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Death Race [DVD]

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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.

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About Caffeinated Clint

The writer/publicist/producer who wears the editor hat on Moviehole. Favorite films include "Say Anything...", "The Hunt for Red October", "Jerry Maguire", "Almost Famous", "Die Hard", "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo", "Young Guns", "American Psycho", "Back to the Future" and the "Star Wars" series.
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