Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson.
Written by Paul W.S. Anderson.
Starring Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, Ian McShane and Joan
Release Year: 2008
Review Date: 8/21/08
"Death Race" is based on the 1975 adventure
"Death Race 2000", which envisioned a future filled with TV
shows so brutal, the only way to one-up them was to make a show
featuring a half-dozen cars tasked with driving cross-country,
scoring points for taking out innocent bystanders and their
competitors. The original was not that good, but that doesn't
matter when it comes to coming up with original ideas--Hollywood
generally doesn't do it, so they rehash these old movies, or books,
or TV shows that weren't that good back in the 60s, or music
concerts "directed" by so-called great directors.
At least with "Death Race", we get a film
that attempts at no point to be original, instead giving us a
prison/action/comedy film that is right up your alley if you are
looking for a good time near the end of the summer for $6.
Here's what we know--if Joan Allen (three-time Oscar nominee and
generally a classy actress) is slumming it in a period of her career
where she doesn't need the extra paycheck, then you KNOW that
everyone involved had one task: make "Death Race" a fun ride.
And, mostly, it is.
B-list action star extraordinaire Jason
Statham leads the charge as Jensen Ames, a former NASCAR driver who
is accused of murdering his wife and summarily whisked off to
Terminal Island, a desolate island prison housing some of the
world's nastiest baddies. It's the distant future--uhh,
2012--and, now that prisons are all owned by private corporations,
Terminal Island's warden/CEO, a woman named Hennessey (Allen), has
come up with the idea for Death Race, a three-day competition
featuring male inmate drivers and female inmate navigators driving
each of their competitors down at the prison, broadcast pay-per-view
to the public. The timing of Ames's arrival at the island is a
little too perfect, since just six months earlier, the prison's best
driver, Frankenstein (the driver from the original movie, voiced
here by David Carradine and played by him in the original), was
killed just one race before he would have won his fifth race...and,
Besides Frankenstein, the only connection to
the original film is the character name Machine Gun Joe (played here
by Tyrese Gibson, who looks slightly different than the original
Joe, Sylvester Stallone); otherwise, "Death Race" paves its own
trail. That's good and bad; limiting the race to just the
track built at the prison must make for an easy shooting schedule,
but it takes away from the cross-country idea from the original,
which I liked. Running down pedestrians was the original's
trademark; that's gone here. But, the world created in this
film is still fun to watch; it's much more violent than the
original, but that makes sense given the current state of
moviemaking...you've got to give us senseless violence and gore in
order to get our attention for something like this, so I get the
decision. Director Paul W.S. Anderson ("Resident
Evil", "Event Horizon",
Predator") is a video game guy, so some of his choices clearly
reflect that background, none more so that the idea to equip the
cars of the races with weapons and gadgets that only turn on when
you drive over them, like the mid-90s PlayStation game "WipeOut."
The supporting actors do their best to look
interested, and Ian McShane (Swearengen from "Deadwood") hams it up
perfectly as the crew chief of our man Ames. We even get the
unnecessary T&A factor, led by Natalie Martinez and other women in
prison; the soundtrack is loud, the action bloody, and ending
short-but-sweet. The film never rises above mediocrity but
does appear to relish in it...perfect for late August.
Comments? Drop me a line at
Bellview Rating System:
"Opening Weekend": This is
the highest rating a movie can receive. Reserved for movies that
exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development,
setting...or Salma Hayek. Not necessarily in that order.
"$X.XX Show": This price
changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently,
it is the $9.50 Show. While not technically perfect, this is a
movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.
"Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca",
but you'll have a great time watching. The $9.50 Show won't win any
Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see
"Matinee": An average movie
that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.
Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about
yourself. A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave
the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that
Lakers game last night?"
"Rental": This rating
indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your
friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one." Mostly forgettable, you
couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to
watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the
video store was out of copies of "Ronin." If you can, see this
movie for free. This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a
"Hard Vice": This rating is
the bottom of the barrel. A movie that only six other human beings
have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen. A Shannon
Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every
one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a
movie. Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or
"Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this
movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!
(Warning: strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard