Death Proof

Year: 2007
Production Co: The Weinstein Company
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Producer: Harvey Weinstein/Bob Weinstein
Writer: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson, Zoe Bell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rose McGowan, Eli Roth, Quentin Tarantino
Death Proof is half of the early 2007 film double feature Grindhouse, from Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. With Rodriguez's zombie film Planet Terror, Death Proof formed half of the classic, seedy, Times Square movie-house double bill of the sort Tarantino, Rodriguez and a million other cult film fans love.

American audiences thought differently, returning less than half of the US$53m budget and turning Grindhouse into one of the most unexpected bombs of the year.

In the wake of its failure, the producers and studio decided to release each movie separately in territories outside the US, and Tarantino's Death Proof is the first to arrive in Australia.

Of the cult movie canon, there's a fast cars/fast women subgenre that Tarantino's lovingly homaging. It pits a psychopathic killer - Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) -against two quartets of young beauties as he stalks them and then attempts to carry out his murderous intent.

The second crew, comprising Rosario Dawson, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Tracie Toms and kiwi stuntwoman extraordinaire Zoe Bell playing herself, get the drop on Stuntman Mike and turn into an avenging force somewhere between the works of schlock maestros Roger Corman and Russ Meyer.

Death Proof is very simply structured, each stalking and attack carried out sequentially, long action sequences interspersed with even longer scenes of talk. At one point Tarantino circles a cafeteria table for seven minutes, filming his heroines as they eat breakfast and talk about stuff that doesn't even comprise story exposition. It's as if he's taken the kudos garnered for similar scenes of familiar, idle chatter in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction to his head and given us the extreme version.

As was the modus operandi for the whole project however, the story is less a concern than the style that harks back to the seedy B movies Tarantino (and Rodriguez) is referencing. They've spared no detail, from the melodramatic staging to the scratched film stock that makes it look like a cheap, projector-driven blue movie.

And therein lies the problem with Death Proof. As a period piece, it has as much relevance as any other movie based in another era. Tarantino hasn't just bought the era itself to life, the movie itself is in on the joke, looking like it's actually from that period.

But unless you're a devotee of old-style cult movies, there's something you should be aware of; they're seldom very good. Shoddy dialogue, hammy acting, dodgy effects and stunts and slipshod storytelling are the hallmarks of a cult movie from the period, and because Tarantino resurrects them so convincingly, it feels like you might as well be watching an old VCR copy of a previously-banned video nasty.

Together with scenes that drag out for too long and ultimately go nowhere, it's a film fan's rather than a story connoisseur's delight.

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