Remake number 9 million and counting brings us a combination of prison life and literally racing to the death. The original race of death titled Death Race 2000 which debuted in 1975 starred David Carradine and Sly Stallone and did not feature the prison element but did contain running over innocent pedestrians to earn extra points. Director Paul W.S. Anderson’s version retains the gruesome disposition that the original portrayed with blood, gore and of course people dying. But it doesn’t overshadow the primary aspect of this film which remained to be the racing. Throw in some eye candy, which every action film needs, and you got yourself an authentic over the top keeper.
Expert martial artist Jason Statham plays Jensen Ames, an ex-gang member with a decent rap sheet who has turned his life around and settled down to raise a family. A loving wife, brand new baby girl, house, job which he hates, the whole nine and a half yards of every working class man’s life. Joan Allen plays Hennessey, yeah like the cognac, who is the antagonist warden at this correctional facility. She has Jensen framed for the murder of his wife and locked away inside her prison where a no holds barred three day car race with prisoners as drivers is held. The concept: win the race, win your freedom. The ratings and revenue she rakes in from this “entertainment” is through the roof from all the paying customers watching via pay-per-view. Many of them tune in to root for a driver called Frankenstein, who wears a mask to conceal his identity and makes him all the more mysterious. Frankenstein died in his last race, so Hennessey forces Jensen, who also used to be a professional race car driver in his heyday to reprise the role of “Frank” who only needs one more win to be handed his walking papers. Either he races or he never ever sees his daughter again.
Jensen reluctantly agrees, meets his pit crew and “Frank’s” nemesis. A prisoner called Machine Gun Joe played by Tyrese Gibson. He is everything your hero’s enemy usually is. Always angry, disgruntled and looking for a fight, Joe needs two more wins to earn his get out of jail free card. So he wants to do everything in his power to make sure no one, especially Frank, doesn’t cross the finish line before him. The actual death race is obviously not your average race. Driving over special points on the track activates tools on each driver’s vehicle such as guns or the ability to shoot smoke or oil to make it more difficult for their opponents. Each driver also gets a female navigator to help them steer the course except for Joe who gets male navigators because they never “last very long”. Case played by Natalie Martinez is Jensen’s navigator; she is experienced on the track and seems to know her way around pretty well. She would make up part of the eye candy I referred to earlier.
The story, which was also written by W.S. Anderson, is really easy to follow. The drivers win, they get to go free or at least they hope so. There lies the climax and the answers to the audience’s questions. About half way through the film, you’ll find yourself asking the characters, “How do you know they are going to just let you walk out after you do what they want?” They don’t know; that would the answer, but what other choice would anyone who is in that situation have. Worst case scenario, you got to stay put in prison; worser case, you die. The acting was spot on for these roles. Statham was his usual macho, don’t f*ck with me and I won’t with you but I’m actually a good person underneath personality. Not many scenes that called for his fighting skills to shine but it is a racing movie, isn’t it. Gibson is in his element in this one, he seems to excel at playing the character who has a problem with everything and is never happy. Machine Gun Joe sort of reminded me of Roman Pierce from 2 Fast 2 Furious.
The action in this movie was not bad at all, a lot of explosions and shoot ‘em up sequences but I was expecting much more actual stunt driving like that contained in The Fast and The Furious films. I know it’s more than just a racing movie with fast cars and faster women but I think if more out of the ordinary driving was mixed in with the violence, blood and gore, it would have made the action scenes more entertaining and a lot more rewind buttons would be getting pushed when it came out on DVD. Special effects and pyrotechnics were well done and went in tune with the races very nicely.
Overall, I feel Death Race is a good watch and something that will keep you interested until the end. With an easy to understand storyline and action to keep you wondering how they are going to top the disgusting way that guy just died, it should get a positive look from even the most hardcore action junkies. I give Death Race “3creative ways to serve out your prison sentence out of 5”.
“You wanted a monster? Well, you’ve got one.”