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Having gone ga-ga over Robert Rodriguez' PLANET TERROR a while back, I couldn't wait to see the other half of the GRINDHOUSE double-feature he and collaborator Quentin Tarantino unleashed on widely unsuspecting audiences last year. QT's muscle-car mayhem epic DEATH PROOF (2007), while not as over-the-top awesome as Rodriguez' film, is still a pure, giddy joy that revels in the down and dirty delights of its low-budget inspirations.
We're first introduced to four lovely young wimmins cruising the Tex-Mex diners and bars of Austin, Texas, yakking endlessly about guys and planning an all-girl party at Lake LBJ. There's the petite blonde, Shanna (Cheryl Ladd's daughter Jordan of HOSTEL PART II and CABIN FEVER), leather-clad tough chick Lanna-Frank (Monica Staggs), sexy Brooklyn gal Butterfly (Vanessa Ferlito), and locally-famous radio DJ Jungle Julia (Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Sidney's daughter). Rose McGowan, the star of PLANET TERROR, plays a smaller role here as Pam, Julia's grade-school rival who shows up at the Texas Chili Parlor run by Warren (Tarantino) while the girls are there partying with some horny guys that include a funny Eli Roth (HOSTEL). And, for the record, PLANET TERROR's ever-popular Crazy Babysitter Twins are there as well.
Also sitting at the bar stuffing himself with nacho platters is the burly, scarfaced Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell), a washed-up Hollywood stuntman who takes an interest in the girls and, through a series of circumstances, ends up getting a lap dance from Butterfly in a steamy set-piece. While Stuntman Mike seems friendly enough, there's something creepy and vaguely dangerous about him. But Pam needs a ride home and climbs into his black '69 Dodge Charger, which, as Mike tells her, is so heavily-reinforced for stuntwork as to be "death proof." This, however, only applies to the person behind the wheel, which Pam finds out to her immense regret as soon as they hit the street.
The first half of DEATH PROOF has the same battered, scratchy, spliced-to-hell look of PLANET TERROR, which should bring back fond memories to anyone who's actually been in a grindhouse or watched a midnight show where the print was as old as they are. For me, the nostalgic joy began in the very first seconds as soon as I heard that awesome bass line from Jack Nitszche's VILLAGE OF THE GIANTS theme, otherwise known as "The Last Race." Then the title, which, for a split second, is "Quentin Tarantino's Thunder Bolt" until the words "DEATH PROOF" are crudely spliced in, mimicking the look of all those cheap films that have been re-released under different titles. Another jarring splice cuts the title sequence short and dumps us into the movie proper.
Later, reel changes are clearly heralded by splotchy indicators and one of the biggest moments of the film, Butterfly's lap dance for Stuntman Mike, ends abruptly due to missing footage. This is the kind of stuff that will mean nothing to a lot of viewers, and in fact seems to put many of them off--which is probably one of the main reasons public reaction to this movie has been so divided--but it makes me as giddy as a schoolgirl.
What happens midway through DEATH PROOF is one of the most thrilling and totally unexpected scenes of recent years--I had to rewind and watch it two or three times just convince myself that this flabbergasting event really happened. Then, after a denouement which features yet another welcome appearance by Michael Parks' Texas Ranger character Earl McGraw, who got his brains blown out way back in FROM DUSK TILL DAWN but refuses to die, the movie blinks forward fourteen months and transports us to Lebanon, Tennessee, where Stuntman Mike is up to his old tricks again.
This time, we meet four more young women who are in town for the making of a softcore "cheerleader" movie. Rosario Dawson (SIN CITY) is makeup artist Abbie, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead is the movie's cutie-pie star, Lee. Their two friends are hardcore stuntwomen Kim (Tracie Thoms) and real-life stuntwoman ZoŽ Bell, who plays herself. ZoŽ's dream is to drive a white 1970 Dodge Challenger with a 440 engine, just like the one in VANISHING POINT.
Sure enough, there's a guy in town with one for sale, and before long, the girls (minus Lee) are out for a pedal-to-the-metal test drive that includes a hair-raising stunt called "Ship's Mast" with ZoŽ sprawled across the car's hood. This, of course, is when Stuntman Mike makes a surprise reappearance, crashing into the Challenger and then trying to run it off the road in a prolonged, stunt-packed pursuit over rural roads and highways.
Having a real stuntwoman playing a main role adds to the excitement because we see her face the whole time and know she's really doing all of this dangerous and thrilling stuff herself. Tarantino also uses legendary veterans such as Buddy Joe Hooker and Terry Leonard for the driving stunts, allowing him to indulge his imagination with some of the most incredible set-ups ever filmed. "Adrenaline-charged" would be an apt way to describe this harrowing car chase sequence, all the way up to the truly kooky ending in which the girls turn the tables on ol' Stuntman Mike.
The battered-print look disappears in DEATH PROOF's second half, as though we're now seeing another kind of exploitation flick--perhaps the more upper-scale stuff (GONE IN SIXTY SECONDS, VANISHING POINT, et al) that Kim and ZoŽ like to gush about. One thing that remains consistent throughout the movie, though, is Quentin Tarantino's well-known obsession with female feet. If you're a foot fetishist too, you'll love this movie from the very first frame, as this appears to be Tarantino's substitute for the gratuitous "boob shots" often seen in the usual grindhouse fare. There's also an abundance of big butts, gorgeous legs, and stuffed shirts, all lovingly photographed by a gleefully leering QT. Sydney Tamiia Poitier, in particular, proves a highly photogenic focus for such directorial indulgence. I'm not complaining.
I have heard complaints that much of the girls' dialogue scenes in this movie are too ponderous and not as witty or clever as the "royale with cheese"-type stuff from PULP FICTION. Me, I just like to hear Tarantino's characters talk, even when it isn't all deliciously quotable. These long yakkity-yak scenes also help us get to know the characters before they're subjected to extreme terror and peril by Stuntman Mike. As the crazed highway stalker, Kurt Russell is simply wonderful. Relaxed, jovial, but somehow not quite right, Mike is a great character and Russell is obviously having a ball playing him.
Tarantino has already wowed the mainstream with RESERVOIR DOGS and PULP FICTION--here he's content to give us old-time, pre-multiplex movie fans like himself a thoroughly entertaining thrill ride down memory lane in a souped-up exploitation flick with a defiant get-it-or-don't attitude. Like PLANET TERROR, the other half of this heartfelt love letter to grindhouse fans, DEATH PROOF doesn't need mainstream acceptance to validate it or make it good. It's critic-proof.
Added: Wednesday, March 05, 2008
Related Link: Official site
Language: eng[ Did you find this review helpful? Yes No ]
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