It takes a big man to admit when he’s wrong, and there a few bigger than me… in so many ways. When I saw the trailer for this film ‘Death Race’ my heart dropped as the original film, the camp classic political satire ‘Death Race 2000’, really and truly didn’t need a remake. The fact that Paul W.S. Anderson, who is met with about as much love from various film watching factions as Uwe Boll, was directing didn’t help matters much, but truth be told I did enjoy watching Anderson’s ‘Soldier’ from a few years back. Out or respect for the original ‘Death Race’ I had planned to boycott this movie but as circumstance would have it, I found myself at the theater watching ‘Death Race’, and though this movie barely qualifies to even be called a movie, and though it is still an insult to the good name of the Roger Corman original, I gotta admit that this was so ridiculous, so over the top and moved so fast that somehow, despite my desperate attempts, I found myself being entertained by this garbage.
In the near future the American economic system has completely collapsed and crime has run rampant. This has led to an overflowing of the prison systems which are now being run by big companies for profit and to maximize profits, cons in these prisons have become modern day gladiators fighting it out to the death on pay per view. But alas for hungry, greedy, violence loving U.S. Americans it’s not enough as the Death Race has been established where death sentence cons race around a track blowing each other up and stuff for freedom. Allegedly.
In this depressed economy lives Jensen Ames (Jason Stratham) who has just lost his meager job at a steel mill but at least he has his lady love Suzy (Janaya Stephens) and their infant daughter. Oh well. Somebody busts into Jensen’s house, kills his wife and frames him for murder, sending him to the roughest toughest prison in America.
This prison is run by one Warden Hennessey (Joan Allen), who is so cool and tough that she is able to casually walk without guard protection through a prison yard filled with rapist, serial killers and identity thieves without a hint of fear. The Warden also lords over the country’s most popular sporting event, the Death Race, and is facing a challenge because the country’s favorite racer, Frankenstein, has perished in a crash. How lucky is she then that Jensen Ames, a defrocked world class race car driver, has shown up in her prison with the opportunity to put on the Frankenstein mask and keep the legend alive?
With the promise of freedom if he wins, Jensen is given a pit crew led by the wise and elderly Coach (Ian McShane), and given an incredibly sexy navigator named Case (Natalie Martinez). Jensen then dons the Frankenstein gear to do battle against the other virulent racers, including the completely unsavory and hateful Machine Gun Joe (Tyrese Gibson). Jensen eventually figures out, however, that his being in this prison is no accident and by God is he going to make them all pay. Or something.
You needn’t necessarily be a Fulbright Scholar to follow the story in this version of ‘Death Race’… hell, if you mastered that whole square block in the square hole thing you should be straight because there might be about twenty lines of actual dialog in this film. The entire script could fit quite comfortably inside an issue of JET magazine and still have plenty of space inside for the Beauty of the Week and six or seven full page KOOL advertisements. I’m not joking when I tell you that practically the entire movie is racing, shooting and killing. The total setup takes about eight or so minutes, which also includes shooting, killing, explosions and a riot and then Jensen is in prison and forced to drive in the Death Race like two minutes after that which leaves about ninety minutes worth of movie which consists of virtually nothing but explosions and car crashes.
Since Anderson has directed video game movies before, he essentially has done the same here as the racers race around a track complete with power-ups and boss battles with the only thing missing being the ability to reach a certain score and snagging an extra life. As far as the performances in the flick go, nobody really had to do anything except sneer a lot, though Ian McShane adds a hard edged respect to everything he show up in and Joan Allen, who I must admit was looking kind of hot to a brother in this thing, ancient though she may be, does add a touch a class to the proceedings in her eight or nine profanity laced lines she got spew out. Stratham and Gibson simply do what they do, which considering how incredibly shallow this movie is, is more than enough.
But Anderson does keep this thing moving. Anderson directs this movie so hyper fast with so many quick edits, fist fights and explosions that he seems almost petrified to slow down so that the ‘This Movie Sucks’ monster which was breathing down his neck won’t catch his ass. And he pretty much succeeds as this brain dead nonsense really didn’t allow me to stop and think how pointless this movie was, at least until it was over, and by then I didn’t care anymore. Plus I admire the fact that Anderson didn’t even try to put anything of any reasonable intelligence in this movie, which ultimately would have just been insulting. In a sense, I would call this a smashing success.
Were it up to me I would have called this movie something else, say ‘Transporter 3: Blowed Up!’ because this movie has WAY more in common with that franchise than it does with the original ‘Death Race 2000’. Of course there’s already a ‘Transporter 3’ coming out pretty soon, so scratch that idea. If you ever wanted to see a 98 minute video game cut scene that has a few words of dialog tossed in, I think ‘Death Race’ has been custom designed to be your movie.