Quentin Tarantino’s fifth movie, Death Proof, is likely to be forever etched in cinematic memory as his weakest effort yet. Even the maestro himself seems to acknowledge this sentiment in various interviews. Initially conceived as part of the double feature Grindhouse, the standalone version of Death Proof tacks on an extra 30 minutes of runtime. This elongated cut only exacerbates the film’s already evident weaknesses. Originally deemed the lesser of the two in the double feature, the addition of this tedious half-hour solidifies Death Proof as Tarantino’s nadir to date.
“Death Proof” is Quentin Tarantino’s adrenaline-charged homage to 1970s exploitation cinema. Split into two acts, the film follows the sadistic pursuits of Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell), a psychopathic driver who uses his “death proof” car to prey on unsuspecting women. In the first act, Mike targets a group of friends in Austin, Texas, culminating in a violent showdown on a deserted road. The second act shifts focus to a new group of women, including stuntwoman Zoe Bell, as they unwittingly become Stuntman Mike’s next targets during a road trip through rural Tennessee.
Despite Tarantino’s efforts to infuse his characters with his trademark dialogue, they emerge as one-dimensional and utterly forgettable. It’s a marvel that I recall any of their names at all, with Jungle Julia and Zoe sticking out due to the constant usage of their names. Perhaps Tarantino’s struggle lies in scripting women authentically, as their interactions lack sincerity, hindering viewer investment in their fates or motivations. Despite the second group’s ties to the film industry, their discussions about 70s car chase classics like “Vanishing Point” and “Dirty Mary Crazy Larry” feel more like banter between Quentin and a fellow cinephile than conversations among mid-20s women.
“The pacing presents a glaring issue in “Death Proof. The film trudges through lengthy, meandering conversations, interspersed with fleeting bursts of action that fail to maintain interest or momentum. This disjointed rhythm sabotages any hope of cohesive storytelling, leaving me disengaged and uninspired. The central flaw of “Death Proof” lies in its bifurcated structure, resembling two identical movies stitched together. It’s akin to binge-watching two episodes of a serialized TV show consecutively. Nearly an hour elapses before Stuntman Mike dispatches the women we’ve come to know. Then, abruptly, the narrative shifts to a fresh set of characters, and the cycle repeats itself.
Even the action sequences, usually Tarantino’s forte, disappoint. Despite their technical prowess, they lack the intensity and excitement necessary to captivate audiences. The car chases, in particular, come across as formulaic and uninspired, failing to evoke the expected adrenaline rush for a thriller of this caliber. “Death Proof” seems less like a cohesive film and more like a showcase for Zoe Bell, lacking the narrative coherence to sustain my engagement.
A striking aspect of “Death Proof” is its treatment of female characters, who often appear scantily clad, with the camera lingering on their tight physiques. Our introduction to Jungle Julia consists of a 30 second shot of her butt wearing nothing but a pair of panties. Mary Elizabeth Winstead dons a cheerleader outfit for no real good reason.
This all aligns with Tarantino’s ’70s vision, but the the film’s contemporary setting is clearly marked by ubiquitous cellphones. This discrepancy creates a glaring plot hole: amidst Stuntman Mike’s attack, no one thinks to dial 911. Moreover, the film’s commitment to the grindhouse aesthetic wavers inconsistently. While it initially showcases manufactured scratches, skips, and glitches, these elements abruptly vanish, leaving the film feeling more modern than its intended homage to retro cinema.
In summary, “Death Proof” is a forgettable entry in Quentin Tarantino’s filmography, lacking the depth, creativity, and thematic resonance of his best work. While it may offer a few fleeting thrills, they are ultimately overshadowed by its myriad shortcomings. For those seeking a truly satisfying cinematic experience, it’s best to look elsewhere.