Death Race – It’s another one of those remake/re-imagining deals, this time based on the old cult classic, Death Race 2000. And brought to you by Paul W. Anderson (eek!). Luckily, I have yet to see the original so no comparisons in this review.
Even more fortunate, I actually really liked this movie. Jason Statham stars as Jensen Ames, an ex-racer wrongfully accused of the murder of his wife and coincidentally banged up in a savage prison that runs the “Death Race” tournament, a ratings winner that sees drivers compete against each other around tracks featuring a variety of weapons and defensive features. Yes, it’s just like a lot of those drive and shoot video-games we have all seen before but that doesn’t seem to bother anyone involved. Ian McShane plays a wise old mechanic, Tyrese Gibson is the main rival, Natalie Martinez is nice eye-candy as the navigator (every car has one) and Joan Allen is on great form as the bitchy warden who will do anything to keep folks in line and keep the ratings high. Throw in some other mean drivers and wardens and you have the standard “prison movie” selection.
From the very beginning, with it’s on-screen explanation and rush straight into an action set-piece, this movie makes it very clear that you just need to sit back and enjoy the dangerous ride. This is made even clearer, if you were in any doubt, by the pop-up information throughout the movie (all in the proper “Death Race” viewing format) and the way we are spoon-fed scripted moments and character clues.
But never mind that, this film is all about Jason Statham racing for his life in a souped-up beast of a car while he gets rid of the opposition as quickly, and sometimes messily, as possible. The deaths are gory and painful and impressive for this type of film. And as for the action, despite the predictability factor it is very well executed and does the best it can in strapping you alongside the racetrack for the best view of the carnage.
Dumb fun, yes, but the kind of dumb fun that Anderson can excel at when he gets more things right than wrong and that is the case here.
Death Race 2 – I’m not really sure that fans of Death Race were sitting around at home eagerly awaiting a prequel but, whaddyaknow, they got one anyway.
Luke Goss is the star (stop sniggering, despite his boyband roots I’ve enjoyed Goss in recent years mainly thanks to his work with Guillermo del Toro) playing Carl “Luke” Lucas. He’s a decent type of criminal who works for the indecent Markus Kane (Sean Bean). He’s also a very good driver. More importantly, for the purposes of this storyline anyway, he’s arrested after a botched robbery sees a policeman killed and ends up in the prison that will eventually start up the Death Race competition.
A standard sequel in almost every respect, this has a few minor actors returning (namely Frederick Koehler as Lists), some limited screentime for a few bigger names (Bean, Danny Trejo, Ving Rhames) and then a whole host of people far from the A-list who, to be fair, just get the job done and dive into the car-based carnage.
The action is solid, though not as exciting as it all was in the first movie, and the way that events lead up to the way things were at the start of the first film is well handled and satisfying for fans (there’s even a fleeting appearance from Joan Allen, albeit only in the form of a photograph as she is picked out for her role as warden).
Director Roel Reine does what he needs to do, as does Tony Giglio in the script department, and the movie impresses for a direct to DVD film but never really punches above it’s weight.
The cast all do a good job with Goss playing tough but cool and Lauren Cohan delivering a great turn as the hungry career woman who sees people in terms of ratings (the little titbit that she was once a beauty queen who was stripped of her crown after allegations of sexual relations with all five of the judges is both amusing and revealing too) but this movie, like the first, is all about the action and the messy death scenes.
It’s not as gory, not as slick and not quite as entertaining as it’s predecessor but Death Race 2 would make for a decent enough second half in any evening involving beer, pizza and destruction derbies.
DIRECTOR: PAUL W.S. ANDERSON/ROEL REINE
CAST: JASON STATHAM, IAN MCSHANE, JOAN ALLEN, TYRESE GIBSON, FREDERICK KOEHLER, LUKE GOSS, DANNY TREJO
RUNTIME: 111 MINS APPROX (EXTENDED EDITION)/ 100 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: USA/GERMANY/UK/SOUTH AFRICA