Short Version: Don’t ask for more than what’s being offered and you will enjoy it.
Screen Rant reviews Death Race: Fast cars, big guns, hot chicks. As promised.
If there is one thing that can be said about Jason Statham, it’s that the man is an action star you can tell is hungry for success, willing to put life and limb on the line for your entertainment. And that effort usually shows in the finished product.
Death Race is no exception.
Naysayers have accosted it for being a mindless, video-game-wannabe, T&A parading, testosterone-ridden mess of a film. (If there is one thing I hate, it’s those whose only “critical” talent is stating the super-obvious.)
And indeed, Death Race is every single thing critics have accused it of being. But for those of us capable of discerning exactly what a film is offering, all that means is that the movie delivers on what it promises, no more, no less. Whether that offer is something you want to receive depends on you.
The plot, as you might imagine, is pretty simplistic: In the future America’s economy has spiraled out of control. Unemployment is rampant amongst the working class, the government’s position has been weakened, leaving private corporations to call the shots. In these dire conditions, many people are forced to turn to lawlessness, causing the prison system to overflow with inmates until a corporate shark known only as Hennessey (Joan Allen), offers up a novel idea: transform prisoners into the new gladiators, pitting them against one another in battle for the viewing pleasure of Web junkies worldwide.
And so, Death Race is born.
Enter Jason Statham as Jensen Ames, a former badass NASCAR driver turned loving husband/father, struggling to make ends meet. When an assassin murders his wife, Ames takes the fall for her death and is sent to prison. There, Hennessey makes him an offer he can’t refuse: either Ames can don the iron mask of perennial Death Race champion, Frankenstein, or he can rot in prison and never see his daughter again. Obviously Ames chooses the former, otherwise we wouldn’t have a movie to talk about.
What happens next can be summed up in two words: Death Racing. Each stock-character racer (an Asian, a Skinhead, a Latino, a Black guy,) is given a car with enough armor to be considered a tank, mounted with obscenely large (and deafeningly loud) guns, some defensive weapons like smoke screens and oil slicks, and a hot-chick navigator to help them steer the course, find shortcuts, etc. Like any good video game, the race is held in three stages, and weapons can only be accessed by driving over electronic “power-ups” that look like manhole covers. After 15 minutes of setup, the drivers start their engines and murder and mayhem ensue for the next 70 minutes.
(How Joan Allen got stuck in this quagmire is a secret only the Devil knows for sure.)
There is some plot involved now and again, like Ames uncovering the conspiracy behind his wife’s murder and getting revenge on those involved; “Frankenstein’s” long-standing vendetta with fellow death-racer, Machine Gun Joe (Tyrese Gibson); and a hackneyed third act, complete with a cringe-worthy sugar-coated ending. But none of that matters. The (only) moments where Death Race shines is during the racing scenes, which director Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil) films with an unflinching eye for fast action, old-school stuntman F/X, buckets of gore, drab colors and enough explosive eye-candy absurdity to keep the A.D.D. generation interested. (The sound effects hammering your ear drums also make it hard to sleep through this movie.)
So, final word: Forget about plot, dialogue, character development, or the definition of the word “originality.” If you like fast cars, video game absurdity and hot chicks, go to a Sunday matinee (or wait for a rainy Sunday to watch the DVD), turn your brain volume all the way down to zero, and enjoy Death Race for the guilty pleasure that it is.
And if you can’t do that… well, my friend, you’re probably watching movies for all the wrong reasons to begin with.