I wonder what could be a movie with the title Death Race be about? Could it possibly be about prisoners engaging in deadly races to win their freedom and entertain the rest of the population? Well, this post-apocalyptic, uniquely capitalist, and American premise does sound realistic. And wouldn’t you know it, it is true, this is what happens in the movie Death Race. A movie that’s actually a remake of a 1975 classic Death Race 2000. It would appear that we failed our corporate overlords with the year of our lord Satan 2000 coming and passing. So, they lost 2000 from the title, tightened the story, and updated it to today’s standards.
This means that Death Race is a highly entertaining and above all cool action movie with a great cast. I expected nothing less from Paul W.S. Anderson, a man who knows how to deliver sleek visuals and exciting action (Event Horizon, Resident Evil, Mortal Kombat). Mr. Anderson is apparently a specialist in these guilty pleasure movies. The story is simplistic, the explosions juicy, the action exhilarating and the characters cool. This means that all the conditions are met for you to have a great time. Crack open a few beers, smoke a couple of joints and time will fucking fly with this movie.
Mostly because it is so unique. I mean, where would you have the opportunity to see heavily modified and armored cars with mounted guns and bombs firing at each other? Perhaps only in some type of video game. I do remember playing Death Rally and having a blast as it features similar game mechanics. And do not mention the Fast And Furious franchise because those movies are quite timid when compared to the Death Race. Firstly, you don’t have any types of weapons in cars. Secondly, rarely anyone dies in that movie. And finally, it’s pretty cheesy, you’ll have to admit.
It is the year of our Lord Satan 2012 and humanity just hit a new low. After the financial collapse, private prisons were multiplying all over the United States. Without the power of the state, the rules have become pretty flexible and it’s not strange to watch so-called “death races” where convicts are trying to win the race in order to get out of jail. These extremely violent events are attracting a lot of attention from the public and the inmates see them as their only way out. Jensen Ames is one of those men and he will have to drive through hell in order to survive.
Gloriously over-the-top, Death Race features incredible chase scenes and stunts. They look believable, nasty, and cool at the same time. And in an age where CGI is king, it’s really refreshing to see a huge, heavily modified car with miniguns exploding after being hit by a rocket. Yes, this is that type of movie.
I think what surprised me the most is the running time of almost two hours. You would think they would keep it nice and short but they decided on a different approach. And don’t think for a second that Death Race is going to be boring. In between the action, we will be treated to rudimentary character development.
The cast did a terrific job of playing their roles pitch perfectly. They knew Death Race is not going to be winning awards so they focused on just having fun and creating cool characters. Incredibly fit Jason Statham was excellent as Jensen along with charismatic Ian McShane and beautiful Natalie Martinez.
The movies where people kill each other for the entertainment of others have a long-standing tradition. Of course, my favorite movie in this particular genre is Running Man starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Death Race mixes things up by adding these beasts of cars to the roster. Do you know that each car you see costs anywhere from $250.000 to $300.000 to detail? If you love movies about driving, then Death Race is a perfect choice.
And if you like the post-apocalyptic setting, I would also recommend Escape from L.A. or Escape from New York, both starring Kurt Russel. Of course, nothing compares to the real deal, the Mad Max franchise but I’m sure you already knew that. Finally, I do have to mention the sequel to this movie, Death Race 2. It’s quite watchable although it features a smaller budget.
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Writers: Paul W.S. Anderson, Robert Thom, Charles B. Griffith
Cast: Jason Statham, Joan Allen, Ian McShane, Tyrese Gibson, Natalie Martinez, Jason Clarke