I saw Grindhouse when it was released and liked its subversive spirit, fake trailers and mayhem but I was lukewarm to Quentin Tarantino’s contribution Death Proof. In Finland, I re-watched it to see if I might change my mind. When the film ended though, I’ve decided it was more of a failure than I thought.
Released as a stand alone in Europe (I bet they wish they’d done the same in America with its lukewarm business), minus the fake movie trailers (maybe THE best part of Grindhouse!) and even including the “missing” reel where Butterfly gives Stuntman Mike the lap dance. Death Proof is too talky (another weak QT script) and the film needs more adrenaline, violence and seediness to make it truer to the kind of film it replicates.
Death Proof is supposed to be a 21st century version of the sensationalist, drive-in, b-film, grindhouse kind of movie. You know, real car crashes, sleazy action, T + A, over the top violence and performances. For the most part, the film falls flat in the face of such “low brow” attempts.
Tarantino spends way too much time focusing on the silly banter between girlfriends and less time on car destruction and T + A—let’s face it, if QT wanted to really do a ‘70s drive-in/grindhouse picture, these starlets would be cavorting around topless and in their panties more than once and for no reason. Although QT does get to further promote his fondness for the female foot as he gives us multiple lingering shots of dry and wet feet. These films were known for their T + A, not T + A + F!
Regarding the ridiculous banter, I don’t know what has happened to Tarantino and what he writes these days. When you watch his first three films—Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown—the dialogue is so electric and original it jumps off the screen and almost jolts you. A second or third viewing is a must to let Tarantino’s wave of words seep fully into you. Not now. Kill Bill and Death Proof have none of that spark except for a stray line or two. Some scenes in those two films are down right embarrassing. I’ve seen QT all motor mouthed on TV saying Death Proof has the best writing of his career and I think, “What is he talking about? Is he drunk or high? Was his brain injured in a way that has debilitated his ability to write or properly judge his writing?”
There are good elements to Death Proof. The car stuff is riveting and the final chase/showdown harkens back to an era of real cars, real stuntmen and no CGI bullshit. Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike was also great but he wasn’t in the film enough. Why Russell wasn’t in this more instead of the endless girls yapping to one another is beyond me. Stuntman Mike should have been out there causing more carnage on the road, instead we get a bunch of girls eating breakfast and talking on and on.
The muscle cars and Russell save Death Proof from being a total failure but it’s another disappointment for Quentin Tarantino. I’m starting to believe he’ll never recapture the zeitgeist he had in the 1990s although I’m hopeful his WW2 film will be a return to greatness his early films were.