As a whole film, Death Proof doesn’t quite work. There are pieces of it that are great, with about half of it being really good. However, the other half is a mess, primary because of how much time is spent trying to force us to like terrible characters. They’re not poorly developed or written characters, but it’s the type of personalities that they have which give us reason to not find them as endearing as they should be.
Death Proof tells two stories with only one thing connecting them: A person named Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) who stalks females. The first story takes place mostly in a bar with a bunch of characters talking. The second story has various locations and ends up having a rather long car chase sequence to conclude. Well, that’s not exactly how it concludes — it actually concludes with a bevy of punches being thrown, and then with the words “The End” appearing on the screen, giving us very little conclusion at all. Like I said, it doesn’t all quite work.
In the first story, we have three lead characters, all of which are as unlikeable as the next. There isn’t a single redeeming feature to their personalities, except maybe the fact that they can speak coherently. They talk and talk and talk, as is typical Tarantino fashion, and they generally talk about things of little importance that are meant to draw out their character. But when said characters makes me want to drive them into a ditch, it’s difficult to hope that they escape when they’re lives are put in peril. Almost all of the first story falls completely flat. It’s boring and has no depth to it.
The second story is better right up until its conclusion. This time, we have four girls, not three. These ones are actually decent people. Sure, they make fun of one another, but they do it in good spirits instead of trying to be hurtful like in the first story. Anyway, after some talking, they go to the country to test drive a 1970 Dodge Challenger. They’re ambushed and a lengthy chase scene with Stuntman Mike ensues. But if you’re watching this for a plot, you’re going to be disappointed. The film degenerates into a slight twist on a revenge flick, except it all occurs in a car chase. I more or less already explained the plot, but I don’t think spoiling anything here will impact the experience.
Now, the second story works for most of the time because we actually grow to like the characters. They seem more like normal people instead of uncaring, spiteful and hostile like the ones we see in the first half. When Stuntman Mike comes for them, we don’t want to see him kill them. At least for me, when the climax of the first story was happening, I was cheering for the “villain” instead of the “heroes”. And even then, my cheering was covered up by apathy, because it didn’t really matter to me who walked away at the end. Conversely, I wanted to see all of the characters in the second story except for Stuntman Mike live. They seemed to be doing something with their lives, contributing to society, etc, and seeing them killed would be a downer.
But then the second half of the car chase sequence occurs, and their personalities completely switch. They, and I still can’t quite figure out why, become bloodthirsty. Mike leaves them, but they chase after him — constantly. They set out for revenge because he bumped their car a few times, so they decide to try to hunt him down and wipe him off the face of the Earth. They were no longer the good characters that we had seen earlier, and then I found myself, once again, in a state of apathy. We also never get to find out what happens to one character, although there are certain implications that we can draw from the situation she’s left in.
Even though Death Proof was bundled with Robert Rodriguez’s film Planet Terror for theatrical release — both films attempting to pay homage to exploitation films of the 1970’s by including intentional damage to the stock and lots of film grain — Death Proof only maintains this look for the first story. The second story, save for the opening scene that is grayscale for some, unexplained, reason, (I guess because it worked so well in Kill Bill, Tarantino decided to run with it), is almost completed devoid of film grain and doesn’t have any of those intentional damages. It almost looks like it was shot digitally, and this makes it seem to not fit in with the rest of the films in the Grindhouse collection. This doesn’t make it bad, but is worth noting that it doesn’t feel the same as the other films.
In the end, Death Proof is a weak film. It has some moments where it works well, and in these moments, you’ll be on the edge of your seat. For the most part though, it’s dull and has characters that are either unlikable or unpredictable — not keeping consistent to their character. There’s little to hold your interest either way, and the best parts come from moment comes from you cheering for the villain. You’re given little conclusion in regards to what happens to certain characters as well. Overall, it’s just not worth the time it takes to watch.