Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Distributed by The Weinstein Company
Life as a thrill seeking stuntman isn’t all it might be cracked out to be, especially as one enters the twilight of their career. Long hours, injuries from nasty accidents, and the high cost of health insurance might seem like suitable costs to pay for the euphoric blast of adrenaline; however, getting older in this career may not be as rewarding as getting started in it. Suddenly that adrenaline rush doesn’t come so easily, the twisted scars on your face cut into the roles you can land, and attractive young girls these days don’t even recognize the films you’ve been in. When this happens, this is when you raise the bar. This is when you go that extra mile to give yourself that shocking thrill you so need and deserve.
This is when you go out and start killing people.
Kurt Russell stars as Stuntman Mike in this grimy story of an oddball psycho-killer out on the prowl. Mike’s targets are small groups of lethally hip women, and his weapon of choice is a souped-up muscle car rigged to be completely “Death Proof” for the driver. The film trails the good stuntman as he stalks his prey and eventually puts the pedal to the floor in some of the most explosive and bloody car action ever put on film.
While Planet Terror is a constant rush of action-packed mutant glory, Death Proof flows with a slow build of energy that starts in slow idle before hitting the afterburner for high octane action. This is a film that’s entertainment value rests in its peaks and is paid for by its lows. The film features, in particular, one smashing car crash scene that is completely off the hook; an explosive scene of metal wrenching action so shockingly bloody and mean that it’ll likely stun you into either silence or loud exclamatory curses.
This particular scene comes about midway through the film and is as sudden and thrilling as a 30-second high velocity roller coaster. The last quarter of the film is devoted to a much longer demonstration of road combat and features some breathless stunt work by notable Zoe Bell. It is this portion of the movie that is its biggest savior, as this action is so well done and energized that it brings enough entertainment nearly for an entire film.
While the highs of Death Proof are worth a few cheers, the lows are worth a few snores. As is obvious, both of the Grindhouse films were inspired by that genre of the same name; however they are inspirations only. These are homage to grindhouse films; not replicas. The key word to consider in Tarantino’s approach to Death Proof is “indulgent”. Tarantino indulged his every little whim in the making of this film, over and beyond those things that made the original grindhouse film’s so grindhouse. This indulgence led Tarantino to create some significant pacing problems, particularly in dialogue.
Any sophomore film student can tell you that every scene in a film should be moving the story forward. It is a completely freshman mistake to add scenes (whether in film or prose) that have nothing to do with the story but are only there to amuse the author. Tarantino is waaaaay guilty of this. Death Proof suffers from grossly overly drawn out hyper-hip conversations between slang-throwing young women. These filmic faux pas are throughout the film, though most notable in two different car scenes featuring two different groups of four women. At the very beginning of the film, we listen to a long bantering conversation between four women driving in a car that has little, or nothing, to do with the rest of the film; similarly in the middle we meet four new young slang-throwing women again in a car also talking about things that no one but Tarantino cares about. This gross self-indulgence is so rampant and eats up so much time that Death Proof could very well be used as a tool to teach proper film editing; students could be assigned the task of removing what doesn’t belong and get Death Proof down to something more to its core, and thus more powerful. Ninety minutes will get you an A!
The scenes that need the most clipping were already included in the original theatrical release of Death Proof, and ironically it is the extended footage on the newly released DVD that should have always been there to begin with. Apart from the obvious action, it is the interaction between Kurt Russell’s worthy Stuntman Mike and his young female targets that makes for some of the best of Death Proof’s entertainment. This new DVD release includes a black and white scene of Stuntman Mike doing some preliminary stalking outside of a small convenience store. This scene moves the story forward where some of the other talkie blather doesn’t; it helps build up the tension by showing Mike engaging in some rather socially unacceptable behavior in the form of Tarantino-approved foot love.
The other significant scene added to the DVD release is the much missed lap dance by Butterfly (Ferlito) for Stuntman Mike. The missing reel joke was funny in the theatrical release, but at the same time it was costly. Keeping this scene in might have been a better choice. Tarantino lost the wrong reel. On the surface, this scene was just a bit of fun camp with sexual overtones; however, I think it’s arguable that this scene encapsulates Stuntman Mike’s entire motive. A lap dance is controlled by the dancer; the receiver is not allowed to touch the dancer without the dancer physically moving her hands to direct his own. Mike is reduced to sitting passively, touched by a woman that will not allow him to touch her (and never will), and surrounded by people who do not know who he is, what he’s done, and do not care. Mike is shown here to be socially impotent despite his career of fast paced thrills and bodily scars, and it is in this impotence that lay the bitter burning coals that stoke his urge to kill.
The DVD release comes with a number of supplemental materials that sum to a respectable bonus. The first of the 2-DVD set includes trailers and posters and the second has a number of featurettes. These extras highlight much of the work behind the film including Kurt Russell’s role as Stuntman Mike and a well-earned spotlight on Zoe Bell, and all total to nearly 3 hours of additional viewing. Rather conspicuously missing from this release is any commentary track at all, which is a little surprising as you just know Tarantino has a lot to say about it (e.g., “See, I really like this girl’s feet”). Perhaps we’ll see a commentary in a future boxset? Time will tell.
While suffering from the aforementioned pacing flaws, Death Proof is commendable and entertaining both in its high powered action sequences and stylized love for an old and beloved genre. While Grindhouse is never likely to reignite a return to theaters of similar films, both movies within it are quite worthy to own and re-watch over the years. Enjoy it.
4 out of 5
3 1/2 out of 5