Being a film that I've read Roger Ebert express disgust and disappointment, but at the same time Stephen King names it as one of the year's best, of course, one wouldn't be hard-pressed to become curious what to make out of Paul W.S. Anderson's re-imagining of Roger Corman's "Death Race 2000". "DEATH RACE" is very loosely based on Corman's cult favorite; the 1975 original was somewhat innovatively exploitive, with its satiric take on bloody violence, which made it fun. Anderson is a good action director, he's good with visuals but it is the skill of storytelling that still eludes him.
In a future where America's economy had collapsed, the prison system has been privatized and the brutal "Death Race" is the new source of entertainment for most Americans. After tough as nails, ex-race car driver, Jensen Ames (Jason Statham) is framed for the murder of his wife and goes to prison, Warden Hennessey (Joan Allen) is waiting for him. After the death of a masked "death race" four-time winner called "Frankenstein"(voiced by David Carradine), Ames is forced to masquerade as him and to compete against his fellow prison mates in the bloody race. Armed to the teeth, aided by his pit mates (played by Ian McShane and Frederick Koehler) and his navigator, Case (hottie Natalie Martinez), they must fight if they want to stay alive as Hennessey unleashes the fury of her devilish race track and the wrath of his fellow drivers (such as Tyrese Gibson).
There will always be disappointments when a movie is a remake. This 2008 re-issue exchanges the exploitive satiric atmosphere of the original into something that attempts to deliver the same concept with a straight face which results in a comatose display of emotionless machismo. Anderson's visuals are good, there are nice touches as the race has the usual advances in tech such as the activation of a car's weapons--a car has to run over a "seal" on the track to activate/enhance its weapons and defenses. (shades of the video game "Twisted Metal"?) There's a big killer-rig called "Dreadnaught", a huge 16-wheeler with a lot of horsepower and attitude. The cars are quite nice to see, I always get excited with the sound of engines and gunfire. The film is definitely a testosterone-driven affair, but sadly, the quality of the action does not match the execution of its plot elements.
Alright, so we know this is a remake, and we are familiar with its concept--therefore the film offers no surprises. However, when it attempted to sidestep the exploitive, satiric fun of the original the experience proved a little unsatisfying. Anderson's direction is just so predictable and the script is so full of holes. The film takes place on a futuristic world where unemployment is so high and America is falling to pieces, how can Warden Hennessey get more than 75 million viewers to subscribe to pay a hefty price to watch the race? Also, how can Ames become "flirty" with his navigator when all he should be thinking about is his daughter (then again Natalie is pretty hot). I'm all about a serious tone, but plot elements and emotional inconsistencies just makes me grind my teeth.
Now the film is an action-laden affair, Anderson does somewhat succeed when it comes to shooting these scenes. Explosions, unreasonable violence, and tricky camerawork is the film's main strength. The colors have that grayish "hue" and the camera zooms does provide some thrills and attitude. The musical track to accompany the action adds some emotional "banging" and it does fit the mood. I think Anderson should have stuck to the basics of the action and mayhem than to attempt to make a few "crossed" commentaries about the public's hunger for mass murder and violence coupled with the finger-pointing at the media to manipulate ratings ("Sex and Violence" does sell) to make money.
Overall, the film is a hack-eyed affair in terms of the eye-candy visuals, but the plot itself is so boring that it can easily put you to sleep. Double-crosses, set-ups, vengeance, survival and escape to freedom are all predictable elements that has been overdone; while this may not be a bad thing, the film's direction is so uneven and the plot is just so full of its own contradictions. Jason Statham is a good action star and I hope that his agent can find him more note-worthy work such as "The Bank Job". The actor exudes coolness and attitude, he should steer clear of movies that may break his career.
"Death Race" is an affront to the 1975 original, but if you turn off your brain, it may prove a decent diversion. See this when you have nothing else to do or if you haven't seen the original film by Roger Corman.
Rental [2 ½ - Stars]
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