It might be me but I either seem to ‘get’ Tarantino or I don’t and unfortunately, Deathproof caught me somewhere between the two stools. I loved Reservoir Dogs (I didn’t watch a lot of Hong Kong cinema and so didn’t get a lot of the homages that were later pointed out), Pulp Fiction was an astonishing piece of work – homages or not – and I really enjoyed that. Jackie Brown was one of those films, for me, where I can appreciate it without really being interested in it (though Bridget Fonda was very nice), and I quite liked the first Kill Bill but thought the second was a little on the slow side. With the Grindhouse double-bill, I was torn because I was intrigued to see what Tarantino could do but felt more akin to what Rodriguez did (and I feel he did it very well). I should probably point out here that, in my part of the UK, we didn’t have grindhouse cinemas – and I would have been too young to get in anyway – so most of the cheap, low-budget schlock I saw was on Betamax or VHS through the 1980s. So maybe I’m not aware of the particular sub-genre that Tarantino was going for? I don’t know.
I wanted to like Deathproof but it was far too long and whilst I appreciate the need to care about characters to feel more when they are put in peril, did we seriously need 45 minutes before anything happens? Yep, the four girls are independent and sexy (though Tarantino does seem to get very excited by having black folk call everyone in their circle the N-word) and sassy, but we could have had 20 minutes with them and seen as much. The car stunts, when they finally arrived, were exceptional and the effects work by KNB was incredible. We then have a pointless five-minute scene of Sheriff Earl MacGraw (Michael Parkes) explaining that he knew stuntman Mike McCay (Kurt Russell) ‘done it’ but didn’t have the evidence – five minutes that only served the purpose of showing how good Mr Parkes is at memorising his dialogue.
We then cut to 14 months later, with a fully recovered Russell and his repaired car. Three girls are in a car park, waiting for one of their number – the film cuts to b&w, we get the idea that Russell is going for them and yet the film doesn’t give in and we get another 10-minute sequence that needn’t be. We then finally get to meet Zoe Bell (playing herself), who is a breath of fresh air and once she’s on screen, the story really begins to motor (pardon the pun) and the film becomes the exploitation item it promised to be (Vanishing Point and Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry are referenced constantly, but this doesn’t hold a candle to either of those films). The chase between Russell and the girls is very well done, the stunt work is brilliant throughout and the fact that it’s obviously not CGI just adds to the sense of it. The final sequence, interrupted by a title card that had my fellow viewer and I sitting forward and saying ‘what?’ works perfectly for the film but not for the characters and what we know of them. So, was it worth it?
Well the first ‘half’ could have been half as long and twice as successful. Because Tarantino can write naturalistic dialogue, it doesn’t mean that he should do it all the time and – I’m afraid – sometimes it gets weary (especially the car ride at the beginning). Jungle Julia (a wasted Sydney Poitier, who seems to exist only to show her feet all the time, nice touch to the fetish there, Mr T) doesn’t do anything, you get the feeling that Shana (Jordan Ladd) should be the engine but is just annoying and so is Eli Roth, in a silly cameo as Ladd’s boyfriend. That said, Russell acquits himself well, as do the Brooklyn Butterfly Arlene (Vanessa Ferlito) and Pam (Rose McGowan, who also takes the lead in Planet Terror). Tarantino further annoys with attempting another acting role, this time as Warren the barman. The second half works much better, except that cheerleader Lee (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) leaves the film once the other girls head off in the Charger and we never see her again – why was she there in the first place?
The two-disc edition comes with plenty of extras – there are several featurettes on the cars, stuntwork and the actors, a funny little sequence where the actors say hi to the editor (often mid-take), an uncut version of Winstead’s dance and a wonderful little piece on Zoe Bell that makes you realise Tarantino should have made more use of her. Unfortunately, it’s Tarantino himself who spoils parts of the extras – he stutters and blusters his way through most of them, with anecdotes tapering off to nothing and sometimes he goes off on such a tangent he’s not even discussing film any more. And he forgot the name of Kill Bill, which I thought was amusing.
This isn’t a bad film – it’s well made, generally well acted, the stuntwork, effects and atmosphere are very good – but it’s a good film combined with a mediocre film and it feels like it drags for a lot of the first half. So, good try but no cigar this time.