Friday, August 22, 2008

Death Race

“So do what you do best. Drive.”

The economy of the United States has collapsed. In this near future (roughly four years from today) prisons are run by cooperations, for a profit. Though what type of cooperation would go for this is never explained (gee, I wonder why Budweiser wouldn’t want to be marketed in the film?).

Unemployment is out an all-time high and the most watched program on the air is a pay-per-view Internet program which involves prisoners fighting for their lives. Hmm… haven’t we seen something like this before, once, twice, three times, or more?

Jason Statham stars as former NASCAR driver Jensen Ames struggling to support his wife (Janaya Stephens) and child. And then he’s framed by a one-armed man, masked man for the murder of his wife and sent to a prison/reality-TV show!

There he meets the warden (Joan Allen in a role which will make you question her sanity) who offers Ames a shot at freedom by winning the Death Race, a three day race around an enlarged prison yard in suped-up cars with everything except the music from Spy Hunter.

The film is a remake of Roger Corman‘s Death Race 2000 which was about a deadly motor race across the country (think Cannonball Run with a way higher body count). Setting the illogical concept in a confined prison (and arming some of worst dregs of humanity with high-tech weapons, full body shops, tools, and explosive chemicals, with only limited control) seems more than a little daft to me.

Often in action films logic gets bent, even sometimes thrown out the window. Here it is refused existence. The film runs more like a convict’s wet dream than something anyone could take seriously on any level. The plot involving Ames frame and need for revenge constantly gets in the way of the stunts which are the only thing the film does have going for it. And don’t even get me started on the dialogue (are we sure this isn’t a Michael Bay film?).

Throw in some shameless T&A with the arrival of women prisoners (Natalie Martinez, and others) to help in the race because… the script needed some shameless T&A (the film doesn’t even try to come up with a reasonable explanation for their inclusion), casting most of the criminals as heroes and all the guards as sadistic monsters, an overly-elaborate storyline about Ames pretending to be another driver (which no one notices, not even the other drivers??), and you’ve got something which makes Sylvester Stallone‘s Lock-Up look like a prison documentary.

The film banks everything on some impressive real-life stunt sequences and the star power of Stratham and Gibson but puts no energy into creating any semblance of a story which won’t be laughed off the screen in ten minutes. If you want to spend your time and money for car crashes, explosions, and some pretty tame T&A, you could do worse than Death Race but you could also do far, far better.

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