One could say that Planet Terror and Death Proof, released in tandem as the two Grindhouse features, are vanity projects for directors Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. More to the point would be that both feature-length movies are attempts at bringing together the full raunchiness and delight that both directors felt as they went to trashy movies in the 1970s. Tarantino’s project, Death Proof, is not as strong as its twin, but after viewing the flick, there are good points to recommend it.
Tarantino loves his characters and their dialogue, so expect drawn-out scenes where we get to know the characters whose lives will soon be in danger. But since the Grindhouse features are odes to 1970s B-movies, the long character-developing scenes are at odds with the fact that the lack of “character development” is part of the tongue-in-cheek style of the movie. At 113 minutes, the movie is too long because, as with horror flicks, we’re not supposed to fall in love with the characters who will soon die-corny, predictable characters dying is part of the fun.
Also, the plot is straightforward. Death Proof follows washed-up adrenaline junkie Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) as he terrorizes unsuspecting young women with his muscle car. The character is weirdly one-dimensional but multifaceted in Russell’s depiction. Death Proof has two parts, one where he takes on a group of Texas twentysomethings and another where he messes with film crew members in Tennessee. It is in the latter half where we care for the characters and sit on the edge of our seats, perhaps not coincidentally when Tarantino drops the cheeky el cheapo editing jokes.
The cars are what make Death Proof worth the price of admission. The soundtrack, a mélange of 1970s pop culture detritus, makes the action entertaining. The sets-an Austin, TX taco joint and tavern, a Tennessee coffeehouse-do not build the significance of the action, not to mention the fact that “Tennessee” looks nothing like the actual shot location in California. However, the movie does depict the horror-flick cheapness of any interstate gas station. Cinematography-wise, it’s in the second half that the Death Proof shines, when the Reservoir Dogs opener scene-a long take of a table conversation with a circling camera-is recreated from the view of four women. Truth be known, Tarantino can write dialogue for women characters, too.
Compared to Planet Terror, Death Proof does not bring its B-movie satire and raunchiness together successfully. Many scenes are too long, which makes the amazing 18-minute finishing car chase scene just slightly less awesome. For Tarantino, it’s not one of his career highlights, but if you want to watch a crazed misogynist stuntman run amok and finally find his match in some tough chicks, this is your flick.