Death Race [DVD]

By Clint Morris

A long-gestating remake (at one stage Tom Cruise was set to produce and star in it; Cruise’s producing partner Paula Wagner retains a producing credit on it) of B-movie legend Roger Corman’s wickedly violent and silly-ass 70s caper “Death Race 2000″, “Death Race” revels in its ridiculousness and the charm of its muscular lead actor.

Original pic told of Frankenstein (David Carradine), a contestant in a brutal car race of the future where pedestrians are run down for points. The character – kinda – returns for the follow-up. The remake, set in 2012, is set within the halls of a maximum-security prison run by the Weyland Corporation, which sees jails full of thugs as an opportunity for televised sport. Adrenalized inmates, a global audience hungry for violence and a spectacular, enclosed arena come together to form the ‘Death Race’, the world’s biggest, most brutal car-race where ideally, only one driver will be left standing by the end of the, er, season. When the ‘real’ Frankenstein (voiced by Carradine) is killed in a race, the head of the Weyland Corporation (Joan Allen) brings in another prisoner, the erroneously caged Jensen (Jason Statham), to wear the mask – hoping to retain the ratings and fool everyone that the star of the race is still alive. Participants in the ‘Death Race’ include Machine-Gun Joe (Tyrese Gibson playing Sylvester Stallone’s part from the original) and 14k (Robin Shou).

Anyone that walks out of “Death Race” screaming to their buddies “Wow! Wasn’t that a great movie!” obviously hasn’t seen the original. The original film was a blast – it was super violent (the whole ‘knocking down pedestrians for points’ thing has been excised from the remake, for a start), immerse with subtle but noticeable political messages and featured a charismatic and commanding David Carradine. It was one of the best bad movies of its time. The remake is like a ‘diet’ version of the original – it’s still violent, and it still has lots of car-racing, but it’s not quite as much fun and it’s seemingly almost held back by its rating. More so, the script is an absolute shocker – we learn nothing about the characters! Who are they? What are they in jail for!? And what’s with that ending!? Was anyone else let down by such a cheap conclusion?

It’s not the “great movie!” some of the youngsters, oblivious to the fact there was a better version released thirty years before, declare, but director Paul W.S Anderson’s (“Alien Vs Predator”, “Mortal Kombat”) remake is still a good time. Statham is perfectly cast as the ‘muscle’ behind the wheel, Tyrese is – albeit not quite as menacing as Stallone was in the original – a force to be reckoned with as Machine-Gun Joe, Joan Allen is naturally brilliant as the cold-hearted warden, and Ian McShane, though underutilized, is a welcome addition as Coach, the leader of his pit crew. The race sequences are where all the fun is to be had – watch the participants try and one up each other (or better still, kill each other) with the various tools they, and their car, have at their disposal; watch as they squash drivers silly enough to get out of their car, and marvel in some terrifically-choreographed stunts. It’s a rev-heads dream… an orgasmic mix of on-road mayhem that plays at 1000 miles per hour! One for the Playstation (since it plays like a fun video-game) crowd!

Extras

This new ‘unrated’ version (there’s only five minutes more footage – just some carnage and a needless flashback sequence or two) comes with a few bonus features : commentary with director Paul W.S. Anderson and producer Jeremy Bolt (in which Anderson says the ‘unrated’ longer cut of the film is actually not really worthwhile – fuck, Universal would’ve loved that comment), a featurette on the stunts, and a fairly-standard making-of.