As you probably know, this was originally conceived as a 60-minute segment in Grindhouse, a tribute to the exploitation movies that played in double bills at drive-ins and sleazy inner-city fleapits in the early 1970s. The package also included a scifi-horror-shoot-em-up, Planet Terror, written and directed by Tarantino's Dusk Till Dawn buddy Robert Rodriguez, and parody coming attractions contributed by Eli Roth, Rob Zombie (Werewolf Women of the SS), and Edgar Wright (Don't!), among others.
Unfortunately, despite mostly good reviews, Grindhouse bombed with US audiences who, according to producer Harvey Weinstein, didn't understand they were getting two movies for the price of one, and either didn't know what Grindhouse was all about, or simply didn't care.
Presumably UK audiences will eventually get a chance to savour Grindhouse in its original form on DVD. For now, though, there's no sign of Planet Terror, and Tarantino's movie gets a stand-alone release in a version 27 minutes longer than the original. Given that it had its share of longueurs even at 80-odd minutes this must be counted a bit of a mixed blessing, though I would agree that being the bottom half of a double bill didn't do Tarantino's slow-burner of a picture any favours.
It's actually a double feature in and of itself. For 50 minutes four girls sit and gab: in a car, in a bar, and in another bar. Then something really terrible happens and the movie starts over again: four girls in a car.
If Tarantino wanted to concoct one of the more audacious false starts in the movies - and we can be sure that he did - he has succeeded in spades. But that's no excuse for reams of such patently Tarantino-esque pop chat that the movie is virtually a self-parody.
A couple of shaky performances don't help. As Austin disc jockey Jungle Julia, Sydney Tamilia Poitier (daughter of you know who) is stuck with QT's caricatured notion of what a tough black chick sounds like (ie, a bitch). Tarantino also casts himself in a colourful bit part as a bar-tender, and as usual embarrasses himself.
Still, the movie stops idling when Kurt Russell pulls up in his supercharged black Dodge as Stuntman Mike. In his silver lame jacket, Mike basks in the reflected glory of TV serials the young girls in this bar have never even heard of. He's a little bit creepy, but no more than a lot of middle-aged guys hoping to pull above their weight. The girls figure he's harmless, which is why Pam (Rose McGowan) agrees to let him give her a lift home. Big mistake.
Be warned: the climax of this first half is truly gut-wrenching. The movie deserves its 18 certificate. Tarantino's sophisticated irony is that after all the blah blah that precedes it, the audience is on some level craving this carnage.
Point made, he goes on to repeat the trick, this time with four different gals - thankfully better actresses, led by the excellent Rosario Dawson. But it's Kiwi stunt-woman Zoe Bell who runs away with the film, just by being herself. Bell used to be stunt double for Lucy Lawless on Xena: Warrior Princess, then doubled for Uma Thurman on Kill Bill.
Forthright and devil may care, Bell is easily the most believable character in the movie, and personable enough that you actually care about what might happen to her.
Tarantino (who shot it himself) designs this episode so that it builds to Zoe hanging on to the hood of a white Dodge Charger as it drives down country roads at breakneck speeds - for fun. In these days of CGI effects, the thrills here are very plainly for real. As if that wasn't extreme enough, Stuntman Mike is waiting in the wings.
Whatever you make of Death Proof - and I think it's a very mixed bag - there's no question that it climaxes with the mother of all car chases (feminist subtext very much intentional). I loved the last 15-20 minutes enough that I was willing to forgive the first 40.
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