Starring: Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, Ian McShane, Joan Allen
Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Movie Released: 2008
Thanks to the never ending pile of DVD’s that reside in the house of The Mike, I found myself presented with a copy of Death Race starring Jason Statham. It had been years since I had seen the original Death Race 2000, but from what I remember it really didn’t warrant a remake, reboot or sequel. But being a child of the 80’s, I love a good action flick. It is becoming ever more evident that they days of the larger than life action hero like Stallone and Schwatzengger are fading fast. The torch has been somewhat passed on to the new “last action hero” in Statham, so in support of the action star I geared up to watch a high octane popcorn flick that I figured had little substance.
Well, it turns out that my guess was right. Death Race turned out to be just that, a high octane popcorn flick with little substance. From start to finish this clunker of a film decides to turn off the road known as sanity, and take a little trip down the twisted path of a sociopath. The film follows Jensen Ames (Statham), a unemployed driver who is imprisoned for a crime that he did not commit. Once inside the penal system, he finds himself being thrown into a “Death Race” an internet streamed race filled with some of the most brutal criminals known to man behind the wheel. With each car loaded up with enough high powered weapons to bring down a few tanks, the drivers race to the death. The only rule of death race is that there are no rules. If you win 5 races, you get your freedom. If you don’t win, most likely you don’t walk away alive.
If you ever thought there would be a way to mix together the worst of “The Fast and Furious” films with “The Condemned” you were in fact right. They call this film Death Race. Much like the bullet holes that riddle the contestants cars, the plot shares just as many holes. This sketchy at best scenario leaves you forced to believe that an evil warden wrongfully imprisons a man and threatens the fate of his young daughter to force him into driving in a televised Death Race against other inmates. They seem to make this leap quite easily, leaving those viewers who have a higher IQ than 2 scratching their heads. None the less, this clunker carries on as the inmates build and construct heavy artillery tanks out of various cars to compete for their freedom.
Much like Stone Cold Steve Austin flick, The Condemned, Death Race strives to point out that the blood thirsty people around the world wouldn’t think twice about subscribing to a channel that features the death of some of the worlds most dangerous inmates. Death Race tries not to dwell on this, but you can tell the over tone of “what’s wrong with society?” is there in the plot. Of course, like any film of this type, trapped in the middle of it all is the “good guy”, a poor guy who was at the wrong place at the wrong time and now being forced to take part in this gladiator like against all odds fight to the death. Death Race spares no time delivering on the promise of death to it’s participants, giving viewers what they want, the death of the drivers early on. As this film barrels on full speed ahead however, it does very little more to try and please the crowds.
Filled full of choppy action scenes and a lot of focus on empty shell casings falling off the vehicles firing away bullets like there is no tomorrow, Death Race aims to please the car affectionado as well. However, this film seems so choppy that it actually takes you more out of the film than actually driving it forward. With every bullet hole ridden car looking like it had been forged from scrap metal, the cars all have this weathered, grey tone to them. When you have them racing around on the industrial like race course, it makes the cars as much of a bore as the wrought iron structures surrounding them.
Staham, who isn’t really known as a gifted actor, does what he does best. He plays the man of few words that can kill you with a ball point pen with out breaking a sweat. While this works for Statham in most of his films, this one just doesn’t seem to play out quite right. His cool under pressure gimmick makes this film feel stale rather than cool. Make no mistake, I like Statham, and this film seems to be a role perfect for him, but the film has enough problems with it that even this decade’s action star couldn’t save it.
When it is all said and done, Death Race is most certainly a movie. It’s one hour and forty five minutes of celluloid that will turn you into a drooling zombie staring at a TV screen. It’s not going to be thought provoking, it’s not going to be life altering. It’s not meant to do anything other than entertain you. However, try as it may Death Race missed achieving the only goal it tried to achieve: entertainment. This mindless clunker will be headed back to the DVD shelves of The Mike hopefully never to be revisited again.