18 October 2007

Death Proof

Full credits from IMDb

Written & Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Grade: B+ (First hour: A/Second hour: B-)
Watch the Trailer

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Proof, but it turns out to be too much of a good thing; the "reel missing" titles from the Grindhouse presentation have been replaced by the actual reels, but as it then stands Death Proof feels like it could stand to lose a reel, or all of its second half for that matter.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.


james flames said...

so, first off - did you see this in the theaters? you alluded to the "reel missing" scenes in the original theatrical run, and i don't know which ones are 'extended' for the dvd....if you did see it in the theaters, was is hard sitting thru two whole films? and which scenes specifically were added to the dvd?

otherwise, i already expressed how much i enjoyed this film in my email to you - but i have to elaborate on how i really had absolutely no idea what the movie was about before i put it in my dvd player. i never saw a trailer, even during the theatrical run (i don't even know if it played here in bumfuck town). so i was completely unaware of what was coming my way - which makes the payoff of 'the turn' so much more. up until the "50% chance of going left or right" conversation, Stunt Man Mike comes across as a super creepy weirdo, yes. but a really fucking likeable one at that, especially leading up that scene when he's joking with the girls about how he can hear them talking about him, yadda yadda. so my reaction was right along with Rose McGowan's (tho i was safe at home), and there's no director i can think of who can do that so well.

anyway, i do have to disagree (of course) with how much you dissed the second half. i just watched it again, with the intention of watching only the first half (to re-live the cheap thrills and gore). but i couldn't stop it after that. yeah, it gets a little 'wordy' for a while before the chase, but i kinda like the second group of girls. and the point where it goes from B&W to color is really jarring. there are lots of different styles of grindhouse films, and the second half of death proof is sort of in that "smokey and the bandit part two" vein, except done with the skill of someone like tarantino. anyway, as always, it comes down to personal taste. but i liked both halves equally.

can't imagine what's coming next, and kinda looking forward to the Planet Terror, tho i don't hold any huge expectations. anyway, good review - from a reader's perspective, your point is coming along easier and easier with more conviction and knowlege. nice one.

Clayton L. White said...

I got to tell you, the DVD for this movie sucks. I saw it in the theater and loved it, but the DVD just drags and drags. The lap dance scene was not in the theatrical release nor was the black and white sequence at the beginning of the second half.

I think this crap of releasing the films seperately on DVD really hurts the experience. After sitting through Rodriguez's crapfest, Death Proof was a breath of fresh air, and was very enjoyable. This trend of extending DVD's, this uncut and unrated B.S., is getting old. Death Proof was fine how it was, and the DVD just makes it painful to sit through.

Anonymous said...

I didn't see Grindhouse in theaters, but I think Clayton answers most of your questions, James. I guess the whole thing about the two groups of girls is simply a matter of taste, as you say. I guess the first half was more of a horror movie and the second half more of a car chase movie, and I'm just partial towards the first.

Anonymous said...

I guess you are all bored-to-death-proof cause i found this movie about nothing, the most autistic display of tribute-to-a-genre turned tribute-to-oneself i have ever witnessed. Tarantino seems to have no more creativity left. He just sells himself as a trademark. He has become the product.