Thursday, June 9, 2011

DEATH PROOF


2007, Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Kurt Russell, Zoe Bell, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, Sydney Poitier, Tracie Thoms, Rose McGowan, Jordan Ladd

Horror fans seem to be pretty bitterly divided over Quentin Tarantino. While I don't personally know anyone who dislikes Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill in particular seems to be a sore spot for a lot of people. Tarantino's habit of borrowing unmercilessly from famous cult films can be a little trying, but I still find him entertaining on occasion. And he follows this formula of cutting and pasting from a handful of his favorite films for Death Proof, which is a strange, slow-paced tale of vehicular murder and revenge.

Death Proof follows the creepy and ridiculous Stuntman Mike (played by the ever wonderful Kurt Russell), who drives his stunt-rigged deathmobile around town, stalking and killing groups of cute twenty-something women. The first group, led by a local hot-stuff DJ, barhops around town and tries to decide if they want to have a girls night or invite some boys. They eventually run into Stuntman Mike, some drunken hijinks ensue ,and then he quite literally runs into them -- at about fifty miles an hour. The second group are a bunch of film professionals (two stunt women, a make up artist, and an actress) all hanging out together during a break in production. Stuntman Mike, typical to pattern, stalks them, but only confronts the group directly when they are out joyriding with a Dodge Challenger (yes, the car from Vanishing Point). The girls play a dangerous game called Ship's Mast, which involves one person riding on the hood, while the other speeds along the road. You can imagine how much more exciting this game becomes when someone is repeatedly ramming your car from behind and attempting to sideswipe you.

I enjoyed the film, but I can see how a lot of other people would hate it, due to a number of particular challenges. On one hand, the first three-quarters of the film is extremely dialogue heavy. It follows around a group of bar-hopping girls and the second group do essentially the same thing. Mostly they tell stories and discuss their own personal dramas. It gets pretty dull at times, though the various actresses do their best. There are many '70s cult and exploitation films that follow a similar pattern; for instance, in Switchblade Sisters there are large blocks of dialogue where nothing really happens. There, of course, it was filler meant to makeup for the lack of budget.

The soundtrack is probably my favorite part of the film. In the beginning, Tarantino finds some pretty standard ways to incorporate the music directly into the action: the girls listen to the car radio and use the bar jukebox. There are also some interesting false jumps and faux damaged film to give it even more a '70s feel, which which quickly becomes pretty cheesy. Even worse is the involvement of Zoe Bell,a famous stuntwoman, particularly known for the television show Xena and for doubling Uma Thurman in Kill Bill. Here, Tarantino has written her a part as herself. While the stunts are impressive, her acting is on the painful side.

Overall, I think Death Proof is an interesting experiment, though it is deeply flawed. If there is anyway you can see it as part of the double-billed Grindhouse experience, do so. Though they are completely different films, Robert Rodriguez's zombie/chemical warfare action extravaganza, Planet Terror is by far more entertaining. The pre-feature trailers are also a riot. Filmed by different American horror directors, they are all the over the top fare you would see in the actual grindhouse theatres of New York. I particularly loved Rob Zombie's Werewolf Women of the SS.

The version of Death Proof that I'm reviewing is the two disc extended and unrated version. The biggest difference from the theatrical version is that it includes the lap dance scene. The extras, as usual, are disappointing, particularly compared to the plethora of extras included in Planet Terror.

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