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Overall Rating

Awesome: 4%
Worth A Look: 10%
Average: 26%
Pretty Bad: 16%
Total Crap44%

6 reviews, 14 user ratings

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Death Race
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Erik Childress

"Death Blows"
1 stars

In the filmmaking universe, there are directors who are hacks, those who are just bad and the select handful who redefine the medium of the horrid so profoundly that filmgoers must then cry out for their instant removal from the industry. A recent petition had Uwe Boll nearly bowing to pressure to stop making films forever. Only recently have moviegoers finally caught up to what Iíve been saying about M. Night Shyamalan since the Sixth Sense. Then thereís Paul Anderson, the hacktacular of craptacular who eventually had to add W.S. to his name to avoid confusion with the spectacular director of Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood. (ďWhy should I change my name? Heís the one who sucks.Ē) Amassing a resume of video game translations such as Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil long before Uwe bowled us over with his legion of crap, Paul W.S.L.M.N.O.P. Anderson is now hiding behind the pretense of a Roger Corman cult classic to give us what is basically his version of Twisted Metal. For it takes just the pre-credits sequence to clue us in that weíre in for a bumpy ride on Andersonís Bi-polar express where the line between homage and ripoff is never as blurry as his action sequences and a new petition canít get started fast enough.

Jason Statham is Jensen Ames, just one of many down on their luck Americans during the collapsed economy of 2012. (Thanks, John McCain.) When heís framed for the murder of his wife, heís put into an off-shore prison where the maniacal sport of Death Race is played. Convicts in souped up, metallically reinforced cars race around a track, get weapons activated for their cars (by running over lit-up symbols in true video game fashion) and then use them to gain an advantage over their opponents out in front. If someone dies, Ďtis the breaks. Warden Joan Allen created the game for a pay-per-view audience and her biggest star, Frankenstein, has died on the table. Since the four-time winner wore a mask and never spoke to anyone under it, she offers Jensen the position of posing as Frankenstein and granting him the pardon that comes with five-time winners.

Helping out Jensen in the pit is Coach (Ian MacShane), who has remained in prison despite being granted parole years earlier. Also along for the ride are hotties from the womenís Maxim-um prison division who take the shotgun position to navigate for the busy drivers and to give home viewers the opportunity to be hardened themselves. Jensenís girl is Case (Natalie Martinez), as in ďHardĒ, and thereís nothing more to say about her other than she used to be Frankís girl and her black T-shirt was never happier. Speaking of black Tís, Tyrese is also on the track as Machine Gun Joe, a three-time Death Race champion who holds some grudge against Frank thatís not nearly as defined as Jensen somehow piecing together that the man who killed his wife is also in the race. Because obviously heís the only one to ever have on a tracer bracelet and make shotgun signals with his fingers. Thereís nothing less than circumstantial evidence to support this fact and proof beyond the shadow of a doubt that P.W.S. Anderson has no business being judge, jury or executioner of anything, unless itís his own body of work.

The original Paul Bartel/Roger Corman classic is remembered mostly for its bonus points of contestants running down pedestrians en route to victory or maybe a pre-Rocky Sylvester Stallone as the villain. David Carradine gets a faceless cameo as the pre-credit voice of Frankenstein (the role he originated), but other than that and naming Statham and Tyrese after the two leads, thereís nothing to suggest than Paul W.S.A. has ever seen anything more than its IMDB page. Clearly heís seen other movies though; movies he can borrow from liberally to fill 100 pages in-between the car sequences which likely reads ďcamera moves to left, then to right, then zooms in and zooms out on one character Ė repeat to enduce car motion.Ē Andersonís take on Death Race is more like an amalgamation of both the book and film versions of Stephen Kingís The Running Man with the downtrodden society trying to make ends meet, good men framed as outlaws and prison sports broadcast as entertainment. Statham and Tyrese donít quite develop that Andy Dufresne/Red relationship although they do get to end up together rebuilding something on the beach and W.S. takes the platonic man love to new heights by reminding us that Machine Gun Joe is an angry homosexual. Even its big climactic escape could be a direct substitute for lightcycles and recognizer programs as if P.W.S.A. is sparking up his portfolio to be first in line for consideration to direct Tron 2.0.

