The View From Here

First look -- QUENTIN TARANTINO's Death Proof

Michael Bonner

I've blogged previously about Grindhouse's abysmal showing at the American box office, and last night I finally got to see the version of Tarantino's extended Death Proof segment that's getting a UK release in September.

Grindhouse was intended as a tribute to the cult movies of the Seventies, the Italian horror flicks, exploitation movies and the post-Easy Rider crash-and-burn road movies. Tarantino's Death Proof is a pretty nasty spin on the latter two -- woman are indeed exploited, in a way that borders uncomfortably on the misogynist, and cars are raced and chased through the badlands of Texas and Tennessee.

It revolves around Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell), a scarred, bequiffed vet of TV shows like The Virginian, The Men From Shiloh and Vegas. He has a big, black, reinforced 1969 Dodge Challenger with a death's head painted on the bonnet in which he pursues and kills girls, four of whom we meet in the Texas Chili Parlour, drinking shots and talking, talking, talking about getting laid and getting stoned and a weekend trip away. It's a kind of white trash Sex In The City jam, and it lasts for at least 20 minutes. Sure, Tarantino has written some crackling movie dialogue -- the Madonna speech in Reservoir Dogs, the Grand Royale debate in Pulp Fiction -- but these zippy, sparky exchanges have previously been restricted to 5 minute chunks and surrounded by equally memorable action scenes. Here, the dialogue just goes on and on. t's like telling a guitarist he does really good solos, and then he goes off and makes an album consisting entirely of... solos.

It takes ages for anything to happen, and when it does it starts with poor Rose MacGowan being violently battered around the inside of Stuntman Mike's car until she's extremely bloody and very dead. The other girls are equally unfortunate.

We cut foward, 14 months later, to another group of girls (including Rosario Dawson), and we get a replay of the first half of Death Proof. Only this time, there's a car chase and the girls fight back.

The car chase is brilliant, actually, one of the best things in the film. It's an old-school, non-CGI face-off (or wing off, door off, windscreen off...) between two Dodge Challengers, in explicit homage to one of Death Proof's key references, Richard Sarafian's 1971 chase flick, Vanishing Point. To give it an extra bump, we get real-life stuntwoman Zoe Bell (who doubled for Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, and plays herself here) hanging off the hood of one car as it pelts along at breakneck speed, rammed and battered by Stuntman Mike's own Dodge Challenger.

At one point, a car crashes through a hoarding advertising a double bill of Scary Movie 4 and Wolf Creek. Maybe this is the balance QT's aiming for: kinda funny, kinda scary. Truth is, Death Proof isn't really either of these things. I'd also worry slightly about the claim QT (via Zoe Bell) makes for Vanishing Point, which is described as one of the "greatest American movies ever made." It isn't.

The way QT refuses to distinguish between high and low art is actually pretty interesting. In his world, Scorsese, Kubrick, Godard and Truffaut occupy the same space as Lucio Fulci, Russ Meyer or Richard Sarafian. It's great, because it means there's no sniffy snobbery in his work, he's likely to be as enthusiastic and passionate about 400 Blows as he is Soldier Blue. But here it feels like he's chosen to riff on a genre of movies that's just not really very good.

There's some strong performances -- particularly MacGowan, Dawson, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Bell and Russell. And the car chase is phenomenal. It's just wading through the other 90 minutes that's pretty tough going.


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