Death Race (2008)
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (Mortal Kombat, Event Horizon, Resident Evil)
Starring Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, Joan Allen
Rating: R (a soft R)
In a poverty-stricken future, falsely imprisoned convict Jensen Ames (Statham) must compete in a Death Race overseen by an evil prison warden (Allen). Tyrese also races.
More of a Twisted Metal adaptation (minus the cool characters) than a remake. And if you were to take out a couple gore-shots, smoking scenes, and the two or three uses of the word “fuck”, this film would be just a PG-13 version of the 1975 original (minus the cool characters). A soft-R film without an edge.
I am a sucker for post-apocalyptic films. I also love the original Death Race 2000 film, and I think that Jason Statham might just be the last action star left making mainstream films. That makes him cool. Combine all those things together and and you’ve got to have a winner, right?
Jason Statham is about the best thing in this flick. Shit, I even dig his Slipknot suit in place of the “gimp” clothes of the original. After completely wow-ing me in The Transporter, I have started watching Statham’s action career with earnest. He seems to have a knack for picking bad movies but is more often than not the best part of said flicks. Check out this list of such flicks:
Ghosts on Mars
The Italian Job
I’m not sure what the guy’s deal is, but at least he’s making action flicks with wild abandon, and he seems to really enjoy them as well. The guy can fight (see The Transporter films), has presence (see Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels or Revolver), and is pretty buff. Unfortunately, Death Race only allows for one, poorly shot fight (aside from the meal-tray beatdown straight outta Face/Off) and then chooses to spend the rest of the film trying to make the audience like Statham and agree with his motivations. We know his motivations and he’s fucking Statham, so we’re already on his side. Waste of time and star.
Tyrese Gibson takes up Sylvester Stallone‘s role as Machine Gun Joe, but doesn’t really run with it. They gave him a few character traits (possibly being an angry homosexual and cutting his face after every kill) and a big-ass truck instead of a personality. You gotta have trade-offs, I guess.
There are a lot of mounted guns being fired, but because of the shaky-cam and poor direction we not only have a hard time seeing just what guns are shooting at who, but also very few people are actually killed by these guns (if any). There were, however, some sweet-ass stunts which pretty much saved the movie from being completely awful. My favorite was the end of the Dreadnought (that big-ass semi with the mounted guns and flamethrower from the previews)… whatever that thing was about.
Perhaps my main gripe with the film is the concept. In Death Race 2000, the race was held from coast to coast, drivers competing for points by killing pedestrians along the way. Simple, effective, and opened the possibility of high killcounts. In the new film, they seem to have taken their cue from the Twisted Metal video game series (even with the cars being able to acquire weapon and defense upgrades during their race), having the race take place on an isolated track, clear from civilians. The original film took the racers-as-gladiators theme to the max, while we really have no feel for the popularity of the “sport” in this newer film. A lot of the fun has been lost in the transition as a result of that and the editing.
Once again, a film has found it necessary to use the dreaded shaky-cam, causing us to lose where we are in the action, and turning the presentation into a mindless void of blur and sound. This, combined with the lack of any interesting characters makes us either confused or disinterested in who is surviving the race until a chart appears and tells us who is living and who is winning the race.
And speaking of the noise found within this mess, Death Race features some of the most woefully inappropriate music found in a film since 2001’s Kiss of the Dragon.
If you really enjoyed Twisted Metal, are a huge fan of Jason Statham, or just like cars and Tyrese, then this film is for you! It might even be suitable for a date (if your date has any interest in low-rent action films). However, if you just want to have a good time or like Death Race 2000, you might just want to stick with the original.