Monday, January 19, 2009

Death Race - DVD Review

DEATH RACE (**) - Starring Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, Ian McShane, Joan Allen, Jason Clarke, Max Ryan, Jacob Vargas, Natalie Martinez and Robin Shou.
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

I can't believe Jason Statham worked with Uwe Boll and Paul W.S. Anderson in the same year. If he signs on for an Aaron Seltzer-Jason Friedberg parody movie, his trifecta of the worst working directors will be complete.

This movie isn't that bad. I actually rented it because it made Stephen King's top-ten list. King ain't the most trustworthy movie critic, but I figured there had to be something to it. I haven't seen the original so I can't comment on that, but what we have here is a fairly generic slightly-futuristic prisoners-fight-to-the-death movie, except they do it in cars. It reminded me more of The Running Man than anything else, and maybe that is why King liked it so much.

Jason Statham is our hero, wrongfully accused of murdering his wife and sentenced to life in prison. This is the future however, (not too far, maybe twenty years), where prisons are run by corporations for profit, and one way this prison makes money is Pay-Per-Viewing of their death races, where prisoners race in tricked-up cars and try to kill each other before they cross the finish line. If you win five times, you get your freedom. No one has ever lived long enough to win five times.

Now the slight-future can create great movies (Blade Runner), great pulp movies (RoboCop) or absolute junk (the Rollerball remake). This is far from great, but I give it a leg above Rollerball. For one thing, the rules make sense, even when they're being broken. The driving sequences are well-choreographed, like watching a Fast & Furious sequel where everyone drives their version of the Batmobile. The set-up is perfunctory, the characters are stock, and I kept wondering what the heck Joan Allen is doing here. Her character is written like a comic-book villain, but Joan performs her like she might be a real person. Never worked for me. Richard Dawson's Killian was better.

I got a kick out of seeing Deadwood's Ian McShane as the wise old mechanic, and Brotherhood's Jason Clarke here as a toadie guard. Paychecks for everyone!

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