Kevin's Review: Death Race - High-Revving, Hard-Hitting Fun
by Kevin Powers
August 21, 2008
As pointed and uncomplicated as its title, Death Race is a pure sadistic smash-em-up that provides some of the most explosive, gratuitous fun at the box office this summer. Based on the 1975 original, Death Race 2000, Paul W. S. Anderson's take on the material isn't a remake, but a solid update to the dystopian tale of vehicular carnage and the public's devolution into violent voyeurism. In Death Race, private companies now run the prisons and make money off gladiator-like events, pitting prisoners against each other to battle until death, all the while streaming the mayhem to the masses. While obviously not real, we as viewers could be considered part of the blood-thirsty audience cheering for destruction. And cheer we do.
Movie-driver Jason Statham headlines the production as ex-con Jensen Ames, a humble husband and father to an infant daughter. Ames' life erupts in destruction when he is framed for murdering his wife, sending him to the dead-end Terminal Island prison. In addition to being a mile out in the water, the prison's claim to fame is its live-broadcast Death Race, which is a three-round competition wherein inmates drive souped-up cars and pretty much just try to kill each other. The winner of five races gets his freedom. Taking a cue directly from the 1975 original, the lead driver and fan favorite is Frankenstein, purportedly a driver so badly mangled from accidents prior that he wears a Jason-esque mask.
The grey and grit that makes up the Terminal Island environment is a solid accomplishment by writer-director Anderson. Despite a healthy, albeit slightly rote, background in action, violence and sci-fi having helmed the Resident Evil series and the original Aliens vs Predator, Anderson brings a freshness and surprisingly seasoned sensibility to big action that will certainly catch you off guard. The choreography of the dizzying chase sequences and myriad explosions is reminiscent of the work of the king of blockbuster blow-em-ups, Michael Bay. Thankfully, Anderson's taste leans more toward the dark and sinister - a style that revs and roars in Death Race.
Shortly after Statham's character settles into the prison (following the obligatory initiation fights and arguments over territory), he's approached by the warden - a porcelain cougar named Hennessey (Joan Allen). Hennessey, knowing Ames' background as a race car driver, wants him to participate in the Death Race. While Allen partly channels her stoic role as CIA leader Pamela Landy from the Bourne series, she ups the bitch quotient to an impressive degree. Hennessey is one of the most fun characters of Death Race, largely because she is as twisted as all of the wrenched metal that litters Terminal Island. Supporting characters that also make the film a bit more than just sound and fury include seasoned actor Ian McShane as Statham's pit boss and Tyrese Gibson as Frankenstein's number one opponent, Machine Gun Joe.
To be sure, the film runs out of gas when trying to reach any level of drama or story, and it positively dies when wrapping things up. But who cares? An armored 800+ horsepower Mustang with double gatling guns mounted on the hood far overshadows any need for sympathy we might feel for the characters. And when one of those characters goes out in a bloody blaze, the story is the last thing we're thinking about. For once, I totally agree with a director's boasting of a film. Anderson recently said, "I firmly believe [Death Race] is the best, most spectacular car action I've ever seen in a film." I think you might agree. A straight crimson shot into bedlam, Death Race is a film for which you're either going to call "shotgun!" or let pass you by.
Reader Feedback - 26 Comments
Of course. 26% on RottenTomatoes.com
WaterFun on Aug 21, 2008
Yeah, but you know this wasnt some cinematic masterpeice made to impress the critics. Just some good clean fun for those times you dont want to really have to think about anything for an hour and a half. I look forward to seeing it 🙂
Breach on Aug 21, 2008
I saw it on tuesday night. I loved it. Great Action. Basically got right to the point.
Tyler on Aug 21, 2008
im not going to see it because i want a good story im going to see it because of the kick ass cars and by the looks and sounds of it killer races (pun-intended) im down to see it this weekend.
Curtis on Aug 21, 2008
I can't wait to see it...because honestly...anyone not seeing this movie because of a lack of good story...will sit out 99% of all movies out their besides some well written dramas. The last action movie with a good story was *drum roll please*.....none. Lets face it every action movie, every comedy, every romantic comedy, every period movie, all have plot holes you can fly a 747 through.
Kyle A. Koyote on Aug 21, 2008
I don't give a damn what kind of action this flick offers, the simple fact that Jason Statham is paired up with Tyrese Gibson in a film directed by Paul W.S. Anderson is enough to turn me away from this forever.
Brad on Aug 22, 2008
WTF?! Is humanity going stupid? Where does this love for brainless actioners come from? In film school they always emphasised that a good story is the foundation for a good movie. So yeah... let's give it 7.5 because we love crashing cars and big action, and that makes you forget that there's NO STORY. Just to make myself clear. I believe the should be a market for everything, even for brainless movies. I just don't agree with the rating of 7.5. That makes it look like a real movie.
WaterFun on Aug 22, 2008
you sound very restrained,like you don't like some parts of the movie and yet choose to compliment it heavily.i'm not falling for (your) hype,dumbass. these reviews are getting fuck dumb.
vel on Aug 22, 2008
There is just something about Statham that I can't stand. Maybe because he is the same character in every film he plays? It was a pretty good mindless fun action flick. Mindless fun is the key words there. I try not to bash any movie, but it's hard for me to sit through a movie and enjoy it when the main actor I can't stand. I went into the movie just wanting to enjoy the races and explosions and for a movie like this that's exactly what you have to do.
