Death Proof


December 30, 2008|By New York Times News Service

[Synapse Films] Starring Kurt Russell and Zoe Bell. Directed by Quentin Taratino. $19.95; Blu-ray $29.95. ***

Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof first appeared in 2007 as a component of Grindhouse, an elaborate conceptual project that was meant to evoke a double feature at a decaying downtown movie palace, around 1978. Grindhouse flopped. When the film was released to home video, it was broken into its parts: Planet Terror, Robert Rodriguez's homage to the grisly horror films of the '70s, and Death Proof, Tarantino's take on another, less-codified genre of the same period, the car chase movie. Death Proof, rereleased in an "extended and unrated" version, plays much better alone - a sign it has something more on its mind than pastiche.

Death Proof breaks into two sections in which nearly the same things happen: Young women in a group have an extravagantly good time, while a threatening male figure watches them. He's Stuntman Mike (a crafty, layered performance by Kurt Russell), a pompadoured refugee from the '70s who claims to have performed stunt work on TV series.

Mike now tools around in a steel-reinforced crash car - it's "death proof," he claims. Mike turns out to be an adrenaline-addicted sex killer who uses his car as a weapon. He gets what he wants with the first group of women, but 14 months later, with the second group, things don't go as planned. Something new has been added in the broad-shouldered figure of a stuntwoman Zoe (Zoe Bell). She shares Mike's adrenaline addiction and does him one better.

The film's parts face are like panels of a diptych. On one side is a historical vision of macho Mike triumphant. The opposing panel is blemish-free, with deeply saturated colors, suggesting a scene very much of the present, with a fearless new breed of women at its center. But Tarantino resists easy ideological readings, confounding politics with visual pleasure and confounding pleasure with revulsion.

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