If you’re a fan of insane car chases, huge explosions and catchy one-liners, then Death Race is not for you. The variation-on-a-theme is brought to you courtesy of Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil) and with action about as mindless as Paris Hilton taking the SATs, Death Race’s engine stalls, then spirals out-of-control into a wall. Buckle up, kiddos, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
For those who aren’t familiar with the 1975 drive-in classic Death Race 2000, Roger Corman and Paul Bartel’s campy film starring David Carradine and Sylvester Stallone,was a hit amongst the groovy guys and gals back in the day, but Stallone and Carradine are both probably rolling around in their graves, right now… (Oh, wait… they’re not dead?) Well, at least the satire and campiness that was found in the original was toned down in favor of badassness. Starring Jason Statham as Jensen Ames, he’s framed for murdering his wife and sent to Terminal Island where prisoners must compete in the brutal extreme sport known as “Death Race.”
Hoping to answer why his wife was killed, Ames’ only chance at freedom is in the form of the warden, Hennessey (Joan Allen). The ice queen tells him that he must take the identity of popular masked champion “Frankenstein,” who was supposedly killed by arch-rival, Machine Gun Joe (Tyrese Gibson), but had won four out of the five races needed for a pardon. With a too-hot-for-prison navigator (Natalie Martinez) and an old-time penitentiary sage (Ian McShane), Ames aims for the fences.
Unfortunately, Anderson and company get called out on a double-play. The plot set-up for Death Race leaves huge plot-holes that would stall even the most ardent adrenaline junkie. Why even kill Ames wife? How did the prisoners/racers never realize that the game was fixed? With distractingly sloppy parts, the key entertainment factor is the races. The good thing is that it’s not Speed Racer on acid and seeing stars, Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson embark on these races are met with some degree of difficulty. But with too many cut-aways, Death Race seems like it only does a few laps. Although it’s fun to see the blood, guts and gruesome crashes, Statham and Gibson both play typecast roles from The Bank Job and 2 Fast 2 Furious, respectively.
Allen and McShane also phone-in their performances, but Joan’s penchant for delivering diabolical lines with an unique kind of naughty “wink, wink” is ideally worth it. Yet, in the end, Death Race is murder for the viewer and cast alike. Director Paul W.S. Anderson will more than likely have stiff competition for “Worst Remake Or Rip-Off,”going against I Know Who Killed Me at this year’s Razzie Awards.