Review: Death Race
Plot: After being framed for the murder of his wife, ex-racer Jensen Ames (Jason Statham) is forced by a corrupt prison warden (Joan Allen), to compete in the savage death race - a three day event that has become a pay-per-view phenomenon. Contestants, all of them prisoners, are encouraged to kill or maim opponents, and each car is heavily loaded with various weapons, that can be activated only by driving over specific markers. If a prisoner wins enough races- he gets a pardon.
Review: I don't really know what to make of DEATH RACE. While I'm familiar with the original film, DEATH RACE 2000, I've always felt that it was a little over-praised, so I was not too upset when I found out the film was going to be remade. Then I found out Paul W.S Anderson had been signed to direct...
Anderson is one of those filmmakers that absolutely infuriate me. He's never made a particularly good film (although EVENT HORIZON was decent), but studios just keep throwing money at him. What pisses me off the most about this guy is that unlike a hack like Uwe Boll, Anderson actually has some talent. No matter how bad some of his films may be, they're never offensively bad, just hopelessly mediocre.
This mediocrity is on full display in DEATH RACE, which is too bad because it could have easily rocked. For one thing the cast is absolutely perfect. Jason Statham was born to do these kinds of roles, and once again he delivers. Whether behind a wheel or fighting hand to hand, Statham is probably one of the most exciting action heroes to come along in years. While he has definitely made his share of stinkers (IN THE NAME OF THE KING, WAR), when given the right vehicle (CRANK, SNATCH, THE BANK JOB, THE TRANSPORTER), he's hard to beat.
Supporting Statham is Ian McShane- one of the best character actors out there (his work on DEADWOOD is beyond incredible), and he steals every scene he's in. Joan Allen, while slumming somewhat, is fine as the villainous warden although I think someone like Sigourney Weaver might have been a little more convincing in the role. Also worth mentioning is Natalie Martinez as Statham's sexy navigator, Case. She's absolutely smoking' hot- and I expect to see her around a lot over the next few years.
Where DEATH RACE goes wrong is in the action scenes. There's way too much quick cutting, and the race scenes where not adrenaline pumping at all. There’s absolutely no sense of scope, and everything seems totally fake due to overly extravagant special effects. They should have really stripped down the action scenes instead of pumping them up to the point that they seem like cut scenes from a video game. The only really good action scene is when Statham & Tyrese Gibson take on a heavily armed truck, which I must admit was pretty damn cool (although not a patch on the ass of the big chase in THE ROAD WARRIOR). This brings me to my other big problem with the film- Tyrese's character, Machine Gun Joe.
I thought Tyrese rocked in this film up until the final act, where his character is horribly mishandled, ruining the rest of the film. I don't want to give too much away, but what happens in these scenes does not mesh at all with the rest of the film, and reeks of hasty last minute script doctoring. I hesitate to blame Tyrese- as he's good throughout, but he's really let down by the script towards the end.
This leads me to my single biggest problem with the film - the absolutely dreadful ending. For some reason, Anderson & co. tack on this absolutely ridiculous epilogue which completely neuters the film (which had been pretty hardcore to this point), and ends it on a terrible note. I can't believe this chicken shit epilogue was left in as it just about ruins the film.
Despite its many flaws, I did somewhat enjoy DEATH RACE. Sure, it's mediocre, but it's nowhere near as bad as some critics are saying. It's just a really frustrating film- as it could have been so much better.