Curtis on Aug 22, 2008
You know what the great about a review is??? It's an opinion, let the man have his.
Dustin on Aug 22, 2008
Again..all you film school buffs...how many action movies have great stories without plot holes? Seriously, I respect the need for a good story...but lets face it....action movies revolve around violence...and violence is going to lead to plot holes. Period. The only exception is a war movie...which isn't a true 'action' movie...in my opinion anyways.
Kyle A. Koyote on Aug 22, 2008
Just got back from seeing it and I had a blast. This movie is what it is. It's exactly what it's advertised to be. Racing, over the top acting/dialogue, and action. I'm stunned Roger Ebert gave this a 0.5 star review and the likes of "Speed 2" and "The Mummy 3" both three stars each. That's just ridiculous. If you liked "The Road Warrior", you'll like this. At least I hope you do. Both are cut from the same clothe IMO. That said, I concur with Kevin's 7.5/10 review. I'll give it the same.
Film Fan on Aug 22, 2008
Kyle A. Koyote, Less of these shitty action movies would be made if you would stop funding them. This movie looks like a rental at the most. Jesus, save the $8 or go see The Dark Knight again... at least you'll get your money's worth and be satisfied as well.
Not Impressed on Aug 22, 2008
Hey "Not Impressed", how about letting Kyle go see the film himself and make up his own mind. Hell, YOU haven't even seen it and you're telling people to go plop their money down to see a movie they've probably already seen. How is that getting your money's worth? At this point, save your money on "The Dark Knight" and buy the damn DVD in two months.
Film Fan on Aug 22, 2008
I am arguing that an action movie can not be made without plot holes, and your only retort is this is a shitty action movie? That logic doesn't make sense. Especially since it is more than likely you haven't seen this movie. First of all TDK was an amazing movie...but that was barely an action movie (It is pretty much a straight drama with a few bouts of violence), and I am sorry that too had huge plot holes. The whole premise of batman is a giant plot hole in itself. The only movies without plot holes are certain dramas which no offense but you can't sit down and watch a drama every day of your life. An action movie is like pop music. The only people who can universally hate action movies, are the same type of people who universally hate pop music and don't give it any credit.
Kyle A. Koyote on Aug 22, 2008
I like action movies. I like B movies. I like Jason Statham. I REALLY like Joan Allen. This movie though, I didn't like. It felt like a commercial for a video game. I might have enjoyed it if it went totally over the top, but as it was...meh. Mediocre. I checked my watch a LOT during this movie.
Ding on Sep 14, 2008
This site really needs to start rating sub par movies accurately as to help define and support true movie gems
Voice Of Reason on Sep 15, 2008
Death Race blew hard. I went in there expecting very little, and walked out disappointed. The only thing that is watchable in this movie is the race scenes. Everything else made me want to walk out of the movie. The ending is the worst ending to a movie that I can remember. It was as if the writers realized after they finished the script that the main villain wasn't taken care of so they just threw the end scene in there.
Alex S. on Sep 17, 2008
you guys seriously walking in to this movie and expecting a good story ? come on now, the story itself is already in the trailer if you haven't seen it yet, and i totally loved it, worth my money if you would say, i'm in for the actions, for Statham, for Ian McShane as a good guy, and the rides. you should step away if you're looking for a good story with no plot holes etc. i agree with Mr.Powers, a 7.5/10 is my verdict too. i'm just wondering, why are sites like rotten tomatoes with their panel of so called ''film critics'' so harsh on films like these (Speed Racer is another one), they totally blasted movies like these, i just don't understand why can't they take the movie for what it is, instead of trying to mold every movie into the same shape. and how do film critics get a job anyway? is that even a job, i mean, sitting down and writing how bad a film is after the production crew went thru 1 to 2 years of filming and editing etc; and after all that hard work, the film critics are gonna just sit down and write what their sorry ass think of that film ? i mean.. come on...
andrew on Sep 19, 2008
if you want boom,blood and hotties i suggest you see it! it's wicked i loved it and i would go and see it a hundred times over i was well and truley entertained! thats what i think some of you are forgetting..... its only entertainment so just let it go.!!
Cairan on Sep 28, 2008
here here andrew! i second that ur a don!
Cairan on Sep 28, 2008
come on guys not all movies are shot to achieve Oscar winning performances. this movie just as its big brother DR2000 was a fast moving, blood splattering, gastanks exploding fun movie to watch. and it was a huge succes in that angle in my opinion. we are let aware about the basics of the characters as the film starts or progress. thats enough for me. but this movie is not a drama, its not a love story, its pure out of the can waiting to explode action movie 😀 who cares if there are missing parts in the characters background. the action was great, the cars were awesome, the chase scenes, the set up, the varied death and destruction of the racers/cars were all great 😀
burak on Nov 14, 2008
Someone commented that the film had 26% on rotten tomatoes, but I hate that website, for the reason that most of the time I like completely different things from everyone else. Maybe I have bad taste? Anyway, I really enjoyed this movie and all the action.
Cougar Woman on Jul 3, 2009
I just watched this movie. To be honest it was a bit too much action for me and not much story, but the boys in my family loved it. My son especially loved the cars, so maybe it wasn't so bad?
Sue on Jan 25, 2010
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