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:: Death Proof

Originally apart of the highly anticipated yet surprisingly unsuccessful “Grindhouse” movie (so called since it is a homage to the multi feature B-grade splatter exploitation films of the 1970s), “Death Proof” is the first of the two “Grindhouse” movies to be released on its own (Robert Rodriguez’ zombie opus “Planet Terror” is due for a release at a later date). Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, “Death Proof” stars Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike, a scarred sadist who stalks two different sets of young women with plans to kill them with his supped up, “death proof” car.

Since this is an extended cut, it is impossible to compare this version to the original since “Grindhouse” was not released in Australia. Yet I have a feeling that “Death Proof” is a film best watched in its original format with its B-grade, gritty spirit in tow, because even though it does contain many enjoyable moments, this is Tarantino’s weakest film to date. A big reason for this is Tarantino’s inability to establish a consistent tone throughout. This is a film without a clear identity. The characters, sets and (excellent) soundtrack scream out 1970’s, yet it is set in the modern day. The plot (or lack of one) and its obvious love for exploitation films is obvious, yet besides a few deliberate cracks and bumps (missing scenes, creaky sound etc.), “Death Proof” is nothing more than a wannabe B-grade movie made on an A-grade budget.

However, the movie's biggest problem lies within the endless droning of un-inspired dialogue. Almost every character blabs on about everything and anything in such a way that it comes across as extremely pretentious, a move which does not do much in establishing sympathy for Mike’s would be victims who are played by a plethora of young female talent, none of which leave much of an impression with the exception of New Zealand stunt woman Zoe Bell (yet that is due to her stunt skills, not her acting.)

Ever since “Jackie Brown”, Tarantino’s main protagonists have been strong, well written, independent women. Yet this time out, Tarantino’s female characters are nothing but irritable, promiscuous and - above all - shallow. It is all about big butts in tight small shorts; swaying hips and giving lap dances; scoring pot and downing shots; and (a personal favourite of mine), leaving your friend alone with a strange man in the backwoods of Tennessee as collateral for a car (without her consent of course).

Yet things get better when Kurt Russell comes on the screen, injecting equal parts charisma, intensity and lunacy into a man from another era with a giant chip on his shoulder. And with Stuntman Mike comes the cars, and with the cars comes some spectacular stunts and choreographed chase scenes. The last 30 minutes, in particular, will have hearts pounding, as the before mentioned Bell proves her chosen talent with a white knuckle stunt that has to be seen to be believed. This segment of the film almost makes up for its many disappointments, yet almost just does not cut it.

A very good film which could have been another great film by Tarantino.