Okay already, we can stop being angry about the whole Grindhouse thing now. The sound of a Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino double-bill was mouth-watering, but when you make a $53 million dollar movie (with, lest we forget, a marketing budget over $100 million) and make barely $25 million, there’s definitely a glitch or three needing ironed out. Hence, Death Proof:the European Edition – the Grindhouse edit with an extra twenty-seven minutes of footage involving lapdances, feet fetishes and begging for sex. Yes, it seems Tarantino had his hormones buzzing harder than ever before making this particular film.
To be fair, Death Proof has an incredibly youthful vibe to it, making all rhe woman-ogling understandable – more than he did in Kill Bill, the director has delved deep into the films of his youth: the Giallo pictures, the rock’n’roll movies, the sexploitation sagas, the road trip flick – they’re all present and accounted for. Add to that the focus on the how-to of films itself – some of the characters we meet are “below the line” in Hollywood – and, oddly enough, it seems like Tarantino has just made his most personal film yet. A slasher film. With a massive killer car. Driven by Kurt Russell. Yup, Death Proof sure is an odd concoction.
After the obligatory “Feature Film Presentation” title card, we are introduced to a foot-tastic group of ladies led by DJ Jungle Julia (Sydney Tamiia Poitier) who head to a bar where, surprise surprise, they meet Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell), a charming man with a touched-up stunt car with – alarm bells start ringing… now! – a skull on the bonnet. After a lot of chat – that’s A LOT of chat – Mike’s intentions are made clear, and his intentions are to brutally murder women with the help of his “death proof” car.
Without giving too much away, I can let you know there soon is a second group of women, led by Zoe Bell (Uma Thurman’s Kill Bill stunt double, playing herself with wonderful aplomb) and that there’s a bit of revenge, but I promise to say no more. The joy of Death Proof is in the surprises it offers throughout. Sure, it’s a simple plot to figure out, but somehow Him With The Chin has found a way to make it all feel unpredictable and loose.
Even within the murderous rampage that steers the plot, the film isTarantino at his most playful. Break the fourth wall? Why not! End on a ridiculously cheezy freezeframe? Sure! Get Eli Roth away from the torture chamber for a cameo? Go ahead! Particuarly in its first half, Death Proof plays more like a night-out-at-the-bar comedy, all zingers and snarks tossed around by its superb cast. The director is even pleased to play off himself, adding further building blocks to his very own Quentinverse – the Bernard Herrman ringtone on a character’s phone and the return of Kill Bill’s McGraw Texas Rangers (Michael and James Parks), for example. A wicked sense of humour races through Death Proof, and it’s pretty damn infectious.
If there are any flaws to be found, it’s in the director’s love for banter. Sure, it’s great stuff, but one thinks the film could be slightly tighter if he reined in a bit of the sex chat – and the foot fetishism is beginning to get a bit creepy. But you can rest easy now – even when seperated from its original format, Death Proof is superb entertainment… maybe even the best American film you’ll see this year. It’s not his best but it’s a blast all the same, a mix of the old and the new, the trashy and the bordering-on-classy. An odd concoction, yes, but a great one.