DVD Review: Grindhouse Presents, Death Proof - Extended and Unrated (Two-Disc Special Edition)
By Frankie Dees Sep 20, 2007, 17:25 GMT
A deranged stuntman stalks his victims from the safety of his killer car, but when he picks on the wrong group of badass babes, all bets are off in an adrenaline-pumping, high speed, white-knuckle automotive duel of epic proportions, where anything can happen. ...more
Securing a separate DVD release that does not include Robert Rodriguez’s ‘Planet Terror’ or the faux trailers that made up the ‘Grindhouse’ theatrical experience, fans can be somewhat sated that ‘Death Proof’ arrives in an extended and unrated version not seen in theaters.
Attempting to recreate the sticky-floor, exploitation experience of a 70’s grindhouse double feature complete with over the top trailers (extremely fun fake trailers from directors Eli Roth, Edgar Wright and Rob Zombie along with Rodriguez that some would argue were more entertaining than the films surrounding them), film scratches, missing reels and aged bumpers, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez teamed up to each tackle a homage to a favorite 70’s exploitation genre.
An intriguing idea, but sadly, their enthusiasm for exploitation apparently did little to convince other people to care. The now infamous failure of ‘Grindhouse’ theatrically led to a lot of hurt ego’s and knee-jerk reactions from the struggling Weinstein Studio where the Weinstein’s pulled the plug on the double feature idea overseas, convinced us that Tarantino had always planned a longer cut of ‘Death Proof’ that he was to enter into Cannes, and which now leads us to the theatrical experience being cut up into separate DVD editions.
I have no doubt that we will see the ‘Grindhouse’ theatrical experience as early as next year on DVD but what better way to recover the losses from the BO by releasing separate unrated versions of each film first. I’m not even particularly surprised or perturbed by this move as I saw it coming a mile away and find that the films do actually kind of deserve separate longer cuts as well as the more novelty-inspired ‘Grindhouse’ release with guffaw edits at just the right times.
‘Death Proof’ is certainly Tarantino’s most divisive film in the sense that fans and critics alike are almost split exactly down the middle. I’ve met many a peeps who enjoyed it immensely and have met just as many who despised it. I fall more into the enjoyment category than not due to a genuinely exciting car chase sequence and a too rare capitalization of Kurt Russell’s immense talents but I can also easily recognize the flick’s faults, the most notable being the incessant, painfully paced dialogue – my God, the dialogue. Anywho, we’ll get to that later.
The film’s structure is interesting but doesn’t quite work in the way Tarantino probably wanted it to – the film divided into two halves follow 2 separate group of women protagonists, the first half of the story setting up the character of Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) and the method behind his death on wheels madness with a group of young gal victims, while the second half of the story having already established Stuntman’s Mike’s MO, gives very little attention to Mike and focuses more on the crazy antics of the 2nd group of women – 2 of which just happen to stunt people themselves. So in essence, we get a slasher pic with the first hour and a woman revenge flick with the 2nd…fun, right?
While almost two hours long, there’s very little real plot to explain here, but I’ll throw out some broad strokes. The first half of the film, set in Austin (as was ‘Planet Terror’), opens with popular disc jockey Jungle Julia (Sydney Tamiia Poitier) hitting the local bar with some friends Arlene (Vanessa Ferlito) and Shanna (Jordan Ladd). All gussed up in exploitation-wear, short shorts, ill-fitting T-shirts and so on, these three gals hang out at the saloon while entertaining some local frat boys Omar (Michael Bacall) and Doy (Eli Roth) as well as the bar’s owner Warren (Tarantino).
The mood is casual, the dialogue is hip and there’s an old jukebox in the corner – a good combination for a laid-back night in Austin. Meanwhile over at the bar, we focus on an aging roughneck type Stuntman Mike chowing down on some nachos. With a deep scar running across the whole left side of his face, he makes for a threatening but somewhat charming presence.
Offering a ride to a sexy blonde (Rose McGowan) down the bar from him, his cavalier attitude seems to convince her that this might not be a bad option. The night continues, funny stories are told, and all the parties interact later out on the porch. A great scene here leads to Mike getting a lap dance from one of Jungle Julia’s friends (a scene that was cut from the theatrical version) and as the night grows long, Mike gives the blonde a ride in his ‘Death Proof’ car and the three friends head their separate way but Stuntman Mike has other plans…
From the great high of this first half where we get a slow-mo replay account of how each girl died in the accident, we jump head first into our second half of the story set in Lebanon…Tennessee. Déjà vu shows itself here as we again meet a group of girls through a lot, and I mean a lot, of aimless dialogue. This time, however, we have a couple gals in the group that prove to be badasses. As the four girls sit in a diner laughing and talking, we get a nice idea of who they all are. We got Kim (Tracie Thoms) and Zoe (Uma Thurman stunt double Zoe Bell playing herself I suppose) as the wild and crazy stunt gals, Lee (May Elisabeth Winstead) as the dumbish actress/model and Abernathy aka Abbie (Rosario Dawson), part of the film crew who may long for a little excitement.
The plot moves forward as we discover Zoe has been on the lookout for a Dodge Charger exactly like the one from the film ‘Vanishing Point’ and luck would have it that some redneck is selling one locally. The plan is to take the Charger for a test drive without the owner, so Zoe can play a dangerous stunt driving game where she hangs out on the hood of the car at top speed. Leaving an unsuspecting Lee with the grunting owner as collateral, the two stuntwomen and Abbie hit the road for a little mayhem. As this stunt game plays out, who of course would show up?
