Death Proof was the second half of Robert Rodriguez' and Quentin Tarantino's audacious Grindhouse double feature, and it has just been released on DVD as a standalone film in its original uncut form, no longer trimmed to fit a three hour running time with fellow Grindhouse feature, Planet Terror.
Seeing it in its uncut form and without an hour and a half of over the top campy violence preceding it, Death Proof can now be appreciated on its own terms. Death Proof is much more successful as a standalone Quentin Tarantino film than it was as the second half of a Grindhouse double feature. The truth is, Death Proof was far too talky and way too devoid of action to sustain the climax of a three hour plus double feature. Furthermore, while Tarantino's film is indeed the more authentic 70s grindhouse picture (Rodriguez' was more of a boisterous caricature), it simply didn't have enough of the key elements to fit snugly alongside Planet Terror as a roudy good time.
So now that we have Death Proof standing its own two feet, we can truly appreciate it for its own merits, even if it is by no means a flawless film.
Across the board, the performances are wonderful. Every actor seems perfectly capable of handling Tarantino's trademark mouthfuls of dialogue. Kurt Russell gives an amazing performance as Stuntman Mike. Russell hits a variety of tones, from disarmingly innocent, to subtley frightening, to comically cowardly. His tough guy persona mirrors many of his iconic performances in John Carpenter films in years passed. By the end of the film, we witness a complete inversion of that archetypal persona that provides a wonderful ironic twist as well as some unexpected comedy for those of us who grew up on Russell's other films.
The action sequences, though only two in number, pack an enormous punch, and prove to be some of the most intense vehicle driven action sequences in a number of years. Tarantino plays everything for real with absolutely no CGI enhancement, and the result harkens back to a bygone era of visceral simplicity.
As usual, Tarantino's visual eye is spot on, making the film another directorial feat. From the aforementioned action sequences to the choices of music, he gives the film that unique Tarantino feel.
As for the weaknesses of the film, the most noticable one is that this film is just plain too talky. I know we come to expect lots of dialogue in a Tarantino film, but this really is a horror/action film at its core, and given the genre, there's just not enough horror or action. I honestly think that just cutting snippets of dialogue here and there and replacing that running time with one more action set piece would have improved the film quite a bit. Then Tarantino would have struck an appropriate balance between his own predelictions and the confines of the genre he's working in. As it stands, Death Proof is caught between Tarantino's love of the written word, and the more action oriented elements of the genre.
The overabundance of dialogue also reveals the fact that Death Proof has barely any plot to speak of. I'm not saying other horror movies have any more plot than Death Proof, but one starts to wonder how long the movie would actually be if the bulk of the dialogue was cut out. Honestly, it would be a pretty short flick, because when you get down to it, Death Proof is really just about a homocidal stuntdriver stalking and killing a group of young women, and that's about it. In fact, Tarantino essentially tells the same exact story twice, once in the first hour and then again in the second hour. This gives the film a bit of an uneven structure. Sure, it has a nice Hitchcockian flare to it, but the way its executed, one can't help but find the second half of the film a little redundant.
Despite these shortcomings, Death Proof is still a very entertaining and rewatchable film. After all, it may be a slightly weaker Tarantino film, but even lesser Tarantino is miles better than the majority of films being released these days. Just know that it's not really an action/horror film like its Grindhouse counterpart. Go into the film expecting a dialogue heavy Tarantino film with some great action/horror elements and you certainly won't be disappointed.