Death Proof was originally shown in theaters as one half of the Quentin Tarantino 'Grind House' double bill, the other half being Planet Terror. The two movies were released as separate DVDs, though there is a planned 'Grind House' special edition release coming soon. I wasn't able to catch this during its theatrical run so I had to settle for viewing the DVD.
This film was shot B-movie style, with grainy film quality, skips, and even an occasional blooper thrown in. It's supposed to have the effect of going to a delapidated movie house showing old, low budget films. It reminded me back when I was in high school and college, where I wouldn't be too picky about the types of movies I watched, going to poor quality movie theaters to watch rehashed 70's and 80's movies. Most of them weren't good at all, but it was still fun to watch. Death Proof tries to replicate this effect with mixed results.
You get three different picture styles, as well as two sets of female victims. It starts with a rough, grainy, old film look, complete with audio and video skips. This is part with the group of girls led by Vanessa Ferlito. It then shifts to black and white (presumably as we're now on a separate roll of film) when the second group of girls led by Rosario Dawson are introduced. Then there's a very cool effect when the film shifts to color, and you see that the girls' car is actually yellow.
To get to the good parts, you have to bear with a lot of boring conversation by both groups of girls. I found the dialog between the girls very difficult to sit through and got increasingly irritated and bored with the seemingly endless talking. I think this was the intention of Tarantino, to make us so tired of listening to these characters that it would make the action scenes much more interesting by contrast.
We are spared from having to hang out with these unlikable characters once Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) is introduced. Here is a guy we actually like. An old school stuntman from the 70's and 80's. A loner who gets the attention of the only other likable character in the first segment, Rose McGowan, a sweet girl who feels alienated by the slutty, shallow, drug-using group of girls we had to bear with earlier. McGowan is able to hitch a ride with Stuntman Mike after they leave the bar. And this is where the action starts.
In the second segment, we have to bear with another torturously long chit-chat between the Rosario Dawson group of girls. While not as irritating as the first group, they had their own set of unlikable qualities. At this point, I was actually rooting for Stuntman Mike to finish them off. And I think this was the emotion that Tarantino was going for with his audience. For them to root for the bad guy. After all, if you take away the psychotic murderous serial killer side of Stuntman Mike, he's actually a pretty cool guy who you'd like to hang out with and can relate to.
My main complaint with this film is the overly long, boring conversation that takes place not once, but two times, with two different groups of females. Perhaps Tarantino could have found a way to make these parts shorter, while at the same time getting the same intended 'irritation' effect. Or maybe not.
The dialog also feels somewhat contrived, especially with Tracie Thomas' character, Kim. Just too much girl power. Only two girls were likable, the sweet and innocent Rose McGowan, and Lee, the cheerleader (who has a somewhat interesting side story in the end, when she is abandoned by the Spice Girls).
The best parts were the road action parts. These are not your ordinary chase scenes. Most vehicle action scenes in today's movies are spliced together in a way that they don't have the same cohesion, like watching a bewildering sequence of special effects on the road that leave you dizzy. The Death Proof chase scenes appear very genuine, like they were actually taking place, and they tell a good story, with emotional pacing. This is oen of the reasons why Quentin Tarantino is one of my favorite directors. You can feel the love, care, and attention to detail that he has for his movies in something as ubiquitous as a high speed car chase scene.
Overall, a very entertaining movie. And I'm eagerly awaiting Planet Terror, the other half of Grind House, when it comes out.
Rating: 4/5 * * * *
A little action with lots of annoying dialog.