Newest Review: ... the one area where Tarantino surpasses Rodriguez since he uses these regularly and effectively, but without overdoing it. There are plen... more
A Bit of A Grind(house)
Death Proof (DVD)
Member Name: SWSt
Death Proof (DVD)
Advantages: Great set-pieces and some trademark Tarantino smart dialogue
Disadvantages: Rather slow paced; second half is essentially a repeat of the first
Death Proof is the second part of the Grindhouse collaboration between Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rogriguez. Originally envisaged as a double bill homage to the bad "exploitation" films of the 70s (complete with fake trailers) it was hacked into two separate films for its UK release. Death Proof is the Quentin Tarantino segment and, against expectations, the weaker segment.
Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) is a psycho who stalks women in his specially modified death proof car. Having identified his victims, he drives them off the road, involving them in an accident from which he walks away (relatively) unscathed, whilst they just don't walk away.
After the cheesy promise of Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror segment, it's slightly disappointing that the Tarantino segment doesn't quite match the same standard. Having said that, there is still a lot to like about Death Proof. Fans of Tarantino in particular will get plenty out of it, as the director constantly references his own films, bringing in characters, sounds and products featured Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction. If you know your Tarantino, it's fun keeping an eye (and ear) open for these. Some are obvious; others less so, but it's a great device to make you look at everything in camera shot!
As with Planet Terror, Tarantino has a lot of fun mimicking the low quality of Grindhouse movies. It's littered with awful camera shots, poor editing, blatant continuity errors, scratchy images and poor sound. Arguably, this is the one area where Tarantino surpasses Rodriguez since he uses these regularly and effectively, but without overdoing it.
There are plenty of times when Tarantino gets it right and when he does, you catch glimpses of the film Death Proof could (and should) have been. This is particularly true in the driving sequences. As Stuntman Mike picks off his first set of victims, you get a superbly staged set-piece and a wonderfully accurate tribute to those old exploitation movies (victims fly through the air, limbs are severed , bodies are crushed under collapsing metal). The death sequences are both slightly cheesy and terrifically staged.
Similarly, the car chases in the second part of the film are superb. There is a rawness and sense of reality to them that harps back to the good old days when (as Stuntman Mike himself observes) everything was done for real, without the (over)use of CGI. The stunts feel dangerous, edgy and realistic, perfectly capturing a sense of excitement and peril.
The trouble is, there just isn't enough of this sort of thing. Tarantino spends far too long setting things up, with an over-emphasis on dialogue and not enough on action. Of course, clever, whip-smart dialogue is Tarantino's trademark and there are plenty of examples of Tarantino's quirky observations on the world, all delivered in his own inimitable style. Yet, whilst that has proved successful in the past for establishing characters and situations, it works against Death Proof. This is supposed to be an action film and all the clever dialogue and elongated set-ups slow down the pace of the film. It goes against the spirit of Grindhouse, which is all about providing thrill after thrill after exploitative thrill.
Had Tarantino maintained the breakneck, breathless pace of the first car wreck and the superb action packed car chase towards the end, he would have had a real winner. As it is, Death Proof often feels slow and uneven.
This sense of an unevenness is increased by the fact that Death Proof is effectively split into two, but the second half is little more than a revised repetition of the first. The opening sequences sees Stuntman Mike stalking his first set of potential victims and killing them in a staged accident; the second part is really just the same thing with a different set of women. It's as though Tarantino only had one real idea for Death Proof, so simply plagiarised himself. Again, there's a degree to which this can be seen as a homage to the original Grindhouse genre, which regularly made films based on the slimmest of ideas. However, whilst you can appreciate this little in-joke on some levels, it wears a little thin in a 21st century film.
Tarantino also goes overboard in the lechery over his leading ladies. All the women in the film are dressed provocatively in low-cut tops, short shorts or belt skirts. Tarantino spends a lot of time pointing his camera in such a way that the main feature of the shot is the backside of one of the female cast. Now, on the one hand, you can argue that this is absolutely capturing the spirit of these exploitative movies. On the other hand, the voyeuristic camera angles make for uncomfortable viewing in the (hopefully) more enlightened 21st century.
If female flesh is your thing, then the film is certainly easy on the eye with Rose McGowan (also in Planet Terror), Rosario Dawson and Mary Elizabeth Winstead all cropping up in various male-fantasy inducing costumes. Thankfully, at least they also have the acting chops to back up their looks (although the appearance of Zoe Bell in the second half shows why she is a (superb) stunt woman, rather than a full-blown actress).
It's Kurt Russell who's having the most fun, though and he turns in a great performance as the mysterious Stuntman Mike. Once again, the star is riffing on some of his more famous roles from the 80s (particularly Snake Plissken) and shows he can still do both charming and menacing. Even though he probably has less screen time than many of his female co-stars, he's the best thing in Death Proof by a country mile.
When it comes to Grindhouse tributes though, I personally think that Rodriguez turns out the better film. Planet Terror was big, loud, dumb and stupid. Full of cheesy effects and even cheesier dialogue, it perfectly captured the awfulness of many Grindhouse films. Tarantino's segment has its moments, but the slower pace of Death Proof prevents it from completely fulfilling its potential.
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Running time: approx 114 minutes
(c) Copyright SWSt 2012
Summary: Inferior to Rodriguez's segment