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Death Race: Updated, Not Improved.

Posted by goldwriting on August 22, 2008

The reason I am the only thing in focus here is sheer power of the “stare”. Don’t try it at home.

There has always been a trend in Hollywood to go back and remake classics, but the term “classics” is loosely defined between critically acclaimed movies and those which we just have a hell of time watching over and over again, sometimes re-coined as “cult classics”. Fans of both good and bad films raise their respective hands in horror and disbelief everytime another remake is greenlit, while others furrow their brows in confusion as to what inner voices compelled movie execs to take on that particular film update. So here we are again, witnessing the results of nervous hands reaching back into the annals of film history for something to bring back, something to put new wrapping paper on and re-gift to a whole new audience. Happy Birthday, Movie Fans; It’s Death Race!

The original film, Death Race 2000, was produced by legendary film icon Roger Corman, who also acted as one of the producers for the update as well. It was yet one more notch in the belt of an already stellar B-movie career, which included gems like The Little Shop of Horrors, Dementia 13 and Big Bad Mama. Another tidbit the former Death Race had on it’s side was the performances of Sylvester Stallone and David Carradine as Machine Gun Joe and Frankenstein respectively. Both were big names already, with Stallone only one year away from the stardom of Rocky, and these two actors lend a huge amount of camp value to digging through the DVD rental racks just to discover this timeless story of pre-eminent road rage. You might be thinking to yourself, without those two actors, how can this remake hold up? Well, the answer is simple, find a younger actor who can seemingly play absolutely any character with a car and a bad attitude: Jason Statham.

For those who have been living under a rock for the past ten years, Jason Statham is one of the most under-appreciated action stars of our generation. Launching himself to critical appeal in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels in 1998 he cemented his career moving forward by getting cast as the kung-fu thrilling, one liner spouting and impossibly percise driving lead in The Transporter. His trail through the movie ranks has been a tad wobbly at times, like his starring role in Uwe Boll’s In the Name of the King, but no one can fault him for striking while the iron is hot. Statham continues his streak in this flick with a heap of glaring shots through broken windshields and stare down moments after taking unbelievable punches and kicks to the head. The only piece missing for the true Statham fan is a distinct lack of martial arts, which makes sense on the story side of things, but I still wished for one good spin kick, ridgehand chop to the neck or even better, a homage to the greased pig fight ala Transporter style.

Surrounding our steely-eyed hero are a couple of people worth mentioning. Ian McShane, who is most recently known for mercilessly killing and beating people down in the Old West town of Deadwood, plays Coach, the institutionalized leader of Statham’s pit crew. Tyrese Gibson brings his own version of the stone cold glare over to play as the new Machine Gun Joe, which for one reason or another the new writers decided to make gay. Joan Allen takes a striking departure from her usual fare and turns in a stereotyped performance as the fiendishly powerful warden of the futuristic prison where the Death Race takes place. To get a literary glimpse into her role, picture her performance as Pam Landy from the last two Bourne films and turn the bitchiness up three more notches. Lastly, rounding out the cast, as well as her wardrobe, is the film debut of the dangerously curvy Natalie Martinez as Case, the navigator in Statham’s rolling wagon of destruction. The eye candy in this flick just got a little spicy.

The movie gives you exactly what you expect, fast cars, loud guns and explosions one after another. There are a few really impressive stunt sequences and the realism of the shots seemingly prompted the studio to put up a disclaimer at the end of the film to make sure people don’t go home that night and try to mount mini-cannons on the hood of their Honda Civic. One of the main things I can attack about this flick is not the movie itself, but the trailer. The first trailer to hit the screens was way too long and showed each and every plot twist. Admittedly, you don’t sit down for this with popcorn in hand expecting to be dazzled by well written story elements, but at least give the movie a chance to hit on all cylinders (oh hell yes, car references get me bonus points in this one).

Recommendation: It’s not bad for the die-hard Jason Statham fans and road rage enthusiasts, but for the genre it lands in, I might lean towards the recent decapitation-fest Doomsday. The theater experience is only going to help this one out, so hit up a matinée if you’re feeling the fire for it.

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