Death Proof opens on a pair of shapely feet, with polished toes, natch, resting on a sunlit dashboard. Tarantino needn’t even bother putting his name in the credits anymore.
On DVD, Death Proof has been divorced from its husband, Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, after only a few months of marriage, and “Grindhouse” is no longer a movie, just, at best, a guiding philosophy. So now we have a “Director’s Cut” of Death Proof, but it turns out to be too much of a good thing; the “reel missing” titles from the Grindhouse presentation have been replaced by the actual reels, but as it then stands Death Proof feels like it could stand to lose a reel, or all of its second half for that matter.
The first half of Death Proof is damn near perfect, but I suppose it’s so good that the film has nowhere to go but down. The first section of the film, sweaty and smutty, is shot in a grainy ’70s style, meant to evoke the grindhouse features to which Tarantino is, in a way, paying homage. For good measure, he tosses in some built-in scratches to the film (somewhat analogous to buying jeans with holes already torn in them) and some skittery moments, so that in the end it feels like watching a beat-up print being played through a shitty projector by an asshole projectionist.
Surprisingly, the gimmicks pay off, as they’re meticulously incorporated and totally convincing, so that when one character pulls out a cellphone it feels anachronistic. (It’s used, though, for the most touching text message that’s yet been filmed.) Once again, as in the Kill Bill dyad, Tarantino has managed to create a work of pure pastiche that is still uniquely and unmistakably Tarantino’s own. It is tribute as only he could pay it.
A gaggle of short-shorted girlies occupy the film’s first half; they’re on their way out of Austin to an uncle’s lakehouse but first they’re going to stop at every decent roadhouse and margaritaville along the way. (I could’ve stayed in the last bar they visit all movie long, what with all the T-Rex, Joe Tex and Stax spinning on the jukebox, but unfortunately the bar, and the women, are excised from the film Marion Crane style, though at least we get a gruesomely delicious killing sequence.) There’s plenty of unmistakably Tarantino dialogue, stylized chick confab with lines like, said in the pouring rain, “it’s wet as ‘Nam out there!”, not to mention that these are all strong and independent women along Beatrix Kiddo lines, while all the guys they meet are whiny, conniving and scummy. (That last point is driven home once you realize that that’s scumbag extraordinaire Eli Roth playing one.) It’s an important point, since it makes up for, or at least evens out, the surfeit of sexploitation, complete with copious ass shots and a spicy lap dance sequence. They’re not strong or independent enough, though, to be able to take on Kurt Russel, who’s been tailing them in his pirate-flag-black automobile, complete with a Jolly Roger painted on the hood.
Once the satisfaction of the first half is done and gone, though, Tarantino sort of repeats it, introducing a different but similar group of girls. But the grindhouse gimmicks and ’70s markers are mostly gone, and the new cast of women significantly less likable than the ones that went before. The second half of Death Proof feels like a poor decades-later sequel to a cult classic, and the once crackling dialogue now feels forced, particularly coming out of the mouth of Rosario Dawson, who proves herself as able to deliver Tarantino-dialogue as Scarlett Johanssen was able to do prove her talents as comedienne by doing a Woody Allen impression in Scoop. (That is to say, not at all.)
That’s not to say, though, that the second half is without its merits; it features a rousing car chase/duel sequence that goes on for more than a reel, for example, and (spoiler) is at least mildly interesting in its reversals of horror movie convention: rather than have a last girl standing, many girls remain standing, and they turn around to attack their aggressor, who flees in panicked terror. I suppose that measure of girl power is equal parts Tarantino and grindhouse tribute, in the tradition of chick revenge flicks, although if Death Proof were really a grindhouse movie I’m sure we would’ve found out what happened to the girls’ friend who, dressed as a cheerleader, they abandoned with a mountain man/grease monkey.
||Release Date: September 18, 2007
Running Time: 120 minutes
Cast: Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson, Zoe Bell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rose McGowan
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Studio: The Weinstein Company
Also Available: Limited Edition Steel Book