Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Premise: A remake of Death Race 2000. In the future, prisons have become privatized and owned by entertainment companies. Inmates participate in webcast car races in an attempt to win their freedom.
What Works: Death Race is an unabashedly stupid picture. The filmmakers know this and go for the visceral fun of the speed, explosions, and grinding metal, not pretending to have any higher aspirations, and viewers who spend their days playing video games like Twisted Metal and watching monster truck rallies will probably enjoy it. The best element of Death Race is Joan Allen as the icy prison warden. Allen plays the role like a dungeon mistress–cool, controlled, and almost stoic, but with a hint of sexuality that comes across as very dangerous like Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct.
What Doesn’t: Although Death Race is not attempting to be a great statement on dehumanization or human rights, the film is still troubled by its vapidity. The opening crawl sets up expectations of a film about a future where human beings have become barbarians roused by immoral entertainment provided over the web. After the crawl, however, the film becomes a futuristic race car version of The Longest Yard. Unlike similar themed films such as The Running Man, Death Race does not make a link between the inmates, the game, and outside society. For anyone familiar with director Paul W.S. Anderson’s filmography, which includes Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil, and Alien Vs. Predator, this does not come as much of a surprise but even for Anderson this is low. Where his other films at least got the action right, the race scenes of Death Race are not all that well done either. Similar scenes were done far better in The Fast and the Furious, The Road Warrior, or even the pod race of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. The competition in Death Race is a mishmash of poorly edited crashes and explosions that have little sense of geography, fail to capture the excitement of speed, and make very little sense.
Bottom Line: Death Race, like its predecessor, is intended for play on the late night cable circuit. But for all of its speed and firepower, the movie is just not very thrilling.
Episode: #202 (August 31, 2008)