Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 December 2014

Death Proof (18)

With its scratchy print, jerky editing and retro title sequence, Quentin Tarantino's fifth film bends over backwards to establish its Seventies sexploitation-flick credentials; there's even a "mistake" black-and-white reel halfway through.

All that's missing is the frowzy, nicotine stink of the fleapit that would have screened such a movie in the first place.

Death Proof arrives here with a troubled history, originally released as one half of Grindhouse, a double-bill with a Robert Rodriguez zombie flick that bombed at the US box-office. The present two-hour cut has presumably allowed Tarantino to restore the material he had to edit for its double-bill presentation, which some will regard as a blessing – and some will not.

It's basically a killer-on-the-road picture gussied up with the director's trademark riffs, though it moves to an odd rhythm. For the first hour, we listen in on a trio of girlfriends boozing the night away in a scuzzy Austin bar, while in the background a lone drinker named Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) eavesdrops on their bawdy chat. The girls' night takes a decided turn for the worse, however, whenthe Stuntman acts out his psychotic fantasies at the wheel of his "death-proof" car.

The second half reprises this set-up – three chicks versus the killer – and then revs up for a big finale of automotive mayhem. The influences of gearhead classics Vanishing Point and Gone in 60 Seconds (the original, not the lame Nicolas Cage remake) are proudly flagged, not least in the throaty, feral roar of car engines, though Tarantino perhaps overestimates how much these references will mean to an audience not obsessed with the genre. Certainly he has an ear for sassy talk ("I don't know what futuristic utopia you livin' in, but a bitch needs a gun") and the energy of the chase set-piece is prodigious, but this reproduction cinema feels like a let-down from the man who began his career with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction.

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