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Death Race

A movie directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

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2 ½ - Stars: A Remake Typical of Paul W.S. Anderson

  • Jan 10, 2009

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]

Jason Statham Dvd cover

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May 03, 2010
I just posted a review for this one and then noticed you already have, excellent review my friend, much better than mine.
July 27, 2009
I don't particularly like Paul W. S. Anderson.  I can't think of a single film he did which I like or would point to as a testament to great film making.  He often does have a unique style... I'll give him that much, and he can sometimes make his films visually appealing but aside from that he's just not one of those directors I'm into.  I enjoy storytelling and that sort of thing.  And this is what Paul W. S. Anderson can't seem to get right.

Of course, when it comes to Stephen King... his taste in movies is often weird.  He likes Death Race but he has also listed a montage of good films that he loves and that really ARE enjoyable films.  So who knows for sure?  I know a lot of people who love this guy (though King isn't one of them) but mostly because of those Resident Evil movies which is popularity I truly do no understand.

February 06, 2009
Dave, I know you and T-man call Anderson a hack. He does make decent visually inspired flicks though but his sense of storytelling is wanting. Karen, if this film is any indication, then yes, King's taste does suck.
February 04, 2009
I hate to state the obvious but King's taste in films has always been in question.
More Death Race reviews
review by . February 21, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
BIG EXPLOSIONS   FAST CARS   SEXY WOMEN   POINTLESS ACTION      Death Race is the ultimate action movie ever made i dont care if the storyline or the acting is shitty(as some other reviewers have said) the action and racing makes out for it all.I mean come on frickin tracker trailers with flame throwers and rocket launchers you are lying if you said you watched the movie for the acting this movie is insane perfect for adrenaline junkies its now my …
review by . November 07, 2010
DEATH RACE delivers pretty much exactly what it sets out to deliver. If you're expecting anything like convincing character development (or ANY character development), a credible plot or incisive dialogue…you have not read the description of the film or seen any of the previews. If, however, you are looking for a film with lots of car chase action, gory deaths and more car chase action with a touch of gunfire…then DEATH RACE fits that bill.    It's just a couple of years in the …
review by . May 03, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
DEATH RACE       This is for those who don't know another remake that was put out there, but unlike most I was actually excited about this one. I knew that this was one that needs the brain shut off and that really won't have character development, but that is ok. The thing that I was happy about is that the original films legendary producer Roger Corman returns as a producer on this film, that's enough for me. I know some people were worried because Paul W.S. Anderson is the …
Quick Tip by . July 10, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
A fast paced, car destroying, people killing movie.
Quick Tip by . July 04, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Loud and dumb action flick with the always cool Jason Statham getting involved in a prison road race full of guns and grime. No brain power needed to enjoy unless your looking for how Joan Allen got involved in this. Why do all the cars have the same color?
Quick Tip by . September 08, 2009
Ridiculous premise and nonsensical race rules. Yet, I stuck around 'til the end. Felt like a video game turned into a movie. Still fun.
review by . January 23, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
Jason Statham, awesome. If you liked him in The Transporter, Crank, his driving movies, you'll enjoy him in this film. The problem with this film overall is that it tries to be almost a video game, super mario gets power ups, people get shot at constantly but don't die, cars are almost superheros, our hero lead character sets his car to "no damage, easy play level." It's actaully kind of annoying.    The Mad Max homage is huge, he drove a Jensen Interceptor. Jason Statham's name …
review by . September 23, 2008
Short Attention Span Summary (SASS):   1.   By 2012 the US Economy is completely ruined (guess it doesn't matter who you vote for) 2.   Prisons are packed thanks to spiraling unemployment and crime 3.   Private corporations run the prisons for profit (Serious business, as there's no money left for a bail-out) 4.   Terminal Island Prison runs pay-per-view death races as a fund raiser, using inmates to drive cars tricked out with weapons and armor plating …
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Mayhem rules inDeath Race, a head-over-heels remake of the Roger Corman cult classicDeath Race 2000, in which cars become lethal weapons. The strength of this new version is its total single-mindedness about vehicular homicide; it has the virtue of no cluttering subplots or simpering sentimentality. And banish all memory of the original's wild satirical comedy:Death Raceis as grim as a dinner tray to the face (a reference that will be explained in a key sequence). In a slightly futuristic maximum-security prison, cons take part in brutal races around the island prison, their violent deaths watched live by millions of viewers. Jason Statham, possibly cast because of his driving dexterity in theTransportermovies, plays a man wrongly imprisoned for murder. Joan Allen provides her brittle cool as the warden, who recruits Statham to assume the masked persona of a legendary driver called Frankenstein. Tyrese Gibson is Frankie's main rival, Natalie Martinez provides the fetching eye candy, but the acting honors go to Ian McShane, as the philosophical prison mechanic. One misses the cross-country race from the original film, as the setting here is claustrophobic and the cars are largely colorless and indistinguishable from each other. Director Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil) continues to display the sensibility of a video-game addict, which will either be a recommendation or a turn-off, depending on your own tastes. At least it doesn't have the hypocritical moral ...
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Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Release Date: 22 August 2008 (USA)
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Paul W.S. Anderson
Runtime: USA: 111 min(unrated version)
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