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Death Proof   B-

Dimension Films / Troublemaker Studios

Year Released: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Writer: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd, Rose McGowan, Sydney Poitier, Tracie Thomas, Mary Elizabeth Windstead, Zoë Bell.

Review by Rob Vaux

Final, damning evidence that Hollywood cares about nothing but money: Harvey Weinstein's complete demolition of Grindhouse, first for the foreign markets and now on DVD, where the film's grand "double feature" gimmick has been snapped in half. Quentin Tarantino's segment, Death Proof, comes out Tuesday, with Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror due later this fall. They are now, apparently, individual movies: totally separate from each other and, horror of horrors, devoid of the marvelous faux previews that were far and away the best thing about the film's original incarnation. How did this happen? Was there something wrong with Grindhouse as it stood? Not according to the critics: the film currently sits at a bright and shiny 82% on Rotten Tomatoes, with 141 professional snarks singing its praises. Non-critics have been even more supportive; the Internet Movie Database lists it at #121 on the list of the best movies of all time -- ahead of such losers as Annie Hall, Platoon, and The Bicycle Thief.

But those, of course, are the opinions of people who actually saw the film, and what do they know? Too many others didn't, which made Grindhouse a surprise flop and sent the whole endeavor back to the editing room in an effort to salvage what cash it could. So now we get a new and "improved" Death Proof, with 20 minutes of extra footage and a second disc full of bells and whistles. The trouble is, they don't nearly make up for what's lost -- the marvelous, affectionate, night-at-the-drive-in fun it shared with the rest of Grindhouse.

Indeed, the new material exacerbates Death Proof's original problem of too much calculated girl talk bogging down the pace. The theatrical version was nearly plot-free, as Kurt Russell's homicidal Stuntman Mike stalked and killed a number of young beauties from behind the wheel of his souped-up muscle car. The bulk of the film consisted of endless conversations between clutches of impending victims: Tarantino's lively but ill-informed take on what the chicks chat about when they're hanging out together. It felt phony and padded -- energized with his poetic dialogue, but generally going nowhere fast. The new version mostly adds more of the same, slowing the film down even further and forcing us to wait that much longer for real purpose of the exercise: Zoë Bell's hammer-to-the-pedal ride on the hood of a speeding Dodge Challenger.

Thankfully, that ride has lost none of its white-knuckle power. And Bell herself remains supremely winning, as does Russell, whose turn as Stuntman Mike represents his best performance in years. The DVD extras shine a further spotlight on their work here (including the usual talking-head clips, but also a promotion for a marvelous documentary on Bell called Double Dare). Furthermore, not all of the additional footage is dead weight. The infamous striptease sequence has been restored (having been cut out of the theatrical release as part of a clever "scene missing" gag), which compounds the film's phony pro-feminism, but makes up for it with snappy directing reminiscent of the Twist contest from Pulp Fiction. Tarantino even retains a sense of the original joke, allowing him to momentarily have his cake and eat it too.

When added to the film's original assets, it certainly makes the DVD worth a look. Hell, the last reel alone demands prime placement on your Netflix queue. That being said, we still have to wait too long for its rewards, and of course, it loses the terrific boost it received by being joined with the remainder of Grindhouse (which remains far better than anything on display here). For now, I suppose, it will do... at least until Uncle Harvey deigns to release the theatrical version currently suffering for his marketing department's sins. (Judging by the wait we've endured for the Kill Bill special edition, it may not see the light of day for years.) If you want to do this material justice, however, hold off on it until the release of Planet Terror and then watch them both together -- along with these little gems to make the evening complete.

Review published 09.17.2007.

Also read: Rob Vaux's review of Grindhouse.

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