Hollywood has stooped to a new low. Sure we’re used to the studios producing some lousy movies. And lately we’ve gotten our fair share of remakes. With Death Race, Universal Pictures has combined the two! That’s right, the “classic” Roger Corman flick Death Race 2000 needed a semi-serious updating.
Okay, Death Race really isn’t a complete remake of the original movie but it is near enough. Instead of a cross country race in which points are awarded for running people over, the locale has changed to a high security prison where an iron-fisted warden named Hennessey (Joan Allen) has found a way to capitalize on her inmates. By allowing them to arm and armor a car in Mad Max ways, and kill each other as they race around the prison for three days, she’s making a fortune from pay-per-view proceeds. But she’s got a minor problem – her bread and butter racer Frankenstein was killed in the last event. Enter Jensen Ames (Jason Statham) a wrongly convicted man with a load of NASCAR skills. If she can convince him to race as the fans beloved driver, her cash cow can continue to moo.
Somewhere along the line there is a plot here, but none of it makes a lick of sense. Ames longs for revenge for the death of his wife, fellow inmate and racer Machine Gun Joe (Tyrese Gibson) is gay and wants his freedom, and Hennessey, well let’s just say she’s all about power and keeping it. But then again, let’s be realistic, the plot is as worthless as tits are to a bull for a reason. It’s all about hard driving, bullets and explosions, which there are plenty of. Each vehicle is equipped with a sampling of Gatling guns, missiles, napalm, oil slicks, swords, flame throwers and every other imaginable weapon known to man. The drivers do everything possible to inflict life threatening injury to one another using said weaponry. For good measure the warden throws in a few obstacles meant to cause widespread destruction to the race participants. You wanted mind-numbing mayhem? You got it.
The problem, aside from the whole premise being unreasonable, is the action becomes monotonous. There are three days of racing, which basically equates to three days of the exact same things. Day one – nine racers smash through the course trying to kill each other. Day two – six racers smash through the course trying to kill each other. Day three – two racers smash through the course trying to kill each other. See the trend? Director Paul W.S. Anderson does his best to keep it fresh by using multiple camera angles and camera types but even that gets old. The only thing that didn’t wear on me in Death Race was the ladies that were trucked in from a nearby woman’s penitentiary. Apparently, as in-car navigators they get the same deal as the drivers do: survive and win five races, go free. Also, apparently they all look like Natalie Martinez (she plays Ames’ navigator Case). Ladies, I’m free for any of your congical visits needs.
Even though I couldn’t fathom it, Death Race minutely overtakes Witless Protection as the worst movie of 2008. Statham needs to fire his agent immediately and stop taking jobs solely for a paycheck. As for Miss Allen, I’ll chalk this up as a misstep. She is too accomplished an actress to be reduced to nothing more than a scowling asshole, which coincidentally, is the exact look 80% of the audience had 20 minutes into this travesty. Unless you want to look this way too, I recommended steering clear.