Death by Quentin
DEATH PROOF Directed by Quentin Tarantino. Starring Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson, Rose McGowan, Zoe Bell, Sidney Tamiia Poitier, Jordan Ladd, Vanessa Ferlito, Tracie Thoms, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Michael Parks, Quentin Tarantino 18 cert, gen release, 11
SINCE completing his first three movies (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown), Quentin Tarantino has done things by halves. He became so enamoured with all the footage he shot for his fourth film, Kill Bill, that he split it into two parts. His latest opus, Death Proof, began life as an 87-minute picture partnered with Robert Rodriguez’ Planet Terror under the umbrella title of Grindhouse, a double bill devised as a homage to 1970s B-movies. Since Grindhouse tanked at the US box office, the movies have been separated, the accompanying fake trailers dropped, and Tarantino over-generously added 26 minutes to his effort for international release.
Now running almost as long as some old double bills, Death Proof is a double feature in itself. A grizzled Kurt Russell plays the linking character, Stuntman Mike, whose career purportedly dates back to the 1960s TV western series The Virginian. A malevolent misogynist, Mike spends his retirement taking sadistic pleasure in forcing women drivers off the road, even if this entails killing them.
He finds easy prey in the first half, when he encounters DJ Jungle Julia (Tracie Thoms) and her equally foul-mouthed former college friends. They are bitching over margaritas at the Texas Chili Parlor in Austin, where Tarantino overacts inanely in a loud cameo as the proprietor.
The second part is set 14 months later in Tennessee, as it assembles stuntwomen working on a cheerleader movie. These women are much sassier and tougher than their Austin counterparts. In case we didn’t get that, they swear incessantly throughout endlessly banal conversations that are conspicuously short on Tarantino’s trademark witty dialogue.
His inner geek has taken over from the smart film-maker in this tiresome exercise that finally sparks to life in the last reel, for an expertly staged, extended car chase that name-checks Vanishing Point (1971) as its influence and echoes Stuntman Mike’s scorn for CGI effects.
The pastiche works in such incidental details as having a deliberately scratchy, badly spliced print with a washed-out look and blatantly obvious back projection. In other respects, the homage concept registers as a hollow failure. The B movies that inspired Tarantino were leaner, tighter and driven by narrative and action. Death Proof is merely rambling, virtually plotless in its wispy tales, and devoid of any tension until the chase eventually gets under way.
The endless conversations between the women are not remotely interesting, unless one wants to pass the time in counting the torrent of expletives – which would have been unthinkable for any character, male of female, to use back in 1970s B movies.
The production and costume design suggest an indeterminate setting for the movie, which peculiarly jumbles period trappings with modern technology such as mobile phones and text messaging.
The jukebox in the bar plays vinyl 45s, which is acceptable as a retro fetish, and as ever, Tarantino delves into his record collection to layer the soundtrack with a jukebox of old singles ( Jeepster, Baby It’s You and, most effectively, British quintet Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich’s Hold Tight) and segments from Ennio Morricone and Bernard Herrmann.
The B movies of a bygone era were often trashy in an amusing sense, but Tarantino’s dismally disappointing Death Proof is trashy in the worst possible sense of the word.
Start your engines: Zoë Bell, Tracie Thoms, Rosario Dawson and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Death Proof