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Death Proof (2007)


Today’s cinema adventure: Death Proof, writer/director Quentin Tarantino’s 2007 homage to the cheap exploitation movies of the sixties and seventies, originally released as half of the Grindhouse double feature (paired with Richard Rodriguez’ Planet Terror). With his trademark style on full display, Tarantino sets out to emulate- and surpass- the violent and titillating “anti-classics” he clearly loves with this tale of a psychopathic ex-stunt driver who stalks and kills young women in his souped-up, “death-proofed” muscle car. Though Kurt Russell delivers a delightful performance in the central role, and the director’s impressive visual style is as dazzling as ever, the film is ultimately sabotaged by several factors. First of all, with its conceit of recreating the genre which inspired it, Death Proof severely impairs its own ability to engage the viewer in its proceedings: the deliberately grainy cinematography, scratched film and bad splicing constantly serve as a reminder that it’s all just an elaborate gimmick; the inherently shallow formula prevents the far-fetched and sensationalistic plotline from ever becoming believable or compelling; and the characters, for all the self-consciously clever dialogue Tarantino puts in their mouths, are doomed to remain one-dimensional ciphers who exist merely to enact the filmmaker’s cars-sex-drugs-and-rock-n-roll fantasy. All these criticisms, of course, could easily serve as a description of any of the B-movies upon which Tarantino’s opus is based; and it would be correct to point out that what really matters in those films (and in this one) is the nail-biting, balls-to-the-wall action and the gratuitous violence for which everything else simply provides a framework. But where the original films managed, at their visceral best, to thrill and delight, transcending their shoddiness with their lack of pretense and their unapologetic devotion to providing guilty pleasure, Tarantino’s would-be tribute fails to achieve any of these ends. To be sure, his talent is clearly visible here: but that’s part of the problem, for where the drive-in fodder he emulates was often so bad it was good, here we have an obviously good filmmaker deliberately trying to be bad, and succeeding in just being, well, bad; and though the action sequences- two of them, to be exact- are unquestionably well-done, in order to get to them (thanks to Tarantino’s self-indulgent insistence on maintaining his own signature tension-building style) we have to sit through interminable stretches of hip, foul-mouthed dialogue, which may be meant to invest us in the characters but instead results in repeated glancing at our watches. Seriously, there was never this much talking in Death Race 2000. Don’t get me wrong- I’m not criticizing Tarantino for embracing and championing the grindhouse genre. After all, these humble movies are touchstones for a generation and have had a major influence on contemporary cinema; and in his best work (such as the Kill Bill movies and Inglorious Basterds), the director has masterfully drawn inspiration from them while incorporating their elements into his larger personal vision. With Death Proof, however, he has only succeeded in making a pale shadow of the original works, which, like a replica of some crude masterpiece of outsider art, seems pointless and unnecessary.

About jpkcinemaadventures

Reviewer for the Los Angeles Blade. Not just a writer who loves film, a film buff who loves to write.

One response to “Death Proof (2007)

  1. Pingback: Django Unchained (2012) | JPK's Adventures in Cinema

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