In the 2008 film Death Race, Jensen Ames loses his wife in a home invasion and is wrongfully accused of her murder. He is then sentenced to life in prison. The film takes place in a post industrial world where the penal system is a privately owned, for profit business. The correctional facility Ames is sent to is famous for a competition called Death Race. Soon after his arrival, Ames is invited to participate in the prison’s most notorious competition. The warden promises Ames that if he wins the race, she will set him free. The contest pits inmates against one another in a racetrack that is full of life threatening obstacles and provides the drivers with a variety of creative tools with which to attack one another. Ames quickly learns that the warden doesn’t play by the rules and neither do his fellow inmates. He must adapt quickly if he is to stand a chance of survival.
Death Race is written and directed by genre film auteur Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil). It is a remake of the futuristic Roger Corman produced film Death Race 2000. This reboot gets a lot of things right, the most important of which is that it separates itself from the original film with a plot that only loosely parallels its source material. It revamps the original film with neo-grindhouse elements and a more character driven story line. Death Race plays out something like a cross between The Running Man and Death Race 2000. The post-industrial prison game show theme is very reminiscent of the Schwarzenegger film The Running Man but Death Race brings just enough original ideas to the table to keep from being entirely derivative of other films.
Death Race does not outdo the original but it isn’t necessarily trying to. It seems as though this 2008 remake is aiming to be a companion piece and as that, it works just fine.
While not a proper horror film, Death Race certainly contains an abundance of horror elements. It boasts a high body count and a fair amount of onscreen bloodshed. It is the kind of action film that is likely to appeal to horror fans. It melds fast paced action with the prominent display of violence and the outcome is a film with cross genre appeal.
The action is nonstop and the pacing is set to breakneck speed in Death Race. The film starts and ends with a bang and there is nearly no down time to speak of.
The performances are not the film’s strong suit but they don’t detract from the picture either. Jason Statham’s (Crank) portrayal of Ames is the most noteworthy in the film. He convincingly plays a con with a moral code. Tyrese Gibson (2 Fast 2 Furious) comes on a little too strong as Machine Gun Joe but his performance isn’t so excessive as to derail the film. He overacts from time to time and tries too hard to convince the viewer of just how evil he is.
The effects in Death Race are exceptional. There isn’t much gore by horror movie standards but for an action movie, there is plenty of bloodshed.
If you have somehow passed over Death Race, it is a breezy, action packed thriller with inventive kill scenes and very well executed effects. It’s definitely worth checking out. And if you haven’t seen the Roger Corman produced original that is also well worth looking into.
Director(s): Paul W.S. Anderson
Writer(s): Paul W.S. Anderson
Stars: Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, Joan Allen
Studio/ Production Co: Universal Pictures
Budget: $45 Million
Length: 104 Minutes