Movie Biases:

Looks stupid-cheesy.

Major Players:

Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, Joan Allen, writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson


In a brutally stark future where private corporations run all prisons and televise gladiator-like contests for sport, framed wife-killer and ex-NASCAR driver Jensen Ames (Statham) is sucked into the popularly carnal Death Race with the lure of winning his freedom - if only he can survive the Darwinian three-day, winner-takes-all bloodsport versus rival malcontent Machine Gun Joe (Gibson).

The Deal:

What is it about Jason Statham? Literally, what is that “it” he has that keeps getting him cast as B-movie action hero after B-movie action hero in films like “Crank,” “The Transporter” “franchise,” and now “Death Race”? I don’t know what it is about Statham that makes me an obtusely admiring fan of his. But, by golly, “Death Race” will certainly make you find out - or alienate you altogether in its bombastic excess.

Like “The Fast and the Furious” with a Gatling gun (by the way, Universal teases a “Fast and the Furious 3″ trailer before this show) - and I bet that was the elevator pitch/logline for this one - “Death Race” is a stylishly directed, ghoulishly entertaining propulsion, a speeding bullet of energy, testosterone, and gleefully irresponsible violence. Consider it Paul W.S. Anderson’s (AVP: Alien vs. Predator) bleakly gray-paletted, live-action video game, like Spy Hunter come to life (irony of all ironies - I check IMDB.com and pre-production producer/director for forthcoming live-action adaptation of Spy Hunter is, yup, Paul W.S. Anderson!). Truly it is: you’ve got severely heightened road rage with waterfalls of bullets, oil slicks, and tire spikes - just like the game we (okay, I) loved on the Nintendo or Sega Genesis (yeah, I know, I’m OLD). Edited as if by Grand Theft Auto, “Death Race”’s visceral thrills derive from R-rated, maximum impact violence and quick enough jump-cutting to be worthy of a strobe light seizure warning.

Notice I’ve made no mention of a script by this point. Screeept? We don’t need no steeenking SCREEEPT! Too much destructive creativity fuels this demolition derby of a mindless entertainment, although the setup intrigues enough for a theme park-ride-waiting-to-happen such as this. It’s a chaotic, economically depressed, McCain-like future! American citizens have devolved into brutish, bloodthirsty mobs like Roman plebeians of old who cheered on gladiator games! Internet televised bloodbaths like “Death Race” thrive thanks to the continued downward morality spiral of reality TV! The setup of trash talk, fast cars, uninhibited violence, and hot (inmate) women (as “navigators” designed to ramp up the T&A factor), with the way this society is and could be heading, seems almost TOO plausible an avenue of attracting 46 million online eyeballs worldwide. Injecting Jensen Ames under a mask as clandestine replacement for celebrity Death Racer Frankenstein (”The Man Who Just Won’t Die”), pitted against gay psychopath/archrival Machine Gun Joe in order to goose the ratings for a coldly manipulative warden/game show producer Hennessey (Allen), provides for a juicy, conflict-ripe, G-string of a plot.

The plot gains credence with the amusing contrasts of a prim-looking Joan Allen as Warden Hennessey, sticking out like a snowman in Hell, who brooks no “foul language” while inflicting physical punishment via proxy with impunity. A grizzled, Al Swearingen-lite from HBO’s now-defunct “Deadwood”, Ian McShane, growls and glowers his way through the proceedings with a twinkle in his eye as veteran chief mechanic Coach. Playing the straightest gay character in history, Tyrese Gibson is surprisingly non-cartoonish as self-mutilating convict Machine Gun Joe, who has an impatient penchant for mutilating the selves of incompetent navigators (who are male, natch).

But I’ve figured it out. Statham, that is. Maybe it’s the combination of a cavalier, no-nonsense, throwback attitude of unbridled machismo coarsened by a gruffly exotic, working class Brit-cent. Perhaps it’s the fact that Statham always gives an intriguing, full-bodied (yes, there’s some British beefcake for you ladies) performance of a man who perpetually seems street-smarter than his surroundings. Or it could just be the fact that he’s flat-out freakin’ cool - in a knuckle-dragging, “playing to our most primal instincts” kind of way. Any which way you explode it, Jason Statham is built for masochistic, sound effect-heavy, pyrotechnic-fests like “Death Race.”

It’s action porn of the most base/ic level. A soul-deadening, violence-desensitizing man-cation. “The ultimate in auto carnage,” if you will. And I’m okay with that. In fact, I’m GREAT with that. Go ahead - call me a modern day plebeian; I don’t care. In a purely FICTIONAL (and not reality TV-based fiction) environment, blow some stuff up for me! Give me a good fireball, car crash, and decapitation! Hell, I’ve already mentally decapitated myself once I bought a ticket for a movie so brazenly called “Death Race”! Am I not entertained?!?

“That was AWESOME!” crowed one theatergoer after one particularly gruesome driver demise. Damn straight I’m entertained.



It’s pretty hot - go give it a shot.

UTC’s resident film critic Edwardo Jack