After the relative success of his homage to kung fu with his Kill Bill movies, Quentin Tarantino turned his sights to the 70s exploitation movies with Grindhouse: Death Proof. However, for us outside the US, we do not get the Grindhouse double bill with Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror and a host of easter egg styled trailers, but rather we get the longer cut of both movies. Many have said that Planet Terror proved to be superior to Death Proof, but without watching the other, I thought Tarantino's offering was pretty decent stuff.
Perhaps his detractors loathed how he made references to and probably paid homage to his own movies and signature style. This spelt E-G-O, and doesn't go down well, with its plenty of foot fetish shots, reminiscent of foot massages, and if you pay attention enough, you'd spot and hear about the Big Kahuna burgers, familiar tunes over the ringtones, yellow and black striped colour schemes, the alpha female type chicks, and loads and loads of vulgarity laced dialogue just about everything under the sun, with characters mouthing off in cars or around a dining table. That about sums up stuff from Reservoir Dogs all the way to Kill Bill.
But Death Proof is a different animal altogether. Being his own cinematographer, QT has full control over the shots that he makes, and injects plenty of sleaze into his story - buxomy, leggy girls in tight tees and perky butts peeking out of hot pants, flaunting their power of sexuality in alpha-female styled attitudes. It's actually two different segments in one movie, each being quite different from the other in terms of themes, and style.
The first half introduced us to characters like Arlene (Venessa Ferlito), Shanna (Jordan Ladd), Jungle Julia (Syndey Poitier) and Pam (Rose McGowan), who end up in a bar doing their own thing (read: plenty of dialogue and flirting with the camera). We get introduced quite slowly to the psycho Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell, with Snake Plissken styled scar), who while on one hand befriends the girls, but on the other hand, we are just waiting for the action to begin. Being a stuntman, his car is "death proof", meaning it's rigged like stunt cars that provide protection for its driver, and nothing else. And if you're twiddling your thumbs for some action to take over, then be prepared to wait a bit.
You see, despite what you think Death Proof might be, it's nothing about the action, not at least until the driver takes the wheel. And when QT lets it rip, out comes the blood and gore, exploitation style. Given the fake jump cuts, bad editing and scratchy film stock, it becomes near impossible to find out just which parts were censored for the local M18 version. It does seem to make sense still and flow well, but you can probably bet your last dollar that some bits were removed. On the other hand, we have stuff like the lap dance kept intact, which was omitted from the double bill Grindhouse. Win some and lose some.
The second half of the movie is a different story altogether. For the most parts, the 70s style gets junked, maybe because it got tiring, or it's too tedious to replicate the cheesy special effects over to this story arc, where the hunter becomes the hunted. There's plenty of action, but could I say it's somewhat repetitive and lacks that oomph, until the final moments where you probably might go "that's awesomely cool". Other than that, it's more of the same, with more eye candy courtesy of Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Sky High, Final Destination 3), Rosario Dawson, Tracie Thorns and Zoe Bell, with plenty more QT styled dialogue of pop irrelevance.
While stylistically the movie might want to try and resemble low budgeted 70s exploitation movie, Death Proof juxtaposes certain current day elements into itself, making it somewhat messy with gizmos like cell phones and portable music players. What put a smile on my face though (besides the beautiful ladies of course), is Kurt Russell's two-faced Stuntman Mike performance. He can be nonchalant one minute, oozing indifference, and in the next, he can be so silently deranged you'd rather choose to leap from the vehicle, if you had a means to that is. Or he can be the classic road rage driver, before realizing he has bitten off more than he could chew. It's been some time having Russell on the big screen, and I thought he did fine, despite not being QT's first choice for the role.
Ultimately, just one warning about the movie - expect plenty of dialogue, and I mean plenty, with characters talking about sexuality and about people who never appear on screen, and if you can't stand irrelevance, then steer clear. The action comes on in limited spurts, so if that's what you're after, then savour every moment when the gear shifts into overdrive. The loopy soundtrack too is a bonus, and adds some authentic exploitative flavour. QT did not manage to outdo himself, but still managed to capture the correct spirit in those films he wants to emulate. If Rodriguez's installment is as they say far superior than QT's , then I'd say bring on Planet Terror already!