Is Quentin Tarantino too clever for Hollywood? The way the studios have treated his most recent films, you have to begin to wonder. By now, you all know the Grindhouse story. How QT and his buddy Robert Rodriguez came up with the idea of recreating the 70s exploitation film experience with a schlocky double bill interspered with fake trailers. And how Grindhouse bombed on its opening weekend in the US, so the powers that be decided to split the bill and release each film on its own.
And it's sad to say so, but the powers that be were wrong. I can honestly say the two films were much better off as part of a double act. Particularly Death Proof, which has suffered from having an extra 20 or so minutes put back in. It feels bloated and weighed down; there's really is not enough action to sustain its running time. Although what action it does have is some of the best action seen on the screen in over a decade. In an era where CGI is king, QT has gone old school and crafted an 18-minute chase scene that is pure, 100% stunt action — with not a pixel or an Apple Mac in sight. And it is pure joy to behold. Hats of to stuntwoman Zoe Ball, who hangs on to that Dodge Challenger's hood as though her life depends on it — because it really, truly does. And that 18-minute sequence — with Kurt Russell's Stuntman Mike trying to run the Challenger off the road with his "death proof" Charger — is truly the best in the film. The second-best scene? The beautifully coreagraphed, insanely vicious head-on collision in which Mike takes out his first group of victims — which takes almost an hour of set up to get to. But it's an hour full of the usual QT trademarks: the foot fetish, the cool soundtrack, the hip dialogue, the references to his earlier films — yup, all the usual pointers are there.
Madman Mike is a former Hollywood stuntman who gets his kicks from a little bit of motorised murder, using his car as a weapon. His first victims are a bunch of girls out on the town for a night of drink, drugs and dancing. Cue lots of drinking — and a particularly smoking lapdance — at a Texas bar where Tarantino himself is the barman and Hostel director Eli Roth is a sleazy customer. And as the night draws to a close we have the aforementioned head-on collision that wipes out all but Mike. Part two is 14 months later, with a recovered Mike now seeking victims in Tennesee. This time he picks on the wrong girls — a couple of stuntwomen taking a Dodge Challenger for a test drive. Cue the aforementioned awsome chase scene that ends ... well, let's just say Russell needn't bank on being in a sequel.
As an homage to 70s car flicks such as Vanishing Point, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry and Gone In 60 Seconds, Death Proof is perfection on wheels. As an homage to the "grindhouse" experience, it doesn't quite pull it off — about halfway through, the scratches, jumps and other "enhancements" seem to have been forgotten. It feels lost without its Rodriguez partner, and those now infamous fake trailers. But for all its faults, Death Proof is still a Tarantino film, Big Kahuna burger and all — it ain't perfect, but it's still a pleasure. And that's good enough for me.
EXTRAS ** Basically all you get is a load of behind-the-scenes featurettes: The Hot Rods of Death Proof; Stunts On Wheels: The Legendary Drivers of Death Proof; Introducing Zoe Bell; Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike; Finding Quentin's Gals; The Guys of Death Proof; and Quentin's Greatest Collaborator: Sally Menke. You also get the uncut version of Baby It's You, by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, a poster gallery and some trailers (but none of the "fake" ones). There's no commentary track from Quentin, which is a major disappointment, and no deleted scenes or gag reel. Can you smell a "special edition" coming out eventually?