Dir: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Kurt Russell, Zoe Bell, Rosario Dawson, Tracie Thoms, Rose McGowan, Sydney Poitier, Vanessa Ferlito
Run. Time: 114mins
Death Proof chronicles two different groups of women as they set off to enjoy themselves only to be preyed upon by Stuntman Mike, a man with a car and a dark secret.
In March Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez released “Grindhouse” in theatres. It was a personal homage to the grindhouse cinema experience of the 1970s. It was a true double bill. The films were separated by trailers for fake films in between. Everything was done in a dodgy ’70s style and it was played for laughs and for entertainment. There was even glitched sound and picture. The two features, Planet Terror from Rodriguez and Death Proof from Tarantino, were cut down substantially to keep the running time palatable to the average cinema-going audience. I thought it was a great idea for a fun night out. The films were never going to be classic, just fun, which was all they needed to be. I was really looking forward to the whole thing. It opened Easter holiday weekend in the States and it tanked. It made 10 million dollars less than The Weinstein Company’s lowest estimate. They pulled the release from UK theatres and now this is the one half of the cinematic versions we are to receive, a 114 minute cut of Tarantino’s film with much of the visual and audio glitches removed and a whole bunch of the film reinstated.
I found that treating this as a movie by itself completely removed the charm that I thought the original concept had. Some of the trailers for “Grindhouse” were immensely entertaining. In that sphere, of two B-movies for the price of one and a whole night of laughs I was willing to get on board but what we have here is a full price ticket for a film DESIGNED to go straight to video. If you make a deliberate bad movie then there has to be a hook to make you want to see it. Grindhouse provided that, Death Proof does not.
I haven’t seen the 90-minute cut but I expect much of the extra running time is in the lengthy conversational scenes. We all know Quentin Tarantino has a knack for writing very watchable dialogue, but it’s usually in the middle of a good flick. Here it just feels like it’s been forced in and it feels really boring. The film really drags in some places. With the lengthy dialogue the film falls in between its two targets. Either it should have been a great film, or a totally exploitative one, but enjoyably so. The pacing ensures that we don’t get the requisite cheap thrills, none sexual, in high enough abundance to make if feel worth the price of admission, while the cheap thrills in themselves prevent it from being a great movie. The extensive dialogue is, I think, meant to give us some emotional investment in the characters before we’re either shocked by their demise or are rooting for them in battle, but amazingly such lengthy exchanges give us very little insight, particularly in the first half of the film.
The few appearances of poor audio/visual quality no longer feel like an homage to the era and act simply to annoy. One other thing is the shameless self promotion of referencing other Tarantino films. It doesn’t feel like easter eggs for fans and there’s no charm behind them. They all feel like the horrible “This is cooler than Armageddon line” from the grisly Transformers, although no single reference is quite this masturbatory.
This being said the movie is not without its positive points. As usual for a Tarantino movie the soundtrack is excellent and we already know that the man is a competent director, so the film never looks poor except when intentionally done so. Kurt Russell is great as the villainous Stuntman Mike, managing to give the character some depth, and all of the performances from the actors are completely convincing. The second troupe of girls is particularly charming and their individual personalities are really given a chance to shine with none of the actresses standing out but giving a feeling of quality to the group. When we do get to the action sequences, which the film should really be about, they are tremendous fun. Really tremendous fun. Unlike the rest of the film the explicit nature of some of the violence doesn’t seem forced and it is enjoyable without feeling unnecessarily pornographic. These scenes are just about worth the price of admission because I did have a great time during them but I think the shorter cut must have been better paced.
In Brief: Tarantino has delivered something with strong acting and which is at least enjoyable but far too slow and irritatingly self-referential to really be worthwhile and a huge step down from his best work. Good for a laugh, but a hard-earned one, and not really worth repeat viewings.
Originally posted Monday, 24 September 2007.