Sunday, April 15, 2007

Tarantino's "Death Proof"

Finally found my way to "Grindhouse" after all the critics' screenings and was surprised - pleasantly so - on two levels.

First, "Planet Terror," Robert Rodriguez's playful, rather slavish tribute to the grindhouse genre, is great fun, cheesy in all the right ways. But beneath all the gleeful badness is a rather astute anti-war, anti-military polemic that, quite frankly, isn't all that subtle. I'm surprised none of the critics picked up on it.

Secondly, I was totally blown away by Quentin Tarantino's contribution - which is deceptively major and altogether fascinating. Tarantino's "Death Proof" is less a grindhouse flick than it is a nervy experiment that appropriates grindhouse ideas. In performance, his segment has almost nothing to do with the supposed concept behind this double bill. It's just about all talk and all female - Tarantino's take on "My Dinner with Andre," only with women talking trash. You wonder at first what the heck is going on, but when you least expect it, the filmmaker pulls you in - and also pulls off his conceit.

"Death Proof" is divided into three distinct acts, the first two dealing with two sets of chatty women who hang out in restaurants/bars, only to be stalked by Stuntman Mike, embodied beyond the call of duty by a very game Kurt Russell who, to date, turns in the male performance of the year.

Russell channels Mitchum's Max Cady here, taking the character a step further and bringing a singular ferociousness to the character and somehow outdoing his impressive turn in Ron Shelton's criminally neglected "Dark Blue" (2002).

Anyway, all the talk and tension culminates in Act III in a deranged chase sequence involving Mike, three of the women and two testosterone-driven cars.

The assorted trailers and other b-level adornments that fill out "Grindhouse's" 195-minute running time are at turns witty, unmemorable and gratutious, painless but not as much fun as they try to be.

But it's Tarantino's accomplishment here that ultimately drives "Grindhouse," a gutsy segment that will be misunderstood and debated for years, largely because it was made under the "grindhouse" umbrella. Deceptively, it's so much more.

As for Russell, give this man an Oscar already!

This just in: "Death Proof" will be presented solo in an extended (by 15 minutes) version at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

(Artwork: top: Quentin Tarantino shot by Robert Gauthier outside the New Beverly Cinema; bottom: his "Grindhouse" star, Kurt Russell)

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Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com


Bobbie said...

I have read, enjoyed, and appreciated your movie reviews and articles for years, beginning with your work in Philly and following you, via the internet, to the Sacramento Bee. Your critique here of the Tarantino portion of "Grindhouse" reminds me of why I always read and enjoyed you. Glad to see your still at it! And I'm really glad that you liked "Grindhouse" as much as I did.

Anonymous said...

"Death Proof" rocks!