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18 September, 2007 / Erik

100% Death Proof?

Death Proof is a frustrating experience.

Even in its Grindhouse form, it was difficult to sit there and watch it. You are already through Planet Terror and the trailers by that point and kind of exhausted. This is particularly true if you went to a midnight show. So when Death Proof starts the second time, you’re ready to check out.

It was because of this, I choose to not judge it too harshly when walking out of Grindhouse.

Now, in its full form, I can say Death Proof isn’t all that great

Its chief flaw is the restart in the middle. (Here, thar be spoilers) After you spend an hour with the three people Stuntman Mike kills, the film asks you to start again with new characters who must be introduced and bonded with the audience. In Death Proof’s full length form (now on DVD), this means you get two one-hour flicks. I hate be the Robert McKee/Michael Bay fan boy here, but if you spend an hour with a group of characters, you’re kind of committed to them. Pushing them off the board and saying “well, really, here’s the group you should be rooting for” at that late point in the running time is (in a way) adventurous and (in a more accurate way) poor structure. We all know Quentin Tarantino likes to experiment with structure, but I think this one is more of a failure.

Also, if you’re going to go ahead and gives us four new characters to care about, make us care about them. The four girls we meet at the halfway mark are all working on a Hollywood set and talk real inside baseball type talk. Stuntman MikeIt’s not charming. The single most charming moment in the second half comes when Rosario Dawson’s character negotiates to take out the Charger without the owner being present. Notably, she is by herself in this scene. When with the others, she becomes part of an insider din the likes we’ve never seen in a Tarantino film to date. Compare this to the earlier set of girls talking shit to each other. Though one of that set, Jungle Julia, is supposed to be an Austin celebrity, it never gets in the way of the proceedings. In the second group, there positions on the set of an unseen film create a huge barrier. They become inaccessible cyphers in both there adventure with the Charger and their hunt of Stuntman Mike.

Oh, we give Kurt Russel a lot of marks here. Not only for being quite creepy and awesome in the first half, but also becoming a weak little punk-ass in the second half. It takes a lot of confidence for a guy like Russell to allow himself to be seen as a sniveling whiney-boy. While we’re giving out the kudos, Quentin does direct the HELL out of this movie. The film looks good and the chase is well shot without any visual effects help from a computer. The trouble here, for the first time ever, is Quentin Tarantino: writer. His director self has not stumbled. For instance, the first scene in the second half is pitch perfect in its creep factor. It’s a perfect opening for a second film. Shame it’s at the hour-mark.

However, I still cannot say it is an entirely bad film. Especially since it’s suppose to be a cheap movie made quickly. Unlike Kill Bill, where all the tropes of cheap Grindhouse cinema are used with thought a precision, Death Proof is supposed to be the purer strain. In that sense, he does succeed in making a movie that gives you some thrill, but also doesn’t satisfy.

Now I wonder what Planet Terror will be like in its feature form.

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4 Comments

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  1. Tim / Sep 19 2007 8:54 pm

    I’m sure you know this, but I’ll get into it anyway:

    Even Robert McKee acknowledged that there are good movies that deviate from the structure he lined out. It’s just that they’d better have a good reason for doing so.

    All that time we spend with the first group makes their death more shocking because of its unexpectancy (is that a word?). Hollywood doesn’t pull stuff like that. Maybe I’m a sucker, but I actually didn’t see them all dying. So it was really a punch in the gut when Jungle Julia’s leg flopped on the road.

    What really chaps my hide, though, is that the fake trailers aren’t on the DVD. What the sweaty hell?

  2. Erik / Sep 19 2007 9:30 pm

    The trailers will be on Planet Terror.

  3. Tim / Sep 20 2007 4:38 pm

    All is well, then.

  4. Ian / Sep 27 2007 12:34 pm

    Seeing Death Proof in extended form actually made it go by much quicker. While Planet Terror works as a double feature, Death Proof can only be seen in a much more leisurely, measured context, where it thrives. And the courage to pull off the switch in the middle is laudable. No question, it works better on DVD.

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