Death Proof

November 9, 2007

Death ProofThe Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino double-feature Grindhouse was a fun idea: slap together two deliberately B-grade films, complete with film wear, missing reels and fake trailers, and show it in cinemas as a nod to a bygone era.

But Grindhouse flopped in the US, so us lucky souls in international markets are getting expanded versions of the two films, each released separately. Death Proof, the first to see a separate release despite it being the second feature in the original double-bill, is Tarantino’s half, expanded from its 90 minute Grindhouse cut to a full 114 minutes.

The plot is fairly basic: Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) has a thing for stalking and killing young women using his “death proof” stunt car. We follow the exploits of two sets of women while Mike prepares to commit vehicular homicide on each group.

The good news is that Russell is excellent — creepy, menacing and occasionally hilarious. Furthermore, the driving sequences are spectacular and quite amazing to watch.

The bad news is that, as a genre exercise it works well, but at 114 minutes it more than outstays its welcome. Long, long stretches of Tarantino’s trademark dialogue feel like padding that adds nothing and lacks the wit and spark of, say, John Travolta’s banter with Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction. All I could think of while watching was, “I’m sure the 90 minute cut wasn’t this tedious.”

The problem here is that this material was never meant to stand on its own, and so, removed from its context and with 24 minutes of filler added for good measure, you end up with something that feels rather pointless. We’re being asked to treat the international cut as the new Tarantino film, and on that level it completely fails.

I’d like to think that the original Grindhouse worked as what it was, but Death Proof in its expanded form — despite its countless references and in-jokes — just isn’t that fun. The average filmgoer would be bored stiff.