August 21, 2008

Death Race

Here's your paycheck...I've already cashed mine.

Grade: C –

Director: Paul W.S. Anderson

Starring: Jason Statham, Joan Allen, Ian McShane, Tyrese Gibson, and Natalie Martinez

MPAA Rating: R

Running Time: 1 hour, 29 minutes

How do you devalue a Roger Corman film? Well, in the case of the 1975 cult (ahem…) classic Death Race 2000, you hand its remake over to perennial hack director Paul W.S. Anderson – he of Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil, and Alien vs. Predator infamy – and rework the plot into another entry in the increasingly rote “prisoner blood-sport” subgenre.

The sad result is Death Race, in which Jason Statham plays Jensen Ames, an ex-professional racer wrongly convicted of murdering his wife. Once behind bars, he is conscripted into competing against fellow inmates, including a gay gang-banger (Tyrese Gibson), in a series of auto races-to-the-death streamed live via pay-per-view over the Internet. Ian McShane serves as Jensen’s Morgan Freeman, coaching the driver through his own personal crankshaft redemption. Joan Allen, on-hand to cash a paycheck as the prison’s icy, sadistic warden, is caked in as much make-up as Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest (or just Faye Dunaway herself nowadays).

To the extent the film claims to be a cautionary tale about the reality-based direction of our entertainment universe, Death Race is guilty of the same offense as many of its similarly-themed brethren: it markets and glorifies the very depravity it purports to assail. Death Race is to red-blooded men what Sex in the City is for women: empty, mindless entertainment designed to tantalize primordial impulses.

Bereft of a sensible plot, two-dimensional characters, or any glint of eight decades in cinematic evolution, this is a testosterone geyser, an orgy of muscles, muscle cars, and just enough slow-motion T&A to tide you over between the explosions and homicidal mania. That said, there is a perverse glee in the nifty stunt-work and a not-so-futuristic, Escape From New York-ish dystopia in which skyrocking incarceration rates have led to the privatization of prisons run by profit-driven corporations. Oh, and hearing Allen call someone a "cocksucker."

Neil Morris

No comments: