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FILM REVIEW: Death Race


There's nothing like hi-octane, blood-filled racing on the big screen...


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The year was 1993 and my high school girlfriend loved to watch David Carradine and Sly Stallone tear up the road in the 1975 classic Death Race 2000. We'd rent the movie (on VHS no less!) and make out while scenes of highway ultra-violence in a society gone mad played out before our eyes. I'm not sure if it was the almost comedic cars, the stale acting, or the over-the-top plot, but something about the movie made her fall in love with it (and me!) over and over again...

Fast forward 15 years, add Paul W.S. Anderson, and then subtract my high school girlfriend and damn near everything that made the original worth watching and you've got yourself what most critics are calling a piece of crap "reimagined" movie called Death Race.

And while I disagree with most critics, there's no doubt this isn't anything like the original 1975 film...

While none of the social commentary present in the original makes an impressionable appearance, what Anderson - best known for 2004's Alien vs Predator - has done is, instead, bring to life the 1995 hit video game Twisted Metal. While I've no doubt producer Roger Corman wanted to bring the film "up to speed" for a new generation, what 33 years ago seemed like an original film full of interesting and socially applicable ideas now sadly seems tired and old.

That said, I love Death Race.

Call me an idiot or stupid, but there's nothing like a bit of the ol' ultra-violence. When you combine fast armored cars with guns mounted on their hoods, a revenge story, a few hot women, and actors Jason Statham, Ian McShane and Tyrese Gibson...well...let's just say watching a film on the big screen with a theater full of action fans hasn't been this fun in months.

The story is simple: the US economy has taken a dump, widespread unemployment ravages the land, and crime runs rampant. With more criminals and no where to put them, the country turns to private corporations to take over the prison system. One company, wanting to make money at the expense of the inmates hosts a "race to the death" which instantly becomes the #1 spectator sport in history. Enter: Death Race.

A three day, super-fast, no-holds-barred contest in which one lucky - and living - con will drive away with his freedom, Death Race plays host to heavily armed and armored vehicles the likes of which moviegoers have never seen.

Ex-factory worker Jensen Ames (Statham), whose sole goal in life is to provide for his beautiful wife and baby daughter, unfortunately fits the bill to fill the shoes of the recently deceased fan-favorite Death Race driver Frankenstein and fate - as well as Prison Warden Hennessey (Joan Allen) - step in to ensure Ames becomes the new Frankenstein.

Overall, the film isn't anything new and there are plenty of better post-industrial/apocalyptic films out there. However, for action fans looking for great gun fights, plenty of gore and amazing race scenes, Death Race is as good as gold.

The acting is fair at best with critically acclaimed actor Ian McShane (HBO's Deadwood) as Coach, the lead mechanic on Frankenstein's car and Ames' closest confidant. Tyrese Gibson also joins the cast as Machine Gun Joe, a gay mutilated racer looking for another notch in his belt...or bumper. Star Statham turns in an entertaining performance, his ability to kick ass behind the wheel just as exciting as his ability to kung fu kick a guy's head. While there's no martial arts to be found in Death Race, it's a fair bet Statham actually kicks even more ass behind the wheel of Monster, a modified 2005 Ford Mustang GT rigged with a NOS system, napalm, ejector seats, heavy armor and twin .30 calibur mini guns.

In fact, the real stars of Death Racer are Monster and the other supped up four-wheeled beasts the cons drive. Each sporting a unique look that's one part armored truck, one part HMMWV, and one part Porche 911, there's nothing like mounting machine guns or RPGs to a vehicle to bring out the best in its driver. In fact, after leaving the theater, I wanted nothing more than to mount two M-2 .50 cal machine guns on the hood of my wife's Ford Taurus and mow down anything and everything that got in my way. Alas, it was not to be...

Those looking to learn something from a film shouldn't even consider watching Death Race. Hell, you'll probably loose brain cells just buying the tickets. But for those who don't mind getting dumber watching movies and for those who enjoy fast cars, machine guns, blood, revenge, splattered brains, scary masks, mutilation, and hot women...well...let's just say Death Race is right up your alley.

- review by Jess C. Horsley


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