Originally a part of the highly anticipated yet surprisingly unsuccessful Grindhouse movie, Death Proof is the first film from the underperforming double feature to be released on its own, with Robert Rodriguez' zombie opus Planet Terror 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" cars.
An extended cut of the Grindhouse version, it is impossible to compare this film to its original since Grindhouse was not released in Australia. Yet the feeling is that Death Proof is a film best watched in its original format with its B-grade, gritty spirit in tow, because although 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 the exploitation films which it is inspired by 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.
The movies biggest problem is its endless drone 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 that 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 this is due to her stunt skills, not her acting.
Now ever since Jackie Brown, Tarantino's main protagonists have been strong, well written, independent women. Pam Grier and Uma Thurman have left lasting impressions playing such roles, taking on Tarantino's usually informative and well structured dialogue while also providing their own unique brand of spunk and sassiness.
Yet this time out, Tarantino's female characters are irritable, promiscuous and - above all - shallow. It is all about big asses in tight shorts; swaying hips and giving lap dances; scoring pot and downing shots; calling each other "bitch"; and (a personal favourite of mine), leaving your friend alone with a strange man in the backwoods of Tennessee as collateral for a car.
Yet when Kurt Russell comes on the screen, things get rolling, 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 cars come some spectacular chase scenes and stunts, with the before mentioned Bell holding court in a white knuckle stunt on the bonnet of a speeding car. Too bad there were not more moments like these.