Despite taking out the lionís share of satirical elements to the extent that it makes Stone Coldís The Condemned an edgy social statement by comparison, Anderson has one job to fulfill to make this a passable, noisy bit of fire-brimmed entertainment. Make the race exciting. With three stages to make this work, D-Bag Anderson becomes the action director equivalent of the photographer taking a group shot and picking up a single nose. Incomprehensible is not a big enough word to describe what watching a W.S. action scene is like. His Ben-Hur chariot race would have needed nothing more than one set of horses, a couple human heads and a wheel. This isnít called stretching your budget. Bartel and Corman managed to shoot high-speed chases in wide-open spaces. What does Paul What-the-Shit Anderson think heís accomplishing by jangling the camera face-to-face and never editing to give us an idea of who is in the lead? My assumption from the inexplicable cheering I heard from the screening I attended wasnít that the slow-motion crash stunts were worthy of such applause but got a response for being the first moment during the action that the audience could actually see for a change.

For a society paying slave wages to the working class (your prime demographic for sporting distractions from a long day), itís hard to fathom how Death Race has flourished considering it costs $99 just for stage one, $250 for stage two, begins in the non-primetime hour of 8 AM when people are either at work or watching Regis and lasts just barely longer than the average Tyson fight from back in the day. Anderson doesnít even bother to give us one, solitary shot of the paying audience enjoying the carnage. Even Paul Michael Glaser managed THAT feat. The pseudo-elaborate plan to incarcerate Jensen may have been able to swallow if we didnít have to wait until exposition after heís inside to discover he was once a prized race car driver instead of just another steel worker framed for murder to impersonate David Carradine. Unless Anderson trimmed all of Joan Allenís better moments, ones where she ingratiates us to whatís become of Hilary Clinton or Ann Coulter has become in four years, Iíll assume that Universal just duped her with a title page on her script copy that read The Bourne Stupidity. Weíll know it forever as Death Race though, an apropos title for anyone trying to expedite what last bit of logic, good taste and filmmaking savvy they have left until the next Boll, Shyamalan or Paul W.S. Anderson film comes out so they can enjoy it on the directorís level. In the meantime, for proof of a superior car chase spectacle, go out and grab Quentin Tarantinoís Grindhouse flick or for a true, exciting futuristic nightmare get Alfonso Cuaronís Children of Men. Then you can settle down and wait for another real filmmaker to make a film about the year 2012. Oh shit, itís Roland Emmerich.

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originally posted: 08/22/08 14:00:00
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User Comments

9/16/17 morris campbell mindless action fun 4 stars
9/11/11 Captain00Kirk Just a fun, mindless, violent action picture. 4 stars
8/17/09 harpreet singh wow. i liked this movie because it was jason who got role to play of jensen ames. 5 stars
2/20/09 KingNeutron I liked it - would watch again, lots of nice action even if the plot is thin 4 stars
2/17/09 mr.mike Not bad at all. 4 stars
2/05/09 cody a pretty good remake with great action,fine girls, and explosions. the ending is great. 3 stars
12/28/08 Brap Fuck you hollywood, I'M NOT STUPID! I WANT LOGICAL ENTERTAINMENT! 1 stars
12/25/08 matt wow. shit dialgue. nonsense plot. illuminati symbols everywhere. ws anderson needs to stop 1 stars
11/08/08 This was crap Boring cliches and poorly filmed action scenes. 1 stars
10/31/08 Lenny Zane At best, enough action for about 45 minutes of non-boredom. 2 stars
10/26/08 noops.... fucking sexy movie 5 stars
9/12/08 DW Smith Shoot'em up smash up. I thought it was fun. 4 stars
8/25/08 WeeToddDidd Bad remake, smash up derby with weapons in a prison. 2 stars
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  22-Aug-2008 (R)
  DVD: 23-Dec-2008


  DVD: 23-Dec-2008

Directed by
  Paul W.S. Anderson

Written by
  Paul W.S. Anderson

  Jason Statham
  Joan Allen
  Tyrese Gibson
  Ian McShane

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