Review: Death Proof

Beginning in Austin, Texas, a bunch of sassy chicks (Vanessa Ferlito and Sydney Poitier among them) are at a bar chatting and drinking, when they are set upon by scarred former stuntman Kurt Russell, who has dangerous intentions and a really, really, indestructible car. Quentin Tarantino turns up in a camera-hogging cameo as an ultra-cool bar owner. Rose McGowan is better than usual, in a cameo as another sassy blonde-haired barfly.

After this scenario, we are given a new set of girls several months after the events previous, all of the girls are working on a new film (including stunt woman Zoe Bell, and straight-laced actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead in addition to the always cool Rosario Dawson as a make-up artist). They are on their way to buying a certain Dodge Challenger in order to re-enact a pivotal scene from the cult chase pic “Vanishing Point” when guess who shows up...but these girls ain’t the kind you want to mess with, believe me. Michael Parks and son play the lawmen they always do in films by either QT or Robert Rodriguez (“From Dusk Till Dawn” etc.), this time draining the film of energy in one helluva boring scene that goes on forever.

This 2007 Quentin Tarantino exploitation throwback (particularly evoking “Vanishing Point”, the unforgettable Russ Meyer opus “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!”, and the mediocre “Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry”) isn’t a complete film. It’s one part of the QT/Robert Rodriquez exploitation movie experience “Grindhouse”, except QT has added some footage (about half an hour!), Rodriguez’s entry (the terrific “Planet Terror”) has been excised, as have the apparently amusing fake trailers, and as has the entire fucking reason for being. I understand “Grindhouse” was a box-office failure in its original context in the US, but that’s no excuse to give us “Death Proof” out of its original context. It certainly makes it very hard to review. You see, I doubt “Death Proof” was ever meant to be good in the conventional sense, most grindhouse-era films are pretty average, but when coupled with another film and some fake trailers, and taking into account atmosphere derived from a packed cinema screening, one has not a film so much as an experience. The film’s distributors have deprived me, and all other Australians (and apparently Brits) of that experience. I felt angered, cheated, and decidedly uncomfortable throughout. But y’know what? Even in its original context, I find it highly unlikely that I would’ve been a happy camper. For the most part, “Death Proof” sucks, and would’ve dragged “Grindhouse” down. I can’t say I’ll definitely check the completed film out if ever given the chance.

The first forty or so minutes would be unbearable if not for a terrific turn by Russell (who should do more genre films, this is one of his best performances since “Tombstone”). The film should’ve excised the first group of girls completely, and just started with the charismatic Dawson and somewhat accomplished Bell (who was Uma Thurman’s stunt double on the “Kill Bill” films), these girls are a bit more interesting. Instead, we’re given about an hour of talk, talk, talk (little of it interesting), with some awful performances by Ferlito (who is exactly the same in everything before and since this film) and the equally mannered Poitier. Even most grindhouse films (which were mostly more horror and schlock oriented than this) weren’t this slow and talk-oriented, and they certainly were never this long. When the action comes (mostly involving Russell and stunt-woman Bell, Kiwi-accent and all), it’s terrific stuff, but by then, I had completely lost interest.

Woefully drenched in talk, mostly uninteresting wannabe hipster nonsense from someone who should’ve known better. QT (who also scripted- badly) clearly had his head stuck up his arse throughout this one, a major disappointment. Thankfully he has delivered much of his best work since this misstep.

Rating: C


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