Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Jason Statham,
Tyrese Gibson, Ian McShane, Natalie Martinez, Joan Allen
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Features: See Review
Length: 111 Minutes
Release Date: December 21, 2008
“I love this game.”
Film *** (On the guilty pleasure scale)
Here we have a movie with pretty much no redeeming qualities, thus making it a badass piece of exploitation cinema. One should know exactly what to expect from a movie with a title like Death Race. And boy, do we get them in the largest supply possible.
The movie is a remake of one of the most popular cult films of all time, Death Race 2000 from 1975. It was one of the many B movies to come out at the time from producer Roger Corman. It would make sense for Corman to be listed as a producer on the remake because it’s as gleefully trashy as the original movie, if not as entirely memorable.
And the movie also marks a comeback for director Paul W.S. Anderson, who hasn’t made a single good movie since 1997’s Event Horizon. Anderson clearly knows his exploitation film history and has applied what he knows to this full-throttle piece of great cinematic garbage. I’ll go as far as to say that if Grindhouse had been a triple feature, the third film could’ve easily been from him.
The story takes place in the not too distant future, where unemployment is at an all time high. The hero of the story is Jensen Ames (Jason Statham, in his usual pure badass form) a former racing pro who has found himself framed for the murder of his wife. He then finds himself sent to the biggest maximum security prison in the country.
It just so happens that this particular prison happens to be the prison that houses the most popular sport of the future, Death Race. The prison warden, Hennessy (Joan Allen), has very much counted on Jensen’s arrival, because she needs someone fitting to take the place of Frankenstein, the current champion of the race. She orders him to don Frankenstein’s mask and compete against fellow prisoners on the track.
From here on out, the movie is as relentless as the sport it depicts. Jensen is saddled with his own racing coach, named Coach (Ian McShane), not to mention a hot-as-hell female navigator, Case (Natalie Martinez), and takes to the tracks against some big heavy hitters, mainly the 2nd place racer Machine Gun Joe (Tyrese Gibson). And the race itself has, of course, no rules and lots of wreckage and human carnage of full display.
In case I haven’t conveyed the point yet, Death Race is a movie to have fun with. It’s the kind of trash fest that is to be enjoyed with your friends on a late Friday night, preferably with a six pack, and just laugh your head off at each gruesome kill and one-liner. And as far as high speed, death defying chase sequences go, you get more for your money here than in any Fast and the Furious movies.
This has been quite the year for respected acting vets getting the chance to dish out dialogue we would normally never hear them utter. Earlier this year in Wanted, the always commanding Morgan Freeman got away with the year’s greatest line of dialogue in the form of “Shoot this MOTHAFU**A!”. Now in Death Race, we have Joan Allen, one of our finest modern actresses, deliver an equally shocking line of dialogue that nearly sent a shiver down my spine, especially since her character at the beginning of the movie mentions that profanity is a problem for her.
Then again, if an actress of her caliber is going to bother appearing in a film as gleefully trashy as Death Race, such words are expected to be delivered by all involved. Ian McShane, another seasoned acting vet, has this expression on his face throughout the movie that pretty much illustrates that he knew exactly what he was getting into, and was loving every minute of it. Between this movie and his appearance in last year’s laugh fest, Hot Rod, it’s clear that McShane has a terrific sense of humor.
So if you’re looking for a deep movie about where our future is headed…look elsewhere! Death Race is a magnificent piece of so-bad-it’s-fu**in’-awesome cinema. The title alone should sell you on what it is, and hopefully you will agree to take the bloody fun ride!
The movie carries a raw and gritty look to it, and the video presentation from Universal takes full advantage of this quality and delivers a striking good presentation. The anamorphic picture is strong, fully-detailed and crisp as can be!
Now here’s where the movie really shines! The 5.1 mix is as ferocious a presentation as anyone could ask for, and is very much one of the best sounding discs of the year. The surround sound system has a tremendous load to work with, thanks to the rousing sound performance in the movie’s many loud racing scenes. Music performance and dialogue delivery are also a major plus. Without question, a disc that you will want to use to show off your home theater with.
Included on this disc is a commentary track with director Paul W.S. Anderson and producer Jeremy Bolt, as well as two behind the scenes featurettes; “Start Your Engines: Making a Death Race” and “Behind the Wheels: Dissecting the Stunts.”
You’d be hard pressed to find a better example of modern exploitation cinema than Death Race. The movie’s got everything you’d want in a big trash fest; cars, guns, gore, hot female navigators, and some huge laughs. I had a blast from beginning to end!