Sunday, April 1, 2007

Speed Kills: Death Proof Review

This is part 5 of my Grindhouse Premiere experience.

If Planet Terror is a parody of the Grindhouse films of old, Death Proof, the second feature directed by Quentin Tarantino is an homage. Less scratchy film and bad acting and more just trying to recreate a movie that would have been released at that time, with a little snappier dialogue.

I struggled with my review of Planet Terror because honestly there isn't much to it. I would argue that From Dusk Til Dawn has more substance. That's not necessarily a bag on the movie, it's just simple in its entertainment. Death Proof is different and much more different than I had expected. The morning after we saw Grindhouse, my friend Brian said you react to Planet Terror but you remember Death Proof. That statement couldn't be more true and the fact that the two movies are so different makes me respect the concept even more.

I have to admit that at first as I watched Death Proof I went through a roller-coaster of liking the movie and hating it. Looking back, I understand why I was like that. Planet Terror is such an easy movie to follow. You know where it's going to go. That's not why you watch it. You watch it for the sheer visceral thrill of it all. Death Proof is different. It builds the characters and sets moods and then takes you in a completely new direction. I had heard that Death Proof was about a serial killer that used his car as a weapon. I thought "okay, that's Christine without the supernatural element." Fortunately, it wasn't as simple as that. And you can thank the performances of Kurt Russell and Sydney Poitier for that. You can also thank Tarantino for making a movie with a series of twists that keep you guessing exactly where's he's going to go next because Death Proof doesn't follow a linear storyline. My dumb brain struggled with this, trying to fit it in this structure but the movie refused. And in the end, it's this refusal that makes it so memorable.

Like Rodriguez with Planet Terror, Tarantino is not without his faults with Death Proof. For all of his respect of the original exploitation movies, Tarantino veers quite a bit from the material for purely reasons of ego. The dialogue is a bit too long and a bit too clever for its own good. And you couldn't help but think that you had heard this type of dialogue before around a coffee table in Reservoir Dogs or while walking down a hall in Pulp Fiction. And it feels obvious that Tarantino is showing off. It's fun, but it's not true to the subject matter.

A lot of Death Proof centers around a love of cars and more specifically car movies like Vanishing Point and Dirty Mary Crazy Larry. I have to admit, I'm a bit out of my element here as I don't share such a love, but no less it was still a great time and Tarantino does justice to each car he features. The car chases are well covered and the crash scenes are something else completely. The detail that is covered in one crash scene is simply amazing.

This movie also pays homage to Austin. Several well-known areas of town are featured in this movie and the crowd went crazy whenever some location flashed across the screen. Death Proof is different from Planet Terror in that you won't find yourself hooting and hollering like you did at the beginning. Again, this will be interesting to see how this plays in regular movie theaters: ones that don't know Austin very well. My guess is that the sheer joy in which Planet Terror was made will hurt Death Proof. Everyone will want Death Proof to be along the same lines and not realize that they would be getting short-changed if it were. But me, I liked Death Proof more. And that's not because I was able to shake Tarantino's hand and not Rodriguez' (you like how I dropped that in?). The truth is, spoofs are easy. Rodriguez did an excellent job with it, but he picked the easier subject matter. The one that's sure to be a crowd favorite. Death Proof tries to do something more. And for that Tarantino gets my respect and Death Proof gets my vote.


Adam Ross said...

Your take on the differences between QT and RR got me thinking: a 'sequel' to Grindhouse, with two movies by unknown directors (or ones itching to get back in the game ... the John Landises of Hollywood), and a similar theme with the trailers.

Piper said...

You might be on to something. There's no doubt that the Grindhouse idea can live on and on.

We'll see how its first weekend BO does.

pacheco said...

Well, at SXSW, Rodriguez mentioned a few things, and from what I can remember, he basically said that they want to make Grindhouse a sort of label. So you have Machete coming out on DVD under the Grindhouse label, and hopefully other projects that qualify.

Can't wait to see these flicks.

Piper said...

Pacheco, I had read that Rodriguez was going to hand select some additional trailers made in the SXSW competition. Do you know what he picked?

And if it's true that they're going to make a Grindhouse a label, it's brilliant. Can't wait to see if that pans out.

Adam Ross said...


There was a contest at SXSW for homemade Grindhouse trailers, this was the winner -- it's fantastic.

Piper said...

It is good. They should have played that instead of Rob Zombies trailer. It's much better.