Time: 113 Minutes
Age Rating: Offensive language, violence and content that may offend
Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike
Rosario Dawson as Abernathy
Vanessa Ferlito as Arlene
Jordan Ladd as Shanna
Rose McGowan as Pam
Sydney Tamiia Poitier as Jungle Julia
Tracie Thoms as Kim
Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Lee
Zoë Bell as Herself
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) is a professional body double who likes to take unsuspecting women for deadly drives in his free time. He has doctored his car for maximum impact; when Mike purposely causes wrecks, the bodies pile up while he walks away with barely a scratch. The insane Mike may be in over his head, though, when he targets a tough group of female friends, including real-life stuntwoman Zoe Bell (who served as Uma Thurman’s double in “Kill Bill”), who plays herself.
I remember when I first saw Death Proof many years ago, I heard it was his worst movie, but I was expecting that going in, and I was just expecting a reasonably okay movie. I was still immensely disappointed in the end result, it was overlong and dull, and for a tribute to exploitation movies in general, it partially misses the mark. Having rewatched a lot of Quentin Tarantino’s movies in the lead up to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, I decided to watch Death Proof again, to see if I still felt that way about the movie. While I didn’t dislike it as much when I first saw it, most of my feelings on the movie haven’t really changed all that much.
As it’s a second review of the movie, I might delve into spoilers, so if you haven’t watched the movie yourself that just know this. Personally though I don’t think much of the experience could be ruined by spoilers. The biggest problem of the movie is that it tries to do two things at once, and they doesn’t work together. On one hand it’s meant to be an exploitation tribute movie, it was even paired with Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror in a collection called Grindhouse. It certainly gets the sleaze aspect correct, and it does have some moments of the graphic violence that you’d expect. There are no doubt some grindhouse elements, and the concept alone sounds like a exploitation movie. However, Death Proof movie also tries to be dialogue driven, and it just doesn’t fit the movie at all. All of Quentin Tarantino’s movies, save for Kill Bill Vol. 1 (and maybe Django Unchained and Inglourious Basterds) are dialogue driven, and Death Proof is no exception. For those who don’t know, exploitation movies are rather trashy, and usually filled with a bunch of explicit content, whether it be violence or sex. Not that I necessarily need that to enjoy the movie, but considering what it’s supposedly aiming to be, the focus on a lot of dialogue is just rather confusing. Even if you were going to try to make it work, the dialogue in the movie isn’t necessarily bad but it’s nowhere near as captivating as his other movies, it’s really weak. I didn’t dislike it as much as the last time I saw the movie but its pretty underwhelming. Usually Tarantino writes some very memorable characters. Taking Kurt Russell’s Stuntman Mike out of it however you don’t really remember the characters outside of the actors playing them.
The movie is split into two halves. The first half is mostly at a bar, it’s not that good but at least you feel like it’s really building up to something, with Stuntman Mike around the group of characters. The second half is much different. It starts with Stuntman Mike but then he disappears and doesn’t really come back till like the last 20 minutes of the movie, so there’s like no tension whatsoever and you’re just watching these uninteresting characters just talk about random things, except (as I mentioned the earlier) the dialogue isn’t all that good. Sure, there really wasn’t a lot happening in the first half but at least you felt like he was around to pose a threat. The second half also contains a questionable at best scene where the girls leave Mary Elizabeth Winstead with a guy who just so happened to play a trucker rapist in Kill Bill, and they ended the scene with some very unnerving implications to say the least. I’m not even sure what the point of that scene even was, because if anything that just makes us not care about these characters. While I do like the idea of making having a switch around with Stuntman Mike then being chased by the lead women, the fact that he just went after them in broad daylight was a little far fetched and kind of out of character for him considering how slowly he took his time planning his murders in the first half. Still, the last act was entertaining and a fitting way to end the movie. The movie is under an hour and 50 minutes long and it definitely feels far too long, probably shouldn’t have been more than 80/90 minutes. Honestly if you cut out (or at least shortened) quite a lot of the dialogue, you might’ve been able to make the movie shorter and overall a lot better.
Kurt Russell is one of the most recognisable actors in the movie as Stuntman Mike, although being listed as the lead, he just sort of appears on screen every so often. With that said, he kills it in all of his scenes as a serial killer who uses a car instead of a knife or a chainsaw. And when he gets shot in the third act and finds himself on the run, his sudden change in acting was effectively hilarious. The first group of women included Vanessa Ferlito, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Jordan Ladd and Rose McGowan, with the second group consisting of Rosario Dawson, Tracie Thoms, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Zoe Bell (as herself). All in all they are at about the same level, they are alright but can only do so much. I really just didn’t care about these characters, which really was the main problem.
Quentin Tarantino directed this, and I think he mostly did a good job with it. He manages to make Death Proof look like an exploitation movie, some of it works, other parts don’t. The effects and filter on the screen is done to make it look like an exploitation movie, there’s even parts where the screen blacks out a second, meant to look like it’s changing to the next film reel. In the first part of the second half, the screen turned black and white (I guess it’s meant to be like meta with projectors losing colours) and when it returns, the scratchy effects are completely absent all the way to the end of the movie, never really understood why that happened. The car scenes themselves are good, it really consists of just 3 though, the crash with the first group of women, the bit where Russell is chasing the second group of women with Zoe Bell on the roof on the car, and him getting chased himself. The crash scene is straight out of a grindhouse movie, with the impact happening and rewinding to see the absolute damage it happened on everything and everyone. The chase with Zoe Bell on a car (who’s a real stuntwoman and she certainly performed that scene well that well) was very thrilling. And of course the final chase was gratifying as Russell found the tables turned against him. I don’t remember the soundtrack of Death Proof that much but I remember the songs fitting the movie reasonably well, which Tarantino does well in all of his movies.
Quentin Tarantino has a near perfect lineup of movies on his filmography, but Death Proof stands out in a bad way, by far his worst movie. If you like a lot of his other movies and haven’t seen this one yet, it’s worth giving it a chance at least. Just make sure not to take the movie seriously at all. Having seen this movie twice, I still don’t think it works. As for making effective tributes to exploitation movies, Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror seemed to be way more aware of the movie it should be trying to be.