Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Death Proof

I guess the main problem with this movie is that it doesn’t have Planet Terror immediately preceding it. The extremely slow pace of the first half of this film worked as a nice breather from the frantic pace of that film and the fake trailers while watching Grindhouse. Outside of that context, unfortunately, it’s nothing more than poor pacing, with the film’s first half seeming to drag along interminably until we get to the midway point, at which point the film finally gets good.

I may have made that sound a little too harsh. I do actually think this is a good movie, but it was definitely the weaker half of Grindhouse, and Tarantino’s weakest effort in general. The plot concerns a homicidal stunt man played by Kurt Russell who spends the first half of the film stalking and killing a group of the most obnoxious, irritating women ever captured on film, and then going for a repeat performance in the second half without remembering the cardinal rule of how sequels never turn out as well as the original. Now Kurt Russell, it must be said, does give one of his greatest performances in this, but he doesn’t really get a huge amount of screen time early on (this would go back to the pacing problem, I guess). Another problem, though not as major, is that Tarantino was unwilling to go all the way with the Grindhouse motif like Rodriguez did. Both filmmakers tried to make their films capture the style and look of the old 70s grindhouse films, including altering the film to make the film stock look aged and beaten up. Rodriguez did a magnificent job of this, but Tarantino seems hesitant to really go very far along with the plan, playing around a little bit, but not really committing (he also seems to completely forget to do any of this in the second half of the film). We’re then left with a film that’s curiously too polished to be a proper grindhouse film, but which is still not nearly polished enough for a “normal” movie.

This is not to say there isn’t anything to like about the film. As I said already, Kurt Russell does a great job, and pretty much everything from the assault on the first group at about the fifty-minute mark onward is quality. Indeed, Tarantino’s effort to make this an ode to the big car chase films of the 70s gives us a climax with one of the best car chases in years (offhandedly, I’d have to go back years before I could name one that was better than here). Tarantino’s masterful use of music is also on display here, as we are not only treated to a number of great rock songs, but some outright 80s slasher music right before Russell goes on his killing spree, a musical number when he’s secretly photographing the second group of girls at the airport that sounds just like one of Ennio Morricone’s old giallo scores, and there’s even some sitar music thrown in for good measure. He even throws a bone to fellow director Eli Roth by giving him a cameo as (shock and surprise) an asshole in a bar. So there is a good deal to enjoy here, you just have to take a surprising amount of bad with the good. And don’t buy this for the express purpose of seeing what the extra half hour of footage is, either. All you get is a thoroughly unerotic lapdance, an extra bit of Russell stalking the second group, and a whole lot more talking.

One final note: recently Tarantino said in an interview that the next genre he wants to make a film out of is the Swedish sex comedy. Given how a) he has never had any nudity in any of his films up to this point, and b) he is so overwhelmed by his foot fetish (you get even more of that in this extended cut, by the way, which I know you were all hoping for) that he has to work it into all of his movies, I can only shudder in horror at what monstrosity he has planned out in his fever-ravaged brain.

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