movie is an update of a cheesy 70s drive-in potboiler called Death Race
2000, starring a then-hot David Carradine of Kung Fu in a
post-apocalyptic road race. Since that original film’s target date has
already been passed by eight years without its particular vision of the
future coming close to coming true, the current Death Race is being
coyer and not giving a specific year in its title. We just go for a more
vague time in the not overly distant future.
Unfortunately, the new Death Race has also made the mistake of taking
itself way too seriously. The old one was funny, campy and just slightly
crazy. It was a satire of sports, society and commerce.
new one actually has more possibilities to make political and sociological
points – the opening scroll about the US economy collapsing in 2012 is as
shocking as anything in the movie and even more trenchant now with the
federal bailouts than it was this summer when the film was released to
theaters – however the film is more interested in spectacular crashes and
explosions. The movie is merely a stimulation of bloodlust – in fact the
movie spends so much time stoking its fanboys into a lather that they have
to end the film with a disclaimer: Guys this is dangerous and done by
professionals – don’t try it at home!
film is directed by Paul W.S. Anderson – not to be confused with respected
director Paul Thomas Anderson of Boogie Nights and There Will Be
Blood fame. No, Paul W.S. is responsible for such dreck as Alien vs.
Predator, the Resident Evil series and Mortal Kombat. He
is also considered by film fans to be in a neck-and-neck three-way race for
absolute worst director in the world with fellow video-game specialist Dr.
Uwe Boll (In the Name of the King, BloodRayne and Alone in the
Dark) and the two-headed comedy-killing monster of Jason Friedberg and
Aaron Seltzer (Date Movie, Disaster Movie and Meet the Spartans).
Actually, in comparison with Anderson’s body of
work, Death Race isn’t all that bad.
course, in anyone else’s body of work, it's not all that good either.
story of Death Race is a simple one – basically an update of the old
Roman Coliseum. After the US economy tanks, the prison system is outsourced
to corporations as a for-profit venture. (Yes, the possibilities of a
savage political satire keep popping up, but they are mostly fumbled.)
of the corporations starts a prison apocryphally called Terminal Island. On
Terminal Island they have started “Death Race” – a pay-per-view extravaganza
in which prisoners participate in a three-day race in which killing your
opponents is not only not a bad thing, it is encouraged. (Okay, first easy
political targets, now reality TV – how are they not knocking such easy
targets out of the ballpark?)
Jason Stratham, squandering the goodwill he bought with his recent strong
performance in The Bank Job, returns to the mindless-killing-machine
role that he plays entirely too regularly. He plays Jenson Ames, a disgraced
former pro racer who is framed in the murder of his wife. His only chance
of getting out of jail is to take the place of a popular masked driver who
was killed in the last race (voiced by Death Race 2000 star Carradine
in a nice-if-underplayed little nod to the past).
a pinch of Death Race 2000, mix in a little Escape From New York
and The Road Warrior and lots and lots of artillery and what you
end up with is… well kind of a mess.
biggest question in all of Death Race is what the hell is a
respected, Oscar-caliber actress like Joan Allen doing in this movie? Well,
it turns out she’s playing the evil warden, with the pinched, fragile
distance of an actress who knows she is much too talented
to be in a movie of this sort.
fairness, Death Race does have some exciting – if way over the top –
action sequences. It just seems a waste that it is not nearly as good as it
could be had a little imagination and intelligence been expended on the
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2008 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: December 13, 2008.