It’s really a pretty awkward film from start to finish but I still enjoyed it as a whole. What’s good in my opinion outweighs the bad but I can see that on subsequent viewings, I may find my finger a little heavy on the fast forward button in some scenes. First, the good – Kurt Russell is outstanding as Stuntman Mike and has a lot of fun with the part. Some of his antics were improvised, such as the inexplicable John Wayne impersonation, and it fits his character to a tee. His dialogue is also the best in the film, short, macho and to the point. In fact, I became such a fan of Stuntman Mike during the first half of the film, that I became somewhat annoyed by the sudden change in his character in the second half. I understand the humor behind the decision but I couldn’t help but feel a bit cheated…
If you’re a fan of Russell, particularly from his early Carpenter days, I would recommend the film based on him alone. Second is the fun car chase sequence that finishes the film. Obviously not resorting to any CGI, Tarantino proves quite adept at the choreography of making an exciting car chase sequence. Well edited and paced, watching two legendary muscle cars hit, grind and spin around each other probably won’t get any better.
I definitely think Tarantino held up his end of the deal on promising a car chase sequence to rival one in those pics he’s trying to ape like ‘Two-lane Black Top’, ‘Vanishing Point’, ‘White Line Fever’ and ‘Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry’. That being said, the logic of the sequence doesn’t always quite hold up (admittedly a problem with most car chase scenes). Why can’t they stop the car just long enough for Zoe to get off the hood and jump in the car again?
Okay, so now to the issues I had with the film. The biggest issue with the film in my opinion (and what seems to be the common consensus for most pundits of the film although for me it wasn’t a deal breaker) is the constant, aimless dialogue of the women for the first thirty minutes of each half of the film. We all know Tarantino can write great dialogue with an hipster edge (‘True Romance’ is my favorite action pic of the nineties…) but he apparently let that knowledge go to his head and showed absolutely no restraint here.
Certain areas of the script kind of feels akin to what I imagine would happen by giving van Gogh a can of spray paint – maybe there’s a rare spot of that old brilliance in the work but it’s mostly a over-confident jumbled mess. There are small dollops here and there that achieved what I think he was going for, a Jack Hill vibe, but it mostly just went on too damn long and held little interest – too much awareness in the speak and only a few actors were competent enough to make me buy it.
This brings me to the second problem – some of the acting, most notably Zoe Bell. I realize the decision behind her casting but there’s generally a reason why some women are actresses and some women are stunt people. She’s great in the stunt sequences and it’s cool to know we’re only dealing with one person throughout the story but it’s obvious she’s out of her element with the dialogue. Her performance feels a bit forced and doesn’t quite gel with the rest of the ladies. She’s more natural in spots but overall it seems like maybe more rehearsals were needed to get her in a comfort zone.
The film is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen and is enhanced for widescreen televisions. Generous special features are spread over the 2-disc set. On Disc 1 is the ‘Death Proof International Trailer’, Trailers for ‘Planet Terror’, ‘Black Sheep’, ‘1408’ and ‘Feast’ as well as a still gallery.
The bulk of the extras are on disc two where we start off with a 20-minute featurette ‘Stunts On Wheels: The Legendary Drivers of Death Proof’, which looks at all the stunt work and stunt men in the film as well as interviews with Kurt Russell and Tarantino.
‘Introducing Zoe Bell’ at nine minutes is next which looks at how Tarantino met Zoe Bell, how he put her in ‘Kill Bill’ and how she came to be in ‘Death Proof’.
Interviews from the cast and other stunt people are all congratulatory. ‘Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike’ is another nine minute featurette discussing Russell’s role in the pic, why he was cast, interviews with Russell and the other cast and so on. Some fun stuff in both of these featurettes.
Clocking in at 21 minutes is ‘Finding Quentin’s Gals’, which looks at the casting behind all the numerous ladies in the pic where we get a story from each of them on how they got the role. ‘The Uncut Version of Baby it’s You Performed by Elizabeth Winstead’ is self-explanatory. ‘The Guys of Death Proof’ is short look at some of the lesser guy roles in the pic including interviews with Eli Roth and Omar Doom.
‘Quentin’s Greatest Collaborator: Editor Sally Menke’ takes a look at Menke’s work who has worked with Quentin since ‘Reservoir Dogs’ and we finally arrive at the trailer of ‘Double Dare’, a doc on female stunt persons starring Zoe Bell. A nice selection of extras but it is slightly annoying that no real mention of Grindhouse is made – an inclusion of the fake trailers from ‘Grindhouse’ would have quite nice…even dividing the faux trailers between the separate DVD releases of ‘Death Proof’ and ‘Planet Terror’ would have made sense…alas, guess we gotta wait for the eventual ‘Grindhouse’ release for those.
I think for fans of Tarantino and/or Kurt Russell, this film comes recommended. The scratches on the print, color tone changes, etc. are a bit silly outside of the ‘Grindhouse’ experience and there is entirely too much dialogue, particularly at the start of the film where it takes almost 45 minutes for any real suspense to start. But I do have to admit that, even by it self, ‘Death Proof’ is a unique experience that at least deserves just one watch for the return of Russell to badassdom (preliminary at least) and a great car chase sequence.
Grindhouse Presents, Death Proof - Extended and Unrated (Two-Disc Special Edition) is now available at Amazon. As of yet, there is not a release date for the UK. Visit the DVD database for more information.