In 2012, amid economic chaos and high unemployment, Americans watch by the millions as criminals with life sentences race armored cars on Terminal Island. Two-thirds of the combatants die but the winner may earn his freedom. On the day he loses his job, steelworker Jensen Ames is arrested for his wife's murder. Sent to Terminal Island, he's offered an out by the steely and manipulative Warden Hennessey - race as the popular mask-wearing (but now dead) champion, Frankenstein, or rot in prison. Jensen makes the bargain. As the three-stage race approaches, he realizes that the whole thing may be a set up - can an anonymous man behind a mask get revenge and win his release?
Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson
. Starring: Jason Statham
, Joan Allen
, Ian McShane
, Tyrese Gibson
, Natalie Martinez
, Max Ryan
, Jason Clarke
, Frederick Koehler
, Jacob Vargas
, Justin Mader
, Robert LaSardo
, Robin Shou
, Benz Antoine
. Music by: Paul Haslinger
Typically, when I contemplate offering my commentary on a film, the one question that always comes to mind is what difference I will make by making my voice heard. Sometimes, with dehumanising propaganda like Mozart And The Whale or Rain Man, it is not so much important to convince anyone to stop watching as it is to simply voice objections. Sometimes, with masterpieces like RoboCop or Night Of The Living Dead, convincing a skeptic who might have otherwise not seen the film to do so is its own reward. And then there's films like Death Race, where commenting seems like something you do out of obligation, kind of like when you file a report after being raped or robbed. The irony here is that some commentators seem to think Roger Corman's approval of this remake somehow indicates quality. What they do not know is that Corman wanted the original to be approached as seriously as this bloated turd, and it was only Paul Bartel's knack for making the most of an opportunity that saved Death Race 2000 from being the complete disaster that Death Race is.
Death Race 2000 was made on a budget that likely amounted to a few hundred grand at the most. And more than likely half of that budget went up the filmmakers' nostrils. So when I tell you that Paul W.S. Anderson's remake is not only rightly compared to the original, but is on the losing end of such a comparison, that should tell you all you need to know about what went wrong here. Themes and ideas fly by the screen in an almost manic fashion. In one shot, they are trying to satirise the concept of reality television. In the next, they are trying to give a shout-out to the original. In another, they attempt poor jokes based on a character's sexual orientation. And they get every single thing they attempt utterly wrong. Where Bartel's original shone in particular is also where this Death Race is an epic failure. Anderson attempts to sell the idea that authorities will allow a gladiatorial racing sport in the prison system due to the collapse of the economy. Which could have worked if the person running said sport was not made out by the script to be functionally retarded.
Not helping matters any is that the structure of the race itself makes absolutely no sense. Cars run over lit markers in order to activate their weapons, but absolutely no concern is given to how their activation works for the story. Guards switch the markers on and off like crack-addled children in the hopes of giving favoured contestants an advantage. Racers detach armour plates that are helping to prevent their fuel tank from exploding. Racers leap out of cars that are moving at speeds in excess of a hundred miles an hour without suffering so much as a broken collarbone. Any competent director would have sent this shooting script back to the studio and told them to shoot its author in the head twice. But possibly the worst aspect of this film is Machine Gun Joe, an inferior rip-off of the Machine Gun Joe Viterbo character Sylvester Stallone made his best ever performance. Not only is the new Machine Gun Joe a urination upon blacks and homosexuals the world over, but how often do you see actors compared to Sylvester Stallone and finding themselves on the losing end for aspects other than action-heroism?
My father was a semi-professional photographer once (he mostly did weddings and the like). I photograph things both as a hobby and as a vociferous protest in favour of my own civil rights. I shoot my video footage with an interlaced HD video camera and painstakingly edit it on a computer that is not even the top of the line for home consumer use. And I can heartily attest that if you made me drink enough vodka to kill a bodybuilder then held a gun to my head as I cut together footage of races, I could easily slap together something both more cogent and exciting to watch than the drivel that passes for race footage in this mess. If I could go back in time with two bullets and the exact locations where Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini will be at certain points, I would take a detour and shoot the monkey who invented shaky-cam twice before bashing his head in with a brick. Considering that Paul W.S. Anderson used to shoot films so that the audience could actually see what the hell was going on, my disgust with him is getting ever more severe.
Joan Allen looks completely lost trying to follow the direction of a director who clearly no longer knows which end of the camera to point at her. If I were to spit on Tyrese Gibson for his performance in this film, I do not doubt for a second he would cry racism. In fact, I would like to film him doing just that for the benefit of the homosexual community. Natalie Martinez is quite apparently frustrated by a role so underwritten it makes the sacrificial lamb in Death Race 2000 look like Scarlett O'Hara. But the biggest disappointment of the lot would have to be Jason Statham as the central hero. Where David Carradine was so deadpan and smooth that he made the most absurd material work, Statham plainly cannot give a stuff about what he is part of. It literally seems all he can do to not ask where his paycheque is. Everyone in the film save for Gibson has that patented "I am in a bad film and I know it" look.
Death Race is the embodiment of a two out of ten film. If Roger Corman had the slightest bit of sense, he would disown it. Defenders of this puke be advised: your opinion regarding the colour of the sky is of no interest to me.
Review by mentalcritic from the Internet Movie Database.