Quentin Tarantino is a genre unto himself: dialogue, violence, style, and a pension for non-chronological storytelling. He spins conventional filmmaking and hits us with unique twists we never see coming. However we all have that one disappointment. Too bad Death Proof (2007) wasn’t disappointment proof.
Both an individual movie and half of a double-feature, it’s what many consider to be Q’s weakest venture: lowest audience and critical response and lowest box-office draw. Q even had the chops to admit it himself.
The Plot in a Nutshell (spoilers!)
A group of girls hang out at a bar with their boy toys and meet the mysterious Stuntman Mike (Russell). After many conversations, flirtations, and dances, Mike kills the girls in a head-on collision with his death proof stunt car. Later, Mike stalks another group of girls, two of which are stunt women (Zoe Bell portrays herself). After the girls test a dangerous car stunt, Mike chases after them and nearly kills Zoe. The vengeful girls chase him down and kill him.
What we’re promised is an attempt at a car chase/slasher flick of low budget 70s style. What we’re actually given is undeveloped dialogue, unsympathetic characters, and a surprising lack of Kurt Russell (the biggest crime of all). Despite the deliciously menacing Kurt Russell and the best chase sequence of the century, it suffers from its protagonists.
The first group of girls are unimportant to the plot. All they talk about are guys they’ve hooked up with and guys they want to hook up with. These same guys also contribute nothing to the plot because they don’t interfere with or stop Stuntman Mike. Everything that happens with the first group has no connection with the second and there’s no suspense. They’re not in danger until the very end of their story and it ends immediately. No risky decisions, no personal or physical struggle, no story.
Cut the first group all together. Have Stuntman Mike work on the same movie set as Zoe Bell and her friends. This creates a personal connection between them all and also raises the tension because the girls know him and what he’s capable of as a driver. The original movie misses a clear opportunity to have a professional rivalry between these stuntmen.
Have Mike and the girls hang at a bar after their movie wraps for the day. As they swap stories we see the characters’ strengths, weakness, and fears, therefore setting the stages for their ultimate fight. After they reject Mike’s advances (giving him the catalyst to kill) the girls attempt the “Ship’s Mast” stunt despite Mike warning them that this stunt always ends badly.
Mike chases after them for bruising his ego. Lost in the middle of nowhere at night, the girls struggle to keep their wits. Mike’s car, hidden in the dark, flashes its head lights a split second before a strike like a targeting system. Hidden in the dark his engine roars like a wild animal’s growls.
In the end, with only Zoe left, she mounts Mike’s hood; a one-on-one fight. She blocks his view as he speeds down a freeway, swerving and taunting her to fall off. In the end, she jumps from the car just in time to free Mike’s view to see an 18-wheeler storming toward him. BOOM! Mike’s gone and Zoe proves to be the better stunt expert.
This version presents a constant personal struggle for the characters. Since we’re focused on only one group we can follow them longer, watch them develop, and sympathize with them.
The original movie has long periods of uninteresting and unimportant dialogue (besides Zoe’s drunk story) followed by incredible chase scenes. This new version would have the chase scenes be the main focus, therefore creating rising tension. Instead of patches of conflict, it would be a relentless hunt between a killer and his intelligent prey; a la game of chess. Most importantly, this version would focus more on Stuntman Mike.
Thank you for reading and I look forward to re-imagining another movie with you next week!