It’s indeed a challenge for any critic to defend a movie that he or she likes when that film is hated by most people. It becomes even more difficult(especially for this critic) when that same flick is attacked by the director himself. Quentin Tarantino himself has stated in interviews that “Death Proof” (his collaboration to the Double Feature “Grindhouse“) was one of the worst films he made. Well maybe not a bad one but certainly not as highly regarded as the others on his filmography. Since the fine folks over at French Toast Sunday were hosting a blogathon about Quentin Tarantino(Which they have dubbed Quentin Augustino) I thought it would be best if I took a look and defended a movie that shouldn’t get as much hate as it does. Here is “Death Proof“.
****For this review I will be discussing some spoilers***
Once again we get that fun retro funk style of “Our Feature Presentation” followed by a funny animated video of a kitten being turned into a restricted rating warning. I kinda wish that this was used in more movies but it works good here. After that we get a credit sequence that features Tarantino’s main sexual fetishes, feet. Which leads us right to our introduction of the characters from the first half of this feature. Arlene(Vanessa Ferlito) is in Austin Texas visiting some friends including Shanna(Jordan Ladd) and local DJ Jungle Julia(Sydney Poitier). Their plan for the night is to meet up with some other girls at a local dive bar and then head out to Shanna’s lake house for the weekend. While at the bar, they meet up with Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell)who in previous scenes was shown that he had pictures of the girls in his car. He must visit this bar on a regular basis because the owner(Quentin Tarantino) knows him. This made me wonder why none of the other girls don’t know him. But anyways Julia mentions to Arlene that on her radio show, if anyone says a certain poem and buys her a drink that she would give that person a lap dance. If not she will be labeled as chicken shit. Of course the only one that asks is Stuntman Mike and Arlene indeed goes on with it. Although I’m till not quite sure why. The scene itself is good and I like the song being used.(I’ll get to how great that soundtrack is later on) but it does feel a bit out of place in this movie. Near the end of the night. Mike agrees to give Pam(Rose McGowan) a ride home in his car. A car that he says is not only safe but death proof. Unfortunately for her, she really should have been sitting in his seat to be experience this. After he disposes of Pam, he searches for the other girls and with the use of his car. He crashes into them head first killing all of them. We next get a scene in a hospital(the same one from “Planet Terror“) that explains that there is no legal evidence to convict Mike of this crime and this leads us to the 2nd half of this tale. I know a lot of people felt that this half was a little bit slower then the rest. Too much dialogue from the girls that really didn’t lead anywhere. But I liked this section because it reminded me of bars that I used to hit up when I was younger and yes a few of my female friends did talk like this. I never thought that characters in movies have to always be believable as real people. They just haft to be interesting and the girls here are just that. In another horror film Arlene would have been the hero to stop Stuntman Mike near the end, but in this one her tale is cut short.
The 2nd half does pretty much what the 1st half did, but this time. Zoe Bell takes over the character that Vanessa Ferlito played. She is in town visiting some friends who are on break shooting a movie. They include Abrnathy(Rosairo Dawson) Kim(Tracie Tohms)and Lee(Mary Elizabeth Tohms). Zoe finds out that someone is selling an original 1970 Dodge Challenger and she brings the other girls to try and test drive it. The owner of the car is a dude named Jasper(Jonathan Loughran) and you may recognize him from another Tarantino movie. That’s right, he is the same guy who has sex with The Bride while she was in a coma in “Kill Bill Vol 1“. Now Zoe’s plan is to leave Abernathy with Lee while she and Kim test drive the car and use it for some stunts. However Abernathy comes up with a plan to leave Lee there while the three go out instead. We never see or hear what happens to Lee ever again after that. This makes me question why they even included that character in the first place. I kind of hope that another movie gets made that shows what happened between her and Jasper, but I doubt it would. In my mind it would have been a lot more fun if the guy selling the car was infact Stuntman Mike. He would have been charismatic showing them his new Death Proof machine. Zoe could mention something that would reference back to the first half and he would allow the girls to test drive the 70 Dodge Challenger. But only If they leave Lee with him as colatteral. That way when he later attacks the girls it would have a bit more weight because not only would they want revenge because he is trying to kill them. They would also want to avenge the death of their friend as well. As much as I had problems of how that end chase scene was set up story wise. It still stands out as one of the best car chase sequences ever put on film. It may not be as good as the movies that Zoe and Kim referenced. But it’s still a damn good one that relies solely on real stunt work and real cars. No CGI was ever used in any of that sequence and it was really cool. So after Mike terrorizes the girls for a little while. They switch gears(no pun intended) and begin hunting him. There is a great moment after Mike has been shot in the arm and he’s in his car crying and whimpering loudly. It’s funny because he is no longer as bad as you remember him being. The girls later catch up and then beat the holy hell out the guy. Cue “Chick Habit” by April March.
I mentioned before that I liked the girls from the first half but the ones here had a bit more better chemistry with each other. Kim and Zoe are characters I would like to see pop up in other flicks. Either in ones made by Quentin Tarantino or not. I loved that one moment where both Kim and Abenathy think Zoe has been killed and when she pops up and says “I’m OK”, I had a tearful smile. Tarantino knows how to create good characters and even if the dialouge is mundane in some places. It never for me felt dull while watching it.
The soundtrack like all of Tarantino movies was really good. The main theme from Jack Nitzche was really cool. The song by the Coasters during the lap dance was also cool, plus you got other great tracks from T- Rex, Smith and they even use a track from the movie “Blow Out” that even fit in with this feature. This is by far one of my favorite movie soundtracks of all time.
I somehow wish that this was marketed differently. Right from the trailers and any pictures that were released. You knew right away that Stuntman Mike killed people with his car. However, when you watch the actual movie, you are unsure of what his true intents really are. Maybe he should have been a jealous ex boyfriend of one of the girls from the first half or maybe. One of those same girls is jealous that Mike was talking to Pam and you think she is the one killing everybody at first. The story of this is not the best. Considering everything else that he made so far. I feel that if this was done around the same time as “From Dusk Til Dawn” it may have been more forgivable. Mainly because both were B- style movies made with A list effort. At the end of it all it still stand out as a movie with good characters, fantastic soundtrack and a great car chase sequence. Just don’t get too wrapped up in the actual story. I don’t blame directors for being disappointed with their films from time to time. It’s how any of them can grow and become better at their craft. I just get a little bit upset when I hear them call their movie their worst. I’m pretty sure there were people on that production who felt really proud of their work, and then to hear the director himself call it as one of his worst. That’s got to damage one’s ego, right. Well maybe not, and they felt the same thing as he did. I guess what I’m trying to say is that Quentin should really let the movie speak for themselves. If you flat out call something as being your worst. A lot of people will avoid it, and you never know. The one may turn out to be the one a lot of people really like. “Death Proof” is far from perfect, but it is still a damn good flick.