Review by Jack Foley
PAUL WS Anderson underlines his position as the king of trash cinema with Death Race, a loud, crass and utterly pointless reinvention of Roger Corman’s cult favourite Death Race 2000.
Set in the not-too-distant future, the film picks up as ex-racer Jensen Ames (Jason Statham) is wrongly imprisoned for the murder of his wife and forced by no-nonsense prison warden Hennessey (Joan Allen) to compete in the world’s most popular extreme sport: death race.
The catch is that Jensen must pose as racing favourite Frankenstein without giving away his true identity. But competing is one thing, staying alive is another when it comes to racing against some of the most vicious criminals on the planet, including the psychopathic Machine Gun Joe (Tyrese Gibson).
Back in 1975, Death Race 2000 combined exploitation-style racing thrills with biting social commentary and featured notable performances from David Carradine and a young Sylvester Stallone. The contemporary update overdoses on the racing action, forgets to inject much social commentary and fails to deliver a single performance worth caring about.
Statham does what Statham does best – scowl a lot and beat people up whenever the situation arises, while Tyrese Gibson offers a pretty bland, one-dimensional adversary. Joan Allen, meanwhile, is criminally wasted as the tough-talking prison warden whose presence in the whole sorry enterprise represents the film’s biggest mystery. Ian McShane crops up as a veteran mechanic but seems content to deliver his lines in deadpan style and wink every so often to the camera.
To be fair, some of the race sequences deliver the type of thrills expected and don’t hold back on the violence, but even they soon become tiresome and repetitive by virtue of the fact that the drivers are forced to circle the same track time and time again.
All this should come as little surprise, though, given Anderson’s lamentable track record for cinematic wreckages. He’s previously helmed and produced the Resident Evil franchise, as well as ruining completely the Alien saga with his Alien Versus Predator derivatives.
With that in mind, audiences foolhardy enough to venture inside the multi-plex get exactly the movie they deserve.
Running time: 105mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: February 2, 2009