Quentin Tarantino brings his trademark vision for bombastic action into “Death Proof,” his contribution to the horror movie double feature now in theaters titled “Grindhouse.” Kurt Russell and the bevy of beauties Tarantino cast highlight this flick.
Stuntman Mike (Russell) has modified his car to be completely 100 percent death proof — but only if you’re sitting in the driver’s seat. This is how he kills people, making nice with them in the bar or something, then tracking them down and killing them. He first goes after radio host Jungle Julia (Sydney Poitier) and her friends, after soliciting a lap dance from one. After succeeding, he tries his luck with movie makeup artist Abby (Rosario Dawson) and her two stuntwomen companions, Zoe (Zoe Bell) and Kim (Tracie Thomas), who actually give Mike a run for his money.
Tarantino has always been strong on dialogue. He’s great at mixing wonderful, almost lyrical dialogue with intense drama and action. They’re conversations you wish you could be smart enough to hold with your friends. The opening of “Reservoir Dogs” around the table at the diner is fantastic, for example, and the Superman monologue in “Kill Bill, Vol. 2” shows how he can slow down the action but still keep you interested. Unfortunately, he slows it down right away with “Death Proof,” offering up an overly long car ride scene (for which he’s famous) with mostly pointless dialogue. About halfway through the scene, I got tired and let my mind wander. It didn’t come back till a full introduction of Mike was made nearly 15 minutes later.
That’s out of character for Tarantino. He’s usually right on the money and can keep his scenes nice and tight. But I guess after 15 years and six movies, he’s allowed to falter a bit, but it’s just hard watching such an admirable and capable filmmaker skip a beat.
Once he gets to the action, the first attack on Jungle Julia and her cohorts, the movie really picks up the pace. Seeing Russell playing such an insanely demonic character is interesting, after his recent string of good guy roles. And he handles the villain role with an ease that makes it seem like a perfect fit. He breathes a certain life into the role of Mike that makes me wonder why he wasn’t the first pick (casting rumors state he was the last resort).
The thrust of the film is the last half. I wondered why that wasn’t the whole movie; the first half seems superfluous, considering the amount of time Tarantino has us invest in it. It’s almost pure action in the last half, which makes up for the dialogue-heavy first half.
Tarantino has an infatuation with strong-willed women. Almost all of his films feature strong female leads, and he punctuates that sentiment with a slew of heroines to fight off the domineering male villain. Dawson (“Sin City”), new comer Bell and Thomas (“Rent”) take their characters to a whole new level. The whole ordeal could have been a woman vs. man metaphor, playing it simple and safe. But these actresses kept it strictly victim and aggressor, and give vengeance a whole new meaning.
I can say for certain that this is in fact one of Tarantino’s worst films. But with six (including this one) under his belt, all of them completely stellar, that’s not necessarily a negative.
When making a list of one through six, something has to be first, and something has to be last. And despite the slow start, it does become watchable at the halfway point.