Death Proof

Saturday, September 22, 2007

What a wasted opportunity Death Proof is. It could have been terrific trashy fun. Instead it’s only fun in parts – large sections are irredeemably dull.

The dull sections are exclusively the property of the endless dialogue scenes. For what seems like an eternity annoying female characters jabber on about nothing. It has none of the wit or excitement of the dialogue in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction – it’s merely a crashing bore. The worst offender has to be a scene where a group of women recount a story about falling in a ditch. It goes on and on forever and by the end you’ve totally forgotten what’s been said because you’ve been contemplating putting your scrotum in a vice. But for some reason Tarantino films the scene like the opening piece of dialogue in Reservoir Dogs (the camera moves around the table), but it has none of that scene’s vitality.

Another equally risible scene is the one that opens the film – a group of girls talk about guys and scoring pot while driving in their car. Again they talk forever and again one’s mind wanders to inventive ways of inflicting penile self-harm. But a part of me wants to think that the vapid dialogue is done on purpose. I want to think that Tarantino is feeding our bloodlust. I want to think that he, like us, wants them dead.

It’s not a surprise that the film improves tenfold whenever Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) is on screen, but sadly he’s in the film far too little. Instead, bafflingly so, Tarantino seems more interested in the girls. So therefore, despite one’s hopes and wishes, you can’t help but feel that QT wants us to like them.

But despite this, I was cackling with glee when Stuntman Mike took the first group of girls out with his car. He drives headfirst into them with his ‘death proof’ automobile and from each of the character’s different perspectives we see what happens to them. One gets a face full of glass, another gets hit by flying bits of car and another gets her leg ripped off, which leaves a bloody stump on the road. For Stuntman Mike, the flirting in the bar (one of the girls even gives him a lapdance) is the foreplay and here’s the intercourse followed by the bloody orgasm.

But even though it’s hinted that these crashes are a sexual thing for Stuntman Mike, it’s never explicitly revealed to be so. And that’s certainly better for the character. We don’t want to know why this character does these things. Any explanation would make him more banal and ruin the fun. Yeah you could speculate that the lapdance didn’t excite him and that these killings are punishment for his slothful sex drive, but to have it pointed out for you would make Stuntman Mike half the fun he is.

However, even better than the crash that kills the first group of the girls is the scene that immediately precedes it. Stuntman Mike drives a girl home and then proceeds to terrify her. It’s a nasty, spiteful scene, and one that sees Stuntman Mike killing the girl by braking so hard that her face goes smashing into the dashboard. But it’s well written and superbly directed. If only the rest of the film was as exciting.

After this we have more girls and more excruciating boredom. I’ve already mentioned the scene with the story about the ditch, but there’s more guy talk and more relationship talk. And this section also features two of the most annoying characters in recent cinema, a couple of female petrol-heads. One is a mouthy Kiwi and one is a sassy black girl. Again I wanted them both dead.

The ditch story is the best (worst?) example of their lack of right to live, but there’s also an endless exchange at a farm (where one has gone to try and test dry a ‘Vanishing Point’ car). The Kiwi wants to car surf or some such nonsense and the two argue and bicker and one offers to be the other’s bitch, but it’s no fun to watch. Part of the reason why the dialogue in Reservoir Dogs was such a revelation was because it felt natural. Here it feels contrived. It feels like someone trying to ape Tarantino and failing badly.

But thankfully that scene ends, and thank Christ, Stuntman Mike reappears. We then have an excellent couple of car chases, the first with Stuntman Mike as the pursuer and then in the second with him as the pursued. And I found it highly amusing how, after all his big talk, Stuntman Mike turns into a big baby after he gets shot by one of the girls. He cries and he screams, and after the girls catch back up to him, he says he’s sorry and pleads for his life. He’s pathetic, but gloriously so.

And although I hated the girls 95% of the time, I suddenly liked them in the last few moments. First of all the Kiwi smashes Stuntman Mike with a pipe as he tries to get away, and then after they catch him they give him the beating of a lifetime. We get punch after punch, blow after blow to the face, and it’s so gloriously over the top that it becomes comic. And then the Kiwi karate kicks Mike in the head and drops him to the floor. And then after that a couple of viscous kicks are delivered to Mike’s face. If only the rest of the film had been this unapologetically trashy, it could have been something great. As it stands it’s incredibly mediocre.

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