A new day brings forth another remake, as muscle men, sexy women, and supped up cars take centre stage in Death Race.
The film is a re-make of Death Race 2000, a 1975 Roger Corman production which starred a pre-Rocky Sylvester Stallone and post Kung-Fu David Carridine, as participants in a cross control race where mowing down pedestrians earns extra points.
Commercially successful, yet critically panned filmmaker Paul W.S. Anderson, takes on writing / producing / directing duties for the remake, and it is a film which suits his sensibilities. Anderson has never been a filmmaker known for high brow art, and the exploitative nature of Death Race, along with the fact that an established fan base has already been set – something the Alien VS Predator / Mortal Kombat / Resident Evil director seems to seek out – is right up his alley.
The film is set in the year 2012, as the world finds itself in the throes of an economic crisis. Out of control crime, which has led to overcrowded prisons, has forced the U.S. government to sell their prison system to a large corporation. They in turn use inmates in fight to death sports entertainment, which the public has lapped up with morbid intensity.
The most famous of these “sports” is Death Race, which pits prisoners against each other in (you guessed it) a race to the death. It is broadcast from the notorious Terminal Island Prison, run by warden Hennessey, who is so feared, that she can walk among a prison full of murderers and rapists without a scratch on her body. The part is played by lauded character actress Joan Allen, clearly relishing her for-the-money part.
In need of a new prospect to boost ratings, Hennessey sets her sights on former professional driver, turned blue collar worker, Jensen Ames (Jason Statham), who is doing time after being framed for the murder of his wife. Amsey is coerced into racing, after Hennessey promises his freedom, if he wins.
But this is not a film about characters, but about mayhem. The characters are merely a link to the auto carnage too follow. This is where a much quoted gem such as “high octane action thriller” comes in handy, but hardly warranted.
To sweeten the deal, Anderson throws in a bunch of pretty women, assigned to each driver in order to boost ratings, and the films sex appeal, with swaying hips, big tits, and flowing hair the order of the day.
To make the hearts of adolescent men quicken even more, supped up vehicles that are rigged to kill –and kill they must in order to survive – are given a starring role. Extremely gruesome violence follows, as blood flows free and body parts pile.
That being said, there is something primordial about watching dueling cars going at it in a thick of rubber smoke. Action scenes are sufficient enough to justify watching Death Race on the television during a lazy, rainy afternoon.
But as is the case with all of Anderson’s films, Death Race is just a case of a lack of style over wanting substance.