A female DJ and two girlfriends are out for a night on the town. Following their every move is Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell), sitting poised behind the wheel of his car/weapon.
While a lot of movies are designed by committee, Quentin Tarantino makes pictures to thrill himself first and foremost – whether we get the joke and go along for the ride is up to us.
He’s riffed on Hong Kong crime movies, Japanese and Chinese martial arts, blaxploitation and now in Death Proof he takes a stab at the 1970s car crash genre.
Stuntman Mike is a stone-cold nutjob who gets his murderous kicks by staging high-speed collisions that kill young women. He’s "death proofed" his car so that his injuries are minor. But when he messes with a feisty foursome of hotties working on a movie in Tennessee, the tables are turned.
Death Proof was conceived as part of Grindhouse, a two-film package that also included Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror.
Grindhouse, which came with fake trailers, deliberate film damage and missing reels, was meant to homage the exploitation horror and action movies of the 1970s. When it bombed at the US box office, the individual movies were split up and had scenes restored.
While too long now, Death Proof has survived the process pretty well – and it still retains the grime of an authentic B-grade flick.
Tarantino indulges his passions freely – there are in-jokes, dialogue about cool movies, and just try to count the increasingly comical close-ups of women’s feet.
Some of it comes across as padding, particularly the lengthy repetitive trash-talking scenes, but the vibe and rhythms of the film amuse much more than they annoy. Even the director’s cameo as a sleazy bartender is weirdly endearing.
Kurt Russell delivers a cracking bad guy. His initial charisma makes his craziness all the more terrifying.
The various girls – because we’re served up two sets of barefoot, muscle-car loving babes – do well to make their individual characters stand out. Rosario Dawson’s as warm as ever.
New Zealand stuntwoman Zoe Bell – who plays herself – takes a bit of getting used to but there’s no arguing her daredevil antics in the showdown. And it’s the showdown that Death Proof is all about as Stuntman Mike’s Dodge Charger goes up against the girls’ Dodge Challenger.
This is high-octane stuff, wildly enjoyable in the vein of Mad Max, where all the action between increasingly shredded vehicles looks real because it is real.
Death Proof leaves you exhilarated and laughing guiltily at its black comic violence. For that, it’s easy to forgive Tarantino his meanderings.
Death Proof rates 3 1/2 stars as anarchic fun.