Published Aug 21, 2008Paul W.S. Anderson has been making mediocre high-octane action films for years, but this one takes the cake. Death Race is a remake of the 1975 cult classic Death Race 2000, and fans of the original should skip this one unless they enjoy feeling gravely disappointed.
The original is a fun, campy sci-fi action comedy, which the producers of the new version decided to turn into a dark and gritty thriller. In the original, drivers in a dystopian future compete in a deadly cross-country race, killing pedestrians for extra points and gunning for each other. Theres a hot Nazi babe, an Italian stereotype (played by a young Sylvester Stallone) and some pretty biting social commentary. The remake pulls the teeth out of the story, setting the race in a corporate prison where condemned men battle on the track for their freedom. What was the point of making this film serious if all the sting was going to be taken out of the script?
Jason Statham plays Jensen Ames, an honest man (and awesome driver) whos framed for his wifes murder so that mega-bitch prison warden Joan Allen can quietly swap him in for Frankenstein, the recently-deceased popular racer on her highly rated and profitable TV show, Death Race. Frankenstein wears a mask, so the switch is easy. The dead sexy quality of the originals Frankenstein (played by David Carradine) is missing here, along with any mystique whatsoever. The characters story is given away much too early in some clumsy expository dialogue.
Fuelled by a desire to win his freedom and return to the baby girl he left behind, Statham agrees to drive in the deadly competition. Cue approximately 70 minutes of machinegun fire, explosions and shaky close-ups of highly armoured, souped-up racing cars.
Theres some good acting here, notably from Joan Allen as the hard-assed warden and Deadwoods Ian McShane as Jensens lovable mechanic, Coach. Unfortunately, good acting and good racing from Statham and his rival, Machine Gun Joe (Tyrese Gibson), arent enough to pep up this too-serious-for-its-own-good clunker. (Universal)