Death Race

Death Race

***

Reviewed by: Stuart Crawford

Hot metal. Steam sweat man. No more job. Man go home sad. Wife pretty! Baby cute! Bad man come. Stab wife dead. Man set up! Man go jail. Sad man. Jail not good. Man get free? Drive fast make go boom.

"Drive fast make go boom" is the premise on which this film has been sold, and it delivers. So long as you don't care about how cars go or how reality works or how people can continue to get away with making movies without a single credible acting performance, or anything, you'll almost certainly enjoy yourself.

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Death Race opens with the rather optimistic notion that the US economy won't collapse until 2012. In this grim vision of the near future, industry is dying, unemployment figures are soaring, crime is rife and the only profitable business left appears to be the entertainment industry. Farfetched, non? At any rate, prisons are now private concerns, run as a modern-day equivalent of Roman circuses.

The Death Race is the most notorious of these spectacles, a racing circuit where souped-up, armour-plated, machine-gun-toting vehicles drive around fast and make each other go boom. Ratings are down, however, as the race's most popular driver, the enigmatic Frankenstein, has been put out of action. Permanently. Enter recently-unemployed ex-con, ex-NASCAR driver Jensen Ames (Jason Stratham), who is framed for the murder of his wife so that he can be drafted in as Frankenstein's replacement. Hey, the guy always wore a mask, so nobody will know any different, right? So far, so stupid.

Ames is promised his freedom if he complies with the scheme: all he has to do is win one race. He's the innocent guy surrounded by baddies and, of course, the prison isn't going to play fair because they want to keep him in the race, and he's going to overcome a series of obstacles designed to offend the viewer's sense of fair play, et cetera. He'll show this band of rapists and murderers that he can drive fast make go boom better than any of them. And he does! And it's quite spectacular. And you have to put up with Ian "Lovejoy" McShane's grizzly chops for most of the way through.

I'm not sure if Paul WS Anderson thinks he's being clever or ironic or something with his casual misogyny and homophobia, but let's get this straight: he isn't. He's just being a cock. Brace yourself for a lot of slow-motion panning up and down bronzed flesh with obnoxious R&B playing in the background. You'd think being married to Mila Jovovich would be enough for the guy.

The meat of the movie is a series of perfectly serviceable desktop wallpapers. The explosions are plentiful, the deaths gruesome, the video-game stylings of the race entirely appropriate. The action direction kicks off in the usual ropey shakeycam fashion, but thankfully settles down later on, and there's some really nice focus work. Everything's rendered in stark, contrasty tones and tinged with a sort of washed-out blue and orange palette. The visuals are nice.

The dialogue is laughable, as is the plot. Nothing has been carried over from the original Death Race 2000, with the exception of a couple of names and an exchange of clothing. Each and every attempt at humour falls flat. Expect to be angered by the waste of potential, here. Still, I wouldn't recommend driving home from the cinema, just to be on the safe side.

Reviewed on: 25 Sep 2008
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Death Race packshot
A prisoner is offered his freedom if he can win a motor race - but just staying alive is hard enough!
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Director: Paul WS Anderson

Writer: Paul WS Anderson

Starring: Jason Statham, Ian McShane, Joan Allen, Tyrese Gibson, Robin Shou, Natalie Martinez, Janaya Stephens, Jacob Vargas, Nathalie Girard, Robert LaSardo, Frederick Koehler

Year: 2008

Runtime: 105 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

Festivals:

Frightfest 2008

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