Overly talkative, overlong, but still packed with select thrills, the unrated, expanded 'Death Proof' doesn't completely spin it's wheels...
As a confirmed zombie/horror-flick junkie, no one was more stoked when ‘Grindhouse’ hit theaters back in April. What with an extensive TV ad-campaign and ample internet buzz proceeding its actual release, it seemed a late spring blockbuster was surely born. As it turned out, the majority of the movie-going public found a staunch unwillingness to sit through a three-plus hour ‘double-feature’, despite the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriquez directorial draw and a (mostly) talented mishmash of a cast that teamed both proven old-timers and youthful up-and-comers.
Thus, five short months later the first of what is sure to be several DVD incarnations arrives in the form of Tarantino’s unrated, expanded cut of ‘Death Proof’, a loving homage to seventies chase/crash and burn flicks such as ‘Vanishing Point’, ‘Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry’ and even ‘Cannonball Run’ (all of which are referenced in the script-A Tarantino staple).
As far as pin-holing ‘Death Proof’ into a set genre, I find it a virtual impossibility, as it appears at times to be equal parts drama (the rawest of chick-flicks anyone?), comedy, and suspense thriller. As with several of the director’s earlier works, this enigmatic approach is obviously more purposeful than merely accidental.
The basic plot, floss-thin that it is, promised an unlimited potential for unbridled mayhem and carnage. Over-the-hill, outdated and long past his maniacal prime, despite displaying an outer visage of pure, understated cool, Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell, perfectly cast) gets his jollies stalking and subsequently eliminating groups of vivacious gals via his ‘Death Proof’ hot-rod, all the while keeping the grisly motives to himself.
As for the aforementioned ‘unlimited’ potential, it’s unfortunate to report that the film as a whole disappoints, at least from the ‘suspense-thriller’ standpoint. The initial build-up is slow but not totally ineffective, though it’s painfully obvious from the start (Russell’s psychotic presence isn’t even viewed until well past the twenty-minute point) that Tarantino seems more interested in his female characters waxing (un)poetic to the point of nausea in a never-ending series of R-rated rants and exchanges as if any or all were auditioning for an ultra-hip, profanity-laced edition of ‘The View’. In particular, the second group of Stuntman Mike’s potential ‘victims’ are allowed a full half-hour forum of mostly meaningless blather that serves only to derail whatever tension had previously existed. The thrills, when they come, are as chilling and bone-jarringly effective as the ‘filler’ dialogue is sadly numbing, in particular the demise of those first chosen as the Stuntman’s personal brand of ‘road-kill’.
As for comedic touches, seek out and enjoy the exact moment when predator realizes he’d just been relegated to 'prey' status. Trust me…you’ll know it when you see it, and Russell pulls off the transformation with the ease of a seasoned vet. This versatile actor has proven his worth in every possible genre, from drama (‘Tequila Sunrise’, ‘Miracle’) to comedy (‘The Best of Times’, ‘Captain Ron’) to thrillers (‘Breakdown’, ‘Dark Blue’, 'Executive Decision'), to Sci-Fi and horror (‘The Thing’, ‘Escape from New York…and LA’). As for the females, I found Rose McGowan (more prominently featured in Rodriguez’s ‘Planet Terror’ segment) as the most effective, as well as Jordan Ladd (‘Cabin Fever’) and the surprisingly good stuntwoman turned thespian Zoe Bell.
The extended version is a full twenty-one minutes longer than the theatrical cut, though aside from the ‘lap dance’ sequence and a brief black-and-white inclusion in which Stuntman Mike attempts a dangerously brazen up-close and personal study of his second batch of victims, the majority adds little in terms of plot development and/or action. As for the ‘unrated’ claim, since the blood-letting and/or prolific profanity remains unchanged from the theatrical version, it seems nothing more a PR stunt to titillate.
BOTTOM LINE: Though I do recommend ‘Death Proof’ with some stout reservations, I’d suggest one waits for the inevitable release of both ‘Grindhouse’ films in a singular DVD package, complete with the hilarious ‘fake trailers’ (‘Don’t’, ‘Thanksgiving’, ‘Machete’, et al). Standing alone, ‘Proof’ is a damn sight ponderous and talky when it could’ve been so much more. As a whole, I’d have preferred to have seen more death in a visceral sense in lieu of being talked into such a lifeless state.
RATING: *** OUT OF *****
Three stars out of a possible Five
*) Never-before-seen footage including the "missing reel" (containing Vanessa Ferlito's unseen lap-dance sequence) as well as a black-and-white segment in the film's second act
*) Finding Quentin's Gals featurette
*) The Guys of Death Proof featurette
*) Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike featurette
*) Introducing Zoe Bell featurette
*) Quentin's Greatest Collaborator: Editor Sally Menke featurette
*) Trailer for Double Dare
*) International poster gallery