Death Race
dir-scr Paul WS Anderson
with Jason Statham, Joan Allen, Ian McShane, Tyrese Gibson, Natalie Martinez, Max Ryan, Jason Clarke, Frederick Koehler, Jacob Vargas, Justin Mader, Robert LaSardo, Robin Shou
release US 22.Aug.08, UK 26.Sep.08
08/US Universal 1h29
Death Race
Road kill: Statham and Martinez

gibson allen mcshane
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Death Race Not merely a remake of Roger Corman's 1975 B-movie classic Death Race 2000 (whose star David Carradine voices driver Frankenstein in the prologue here), this is also a movie of its time: a loud, crashing, chaotic action romp that's actually rather good fun.

Jensen (Statham) is trying to be a decent husband and father when he's framed for murder and sent to the brutal Terminal Island, where the worst inmates battle it out in a ratings-grabbing televised race to the death in armed, armoured cars. The all-controlling warden (Allen) offers Jensen a deal: if he beats challenger Joe (Gibson), he can get his freedom. But something's fishy here, mainly because Jensen has seen another competitor (Ryan) before. So with his savvy coach (McShane) and bombshell navigator (Martinez), Jensen concocts a plan.

This film is testosterone on overdrive, as the deafening roar of the cars is only drowned out by big guns and even bigger explosions. The film only pauses for slo-mo sequences in which scantily clad babes are caressed by the cameras. It's simply ludicrous on every level, and only works because the actors make far more of their characters than is on the page. Statham is as likeable as ever, sporting astonishing muscles and barely raising his voice above a raspy grunt, but he has enough charm to keep the movie afloat.

Meanwhile, Gibson provides an intriguing nemesis who somehow has the hint of emotional depth, and McShane adeptly fills the wise-cracking brainiac sidekick spot. Allen gets the scene-chewing sadist role and grinds her teeth all the way through it ("Release the Dreadnought!" isn't even her best line*). And Martinez is feisty and sexy but almost gets lost in the pyrotechnics. Amid the growling, crashing and exploding, the actors never take the film seriously, which is the only reason it's even remotely bearable to watch.

On the other hand, you do get the idea that writer-director Anderson is completely caught up in it, staging elaborate, jaw-dropping car stunts and massacring side characters in the grisliest ways possible. Basically, it's a videogame masquerading as a movie, but the action scenes are so loud and messily edited that they're tedious rather than tense. If it weren't so incoherent, it would be a classic.

cert 15 themes, language, strong violence 22.Sep.08

*That would be (strong language warning - highlight to read): "Fuck with me and we'll see who shits on the sidewalk!"

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© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall