Review: Death Race
Death Race is apparently a remake of one of those campy, dystopian Seventies pictures like Rollerball, Soylent Green and Logan’s Run. The usual complaints apply: this action movie is very loud and pointless violence and foul language dominate the show. Be seriously ready to cover the ears if you value your ability to hear.
Death Race is involving. The year is 2012 and big corporations are in charge following an economic collapse. America is a police state—which, of course, in reality, is possible only under total government control of the economy but a grasp of totalitarianism is perhaps too much to expect from writer and director Paul W.S. Anderson, chiefly known for making a horror series called Resident Evil.
The Roman Empire-ish nation is absorbed by one of those spectacular television programs where people are pawns for ridicule. Only, in this case, the spectacle is death in a tricked-out auto race among convicts. Action star Jason Statham portrays a common workingman who is laid off at a steel plant, framed for murder and, because he happens to be an ex-con and ace driver, is tapped by the warden (Joan Allen) to lead the new TV season’s deadly race.
Miss Allen, whose character is best described as a cross between a recent presidential candidate (even her name sounds like Hillary’s) who won’t let it go and her Bourne series ice queen character, adds depth to an otherwise predictable journey. Donning her familiar deadpan, bland blondeness, she rants about everything from bad parenting to defecating in public. Watching her deliver such tacky lines is half the fun.
Also along for the ride is Ian McShane, sprucing things up as a top mechanic who actually likes being in prison—think James Whitmore in Shawshank Redemption—and recognizes justice and injustice when he sees it, eliciting the most rewarding scenes in Death Race. The other unruly pit crews are usual suspects; a multiracial bunch with an occasional twist, such as a self-mutilating religionist who, it is hinted, may be gay.
Racing action is a blur, shot in fast-cutting style with an emphasis on horror movie tactics, which this writer finds disgusting. Blasting a heavy metal soundtrack over the car sequences—Statham’s thuggish type drives a modified Ford Mustang—Anderson casts the race as a live action video game. Cars activate icons indicating swords, shields and death heads, which in turn able and disable certain features. None of this is either easy to figure or, frankly, especially important to the plot—one can pretty much clock the coming explosions and blood-gurgling body blows. The wipeouts are well done.
Statham’s accent sounds like a mouth full of cotton, marbles and gumballs and the Hot Rod type females are babes in midriffs and tight pants, fist-bumping one another and acting tough. Aside from numerous prison movie clichés—white supremacists, pasty-faced guards and several racial stereotypes—Death Race, despite heavy profanity, gutter shots and ear-splitting audio, crawls above its excesses, and, circuitously, even humorously, embraces something like the notion that life is a value.