Monday, October 19, 2009

Death Proof

Death Proof (2007)

Death Proof is one half of the recent grindhouse double-feature from Tarantino and Rodriguez. What’s a “grindhouse” feature you ask? Apparently they were these really cheap movies from the 70s that got sent around amongst various theaters. As in, the few actual copies got sent from place to place, so they quickly degraded and needed to be “fixed” often by individual theater owners. I guess it goes like this: guy gets the reels in the shipment at 5pm on Friday and has a double feature at 9pm. But the title screen on one of them is torn, and the other’s soundtrack is all off. Too bad, on with the show! So the guy rigs something together as quick as possible, and then that becomes the version that’s sent on to the next theater the next week.

"So Travolta, Willis, Stallone, Malkovitch, and Rourke all turned me down for this role, Kurt. Fuck, even Willem Dafoe said 'no.' That's right, I wanted William however-the-fuck-you-spell-his-name Dafoe over you..."

So this is Tarantino’s homage to this obscure 70s phenomenon. That most viewers likely have no idea what a grindhouse was doesn’t matter much. You get the idea pretty quickly when the title screen comes on initially as “Quentin Tarantino’s THUNDER BOLT!” in bright bold colors before that’s quickly cut off and replaced with ‘DEATH PROOF” in muted grayish tones, as if the new title had been hastily added by some jerk using a typewriter. Tarantino keeps up this schtick thoughout the whole thing: lots of awkward cuts between scenes, grainy images, burnt spots on the film, etc. So that’s the gimmick, and if you like Tarantino being gimmicky (as I do), then you’ll probably appreciate his work here.

Of course, all that’s just his homage to the material context of theaters and film copies of grindhouse features—the movie content itself is also an homage to two genres simultaneously. It’s Tarantino after all—his movies are all really “about” other movies. Here he takes a straight-up car chase movie and turns it into a slasher flick. Huh? Basically, Kurt Russell is a psychopathic stunt man who brutally murders groups of young girls using his souped up, “death proof” car. The structure is pretty simple and particuarly streamlined for a Tarantion flick. There’s two clear chapters. In the first, Stuntman Mike kills Rose McGowan and friends. In the second, much later apparently, he’s at it again stalking a new group of girls to kill, but alas he chooses a group with some badass stunt women who turn the tables on him. Bye bye Stuntman Mike.

I enjoyed this a good bit, even if it’s not quite Tarantino at the top of his game. The dialogue never reaches any of the weird fun of Res Dogs or Pulp Fiction, and the whole thing feels a bit “lite,” probably due to the constraints of working within the grindhouse structure. After all, he knew he had to keep it short since it had to play alongside Rodriquez’s flick as part of a double feature. So the great news is that we don’t get the bloated self-indulgent mess that was the Kill Bill saga. Heck, even at his best, Tarantino’s self-indulgence usually leads him astray at least a bit (the whole Bruce Willis plotline in Pulp Fiction could have been cut to good effect, IMO). And certainly he’s his still own “ideal viewer” for this one as well, but the enforced contraints work to keep this one streamlined and efficient.


Catfreeek said...

We saw this in the theater when it was released as a Grindhouse double feature with Robert Rodriguez's "Planet Terror" both good but we felt planet blew death away.

Landshark said...

Hm, I think most critics thought the other way around, but I really don't know as I gave up on Rodriquez after Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico. I'm convinced he only gets funding for any movies because he's Tarantino's buddy.

I did love From Dusk Till Dawn, but then I suspect having a Tarantino script AND him being on set the whole time made it more of a "team" thing than a Rodriguez solo effort.

Johnny Sweatpants said...

I'm with Cat on this. I liked Death Proof but I regret buying it because I don't think I ever really need to watch it again. Planet Terror remains a pretty solid zombie flick.

Landshark said...

I know I'm probably alone around here in my dismissal of Rodriquez too.

But I agree with you both that Death Proof is fun but lite.

Octopunk said...

Once Upon a Time in Mexico is a mess the way Spider-man 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean 3 is a mess, but I love Desperado. Probably in my top 20 action movies, if I ever made that list.

I really liked Grindhouse (review here) but watching the chatter among the second group of Death Proof ladies before the action started made me want to hang myself. (= I liked Planet Terror better.)