Death Race (2008)

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Death Race (2008)

Post  BoG on Tue Apr 20, 2010 9:33 pm

The main weakness of this sci-fi thriller is that it has this 'been there, done that' sense to it, unless you haven't seen any of the similar previous sci-fi action thrillers of the past 30-35 years. This is officially a remake of Death Race 2000 (1975), though this remake is largely humorless and I was surprised that they even kept some of the same names: the main racer is a masked, scarred Frankenstein and his main competitor is Machine Gun Joe. Each racer has a navigator, usually female. I learned afterward that David Carradine even supplied his voice for the first sequence.
There are also sharp similarities to The Running Man (1987), in that the 'hero' is framed for a crime and sent to prison. Then he's forced to participate in a weird gladiatorial-style game which keeps the masses distracted. There was even a movie just a year earlier, The Condemned (2007), in which convicts were forced to fight to death on an island for a TV/internet audience. Of course, we can go all the way back to Rollerball (1975) for more of the same.
In Death Race, the year is 2012 or a little bit after. The expected economic upheaval has occurred and things have become extra nasty as some in power go the extra length in exploiting mankind's dark side. The female warden (Joan Allen) of a special prison conducts special auto races on her island, on a makeshift track surrounding the prison complex, making tons of money via Pay-per-View TV. The racers, all convicts, drive cars which have been customized with steel plating and machine guns. The warden controls all the weaponry (of course). The new convict (Jason Statham), a former real racecar driver, becomes the new Frankenstein (the legend needs to endure for maximum profit). It's always interesting to see a woman in such a power position - as played by Allen, she's a stone-cold super bitch.
Statham is also pretty good; he's kind of under-rated, pegged into the 'action star' category, and plays the part which would have been essayed 35 years ago by Bronson, Eastwood or maybe even McQueen. But, the best actor is Ian McShane, an old hand at intense, ornery characters; he plays the guy in charge of Frankenstein's pit crew.
I watched the unrated version so be warned: just about any way a person can be killed in a high speed race is visualized here. It's typical of action films of the past decade or two: noisy, with a lot of flying machine parts. In an extra feature on the DVD, the filmmakers even admit to copying another sub-genre of sci-fi - The Road Warrior-type  chase films, so it seems that they gave up on originality from the outset. There are a couple of impressive stunts and some simple dystopian ideas grafted on. BoG's Score: 6 out of 10
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