This week’s DVD release of Quentin Tarantino‘s “Death Proof” — his half of the “Grindhouse” double feature released to an indifferent audience in April — promises nearly 30 extra minutes not seen in the theatrical version.
Aside from two short sequences, one titillating and unnecessary, the other just unnecessary, it’s hard to spot the new material.
That doesn’t mean watching the film at home isn’t a new sensation.
The film’s first half improves considerably on second viewing, as we marvel anew at Kurt Russell’s Stuntman Mike, who uses a muscle car to off his prey. However, the second half stumbles even worse than it did in theaters. The justly lauded car-chase finale loses some of its potency on the small screen, no matter how pricey one’s plasma set may be.
Just as in the “Kill Bill” films, “Death Proof” lets Mr. Tarantino show off his otherworldly film talent unencumbered by a ripping yarn. It’s pure genre filmmaking, not the multilayered storytelling he engineered for “Pulp Fiction” or even “Jackie Brown.” Still, the sights, the sounds, and oh, the soundtracks he puts together, make even second-tier Tarantino worth the time.
In “Death Proof,” Stuntman Mike stalks, then attempts to run over two groups of women. The gals in the first group talk tough, mostly about boys, but they’re all vulnerable enough to catch Mike’s attention. The annoying blather of the second group of women isn’t helped by additional footage added to the blend.
What Mike fails to realize is that not every woman is an easy target — and that sets up the film’s diminished but still dandy car-chase scene.
Mr. Russell might have reinvigorated his career, a la Travolta, had enough people seen the film. (Not that the steadily working actor needed the boost quite as badly as Mr. Travolta did in his pre- “Pulp Fiction” period.)
“Death Proof’s” casual beginning lulls us into a false sense of security. Mike sips a nonalcoholic drink at the bar while his victims bond over marijuana and booze a few seats away.
The subsequent car crash that jolts us from our complacency is a marvel of malevolent staging, as jarring as any sequence in recent memory. Then Mr. Tarantino repeats it several times from different perspectives to make sure its majesty isn’t lost on us.
The DVD’s bonus features are just as exasperating as the film’s second group of would-be victims. It’s all chummy home-movie footage about how Mr. Tarantino selected his cast and crew.
A promising featurette about his longtime editor, Sally Menke, lets the director explain how integral she is to his filmmaking process, but we never hear a syllable from Miss Menke herself, which is inexcusable.
The best footage follows some of the stuntmen who make the epic car chase happen. It’s the closest the bonus material gets to putting us right on the set with Mr. Tarantino.