Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Death Proof (2007)

Even Kurt Russell had to take a smoke break from Tarantino's yakking

Due to an interesting decision made by The Weinstein Company, the Quentin Tarrantino-Robert Rodriguez doublebill feature Grindhouse will split be split into two separate films for its international (non-US/Canada) release. You might complain about paying twice to see what people a continent away paid once to watch, or about waiting 2 months between Death Proof (coming June) and Planet Terror (coming August) while people a continent away merely had to wait for the intermission to watch Planet Terror. Also, don't try to remind me about how all the brilliant fake trailers (Machete, Hobo with a Gun, Werewolf Women of the SS, Don't, and Thanksgiving) that helped sustain and develop the directors' idea of making a parody of bad 1970s grindhouse cinema are missing from the release. But look on the bright side - the international release of Death Proof is 30 minutes longer than its Grindhouse version!

The Grindhouse project functions as a parody and homage to exploitation movies of the 1970s, with their lurid gore, kungfu, and sexploitation antics, and Death Proof is Quentin Tarantino's take at recreating and mashing up two of its genres: the slasher flick and the revenge film. Here, Kurt Russell is cast as a charismatic, sex-on-legs stuntman "Stuntman" Mike, who has an unfortunate obsession with killing girls with his "death proof" stunt car. In any collision, the stuntman drives away mostly unscathed while the victims are literally all smashed up in their wreckage. So, for the first half, Death Proof is the slasher film that introduces us to the modus operandi of the killer, and his first set of victims, who in good old sexploitation tradition, are a posse of drugged out, trash-talking girlfriends looking for a little fun, and its second half has a different set of victims metaphorically taking bloody, chopsocky revenge on Stuntman Mike, on behalf of dead girls.

The point about Death Proof, isn't really about the story, but about the recreation of a genre, its look, and hopefully an evocation of the sense of guilty pleasure a bygone generation had in the 70s, watching such "bad movies" in cinemas. On that note, Death Proof can be said to be somewhat of a success, as Tarantino finds ludicrous (i.e. authentically grindhouse) ways to insert all sorts of mainstays of the grindhouse movie experience, like the meaningless to the plot but still so provocative lapdance, the in your face blood and gore, the inexplicable loss of colour halfway in the film, and so on. And on the same note, Death Note has its minor failings as well, when Tarantino forgets that grindhouse films were never about endless self-referential, meta-movie trash-talking, and gives us far more than is necessary, to the point of boredom, of characters going on and on with their hip trash-talking.

I am given to understand that in the shorter Grindhouse doublebill version of Death Proof, much of the overlong dialogue and meaningless sequence were cut out - that seemed to be the right decision to take, actually, given how the pacing just felt off for a quarter of this movie. Thankfully though, Tarantino does deliver the money shots by the end of the movie, and if you're a true fan of grindhouse cinema, it would be more than enough to redeem him. For others, perhaps the thrill of sitting through a deliberately cheesy movie experience would be worth the price of admission. And yet others will probably be satisfied at how well Tarantino has mostly adhere to the form of the grindhouse pic. For me, Death Proof has my attention set on the Grindhouse concept, and looking forward with interest to Planet Terror.

First published at incinemas on 21 June 2007

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