This movie offers some of the emptiest calories ever put on screen. But that isn’t always a bad thing. Indeed, you will not gain anything constructive from seeing “Death Race”. You won’t see any Oscar nominated performances, you won’t see “the 21st Century’s “Citizen Kane”, you won’t learn a new language or certainly get any helpful tips on how to drive safely on a thoroughfare. No, you won’t receive any enlightenment whatsoever. You will, however, see lots of fast cars, big guns, ass-kicking, fiery explosions and fast cars. You want to learn something, go to school like the rest of the suckers.
Let me qualify this movie with two things: I had a really crappy week so I needed to see some of the ultra-violence, if you know what I mean. This movie got much of my frustrations out. Also, this movie clearly has a lot to live up to this summer. There were a lot of great films for once, and this doesn’t live up to those expectations. But then, what could after “Iron Man” and “The Dark Knight”?
Jason Statham plays Jensen Ames, a rough guy with a good heart that gets framed for killing his wife. He gets sent to an island prison where the warden, Joan Allen (!), forces the inmates into an auto race where they have to brutalize and kill one another on the road to victory. You win, you go free.
This is, of course, a remake. I haven’t seen the original in MANY years. This will make any comparisons difficult. One thing I’m sure of is that the original was much campier. This new version is slick and kinetic in the road sequences. It’s not that it takes itself too seriously, but it doesn’t exactly laugh at itself enough, either. And clearly they reduced the scope of the premise. Rather than shoot a cross-country road race, they did the whole thing in this island prison. I suppose that could have positive and negative results, but I think I’d like to have seen more open road mayhem than this offers.
But the action here is fun and the violence is fairly gratuitous as is the multi-angle slo-mo car wrecks and explosions. There’s plenty of super armored, fast vehicles with big guns and rockets, nitro tanks and smoke screens. It’s like a bunch of cars from “The Road Warrior” mixed with James Bond gadgets. Gadgets that happen to kill most of the other drivers.
Jason Statham is rather watchable, as usual. I dig his movies, for the most part. He’s easily my favorite new action guy. Joan Allen slums as the bitchy, under-handed warden with the nefarious plan to keep anyone from really winning. And where has Ian McShane been since “Deadwood” ended? Well, he’s been right here, in “Death Race”! He gets some amusing lines, and even a great, cheesy one at the end of the film. But seriously, how pissed must he be at his agent?
This is directed by the action guy Paul W.S. Anderson. He brought us such gems as “Mortal Combat” and the magical “Event Horizon”. Yikes. Then there was “Resident Evil”, which wasn’t too bad for what it was. And then he gave us the gift of “AVP: Alien vs. Predator”. Can we re-gift that, please? “Death Race” falls somewhere in the “Resident Evil” range.
It’s no winner, but it’s big dumb fun that won’t tax your brain one bit. And you’ll see lots of shit get blown up and shot at. Catch a matinee so it doesn’t tax your wallet, either.
—Neil, your average movie goer who was happy to see anything after “Mirrors”.