set the film up as something horror film fans have to see. If that's true, it also set the film up as something ONLY horror film fans would want to see.

"Blades of Glory" repeated at No. 1. I saw it again, took Dylan, age 9. At least I knew when to walk out and go to the concession stand so we missed the worst of the setup sex scene but the language did trouble me. Puts the bone in Zamboni is at least clever. Not so the rest of it. But Ferrell and Heder and the film are funny. Dylan laughed hard, so did his dad.

"Firehouse Dog" is a TV movie. "The Reaping" doesn't work. Repeating the plagues from Exodus, interesting but that's been part of the Passover ceremony (the eight-day holiday ends tomorrow) for 3,500 years. We Jews have learned two things about reciting the plagues: We spill a drop of wine with the mention of each one, give up something precious because, as God reminded Moses, Those Are My Children, Too.

And the ceremony is part of a longer ceremony, the Passover Seder, held over a dinner where adults must drink a compulsory four glasses of wine.

The plagues play better after four glasses of wine.

So would the movie.