Death Race (2008)

Genres - Science Fiction  |   Sub-Genres - Sci-Fi Action  |   Release Date - Aug 22, 2008 (USA)  |   Run Time - 105 min.  |   Countries - Germany, United Kingdom, United States  |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Jeremy Wheeler

Witless and headache inducing, Paul W.S. Anderson's Death Race is a torturous big screen boxing glove of a flick that punishes all who dare come near. As an adaptation of Roger Corman's thoroughly outrageous cult film forefather, Death Race 2000, this annoying reimagining is a colossal failure that seems unable to comprehend what was so special about the original's mix of colorful characters, wild production design and scathing social satire. Even based on its own merits, Death Race is still a mess. Embracing much of the genre's filmmaking gaffs was the production's first mistake. Filmed with what seems like a camera mounted to a bobble head, the hyped-up peddle-to-the-meddle flick disorients its audience at every dizzying turn. The film also forgoes any thought put into distinguishing its racers thanks to poorly sketched out characters and some drearily similar car designs. Packed with videogame logic (buttons on the racetrack to trigger weapons) and paced to the speed of a snail when it's not sending out seizure-inducing images, this is one macho turd that, like another franchise it so desperately wants to be, will likely be fast and furiously forgotten about long before the checkered flag is waived.

It's not as if Anderson's track record promised greatness (his last film before this was Alien Vs. Predator for cryin' out loud) -- yet here is a prepackaged idea that is so entirely ripe for mining in its day and age that it boggles the mind as to why the picture was taken in this bland direction. So much could be done with the story of a society feeding off of a game of death, yet the virtuo-dodo filmmaker strips the flick to its most generic and even goes as far as to axe the pedestrian deaths angle -- leaving only room for muscles, metal and a whole lot of manure. The actors aren't quite to blame -- Jason Statham brings the same cold cool that makes him him, just as Ian McShane and Joan Allen effortlessly embody the mentor and villain roles, respectively. The problem stems from the fact that the cast is given so little to work with. Virtually every character is there simply to fill this or that dull moment before it's time for another grinding scene of mind-numbing mayhem to move the movie along. All of this would be different if the flick had any sense of humor -- or dare it be said, be a tad more inept. As it is now, Death Race is a 105-minute empty shell of noise and manic movement made to cash in on the members of society that the original was sending up. Maybe Paul Bartel and Corman were right -- if so, then there's plenty of room for this tale to be retold with even more Verhoeven-esque bite to its violence and satire -- or just leave it be. It was just fine the first time, kids.