When it was first announced, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's 'Grindhouse' project sounded like one of the events of the year. The men behind 'From Dusk 'Til Dawn', indulging their love of 1970s exploitation cinema, by making a zombie flick (Rodriguez) and a car killer movie (Tarantino), complete with spoof trailers, bad prints and missing reels... Well, some of us have been counting down the days.
Except 'Grindhouse' tanked in the US and now it's being released as two separate movies in Europe, with Rodriguez's 'Planet Terror' due at a later date - or is that code for don't hold your breath? In the meantime we have 'Death Proof', a contender for film of the year. The worst one.
'Death Proof' brings us into the world of Stuntman Mike (Russell), a grizzled veteran of TV series who kills young women with his car. Safe behind the wheel on the reinforced driver's side, Mike either bounces his victims around in the passenger seat or drives headlong into their cars at top speed.
In the first part of the film he encounters a group of partying women (Ferlito, Poitier, Ladd, McGowan) in an Austin, Texas bar; in the second he comes up against a gang of friends (Dawson, Thoms, Winstead, Bell) working on a movie in Louisiana and gets more than he bargained for.
Tarantino's reputation has been built on the coolness of his characters, cracking dialogue and an ability to riff on previous cinematic treats in his movies. 'Death Proof' disappoints in every area. A lot. What should have been a must-see homage is instead a waste of time, money and talent. Even the spoof trailers, which preceded and divided the original 'Grindhouse' double bill, were more entertaining and substantial than this.
For someone with such an encyclopaedic knowledge of horrors, beat-em-ups and B-movies, Tarantino loses sight of the fact that these films worked because they weren't trying to be something they weren't: the directors knew the bottom line was sex and action. Unlike Tarantino they weren't trying to wow an audience with the dialogue - a decent one liner here and there and they had excelled themselves.
But Tarantino destroys any momentum 'Death Proof' could have possessed by featuring too many scenes of painfully pointless conversations between his protagonists. They're rarely interesting or funny, the comebacks are second rate and by the end you'll be convinced that you'd hear better on the bus home. And because of the endless guff spouted by those onscreen, it's near impossible to care about any of them. Only at the end is there something approaching a connection between the audience and those onscreen.
As someone who starred in John Carpenter's 'Escape from New York', 'The Thing' and 'Big Trouble in Little China', Kurt Russell knows something about playing iconic characters, and while Tarantino's Stuntman Mike had potential, he's a villain wasted in this thrown-together mess. 'Death Proof' doesn't have the energy or imagination to make him truly compelling. Russell tries his best with what he's given but it's a lost cause.
That this film screened in competition at Cannes is akin to an episode of 'The Wacky Races' making the shortlist on the Riviera. You've had far more fun with straight-to-video films – and have been far less forgiving of better duffers than this. 'Death Proof' is a classic case of a director being indulged to farcical proportions and an audience being insulted in equal measure.
A decent car chase and a good soundtrack - and sure you'd get them in a video game.