Film Reviews

Death Race Paul W.S. Anderson

Rating - 7/10

First off, I think we can all agree that Death Race is an awesome name for a motion picture. Second, I think we can all agree that Jason Statham is the modern day king of the action genre. To recap, we have Britain’s baddest-of-all-asses in a movie entitled Death Race. I’d end this review here, but editorial guidelines demand more words.

Though there is a bit of setup at the beginning involving Statham being framed for the murder of his wife (during one of the most ho-hum home invasion sequences ever put on film), Death Race is ultimately a movie about a fictional television show where convicts race around a track in armored cars and shoot each other with machine guns to win their freedom.

Read that last paragraph again. You know now whether or not you are the sort of person who wishes to view this film.

As is made clear by the time the convicts start driving over icons on the track to activate their weapons, this is another installment in the phenomenon known as The Filmed Video Game. Not to be confused with The Video Game Film (on which Anderson made his career), it is any film that makes you wish you were sitting in the theater with a controller in your hand instead of an overpriced cup of Coke Zero. Additionally, it must be a film that could easily serve as an adaptation for a specific game series, lacking only the license.* 300 is a member (Space Invaders with Persians instead of little green men). So is Starship Troopers (Starcraft to its very soul).

(*Note: In some cases, even if said game series already has an adaptation, fans may opt to replace the Video Game Film with the Filmed Video Game, if only in their own minds, should the official version be truly awful, as they often are.

In that sense, Death Race is the Twisted Metal film we never got, and it is good. The action is filmed in high style, and the three-race setup of the tournament make it impossible for even a flashy boob like Anderson to mess up the pacing. While the film’s two “twists” are seen from some eighty miles away, the ante is upped with each subsequent race, and every last one of them has their share of “oh s***!” moments, thus upholding the implied social contract I implicitly entered into with Universal upon purchasing admission to their motion picture.

It is worth noting that the final race is particularly inspired, and for those last 15 minutes or so, the film transcends its gleeful idiocy and I had to give it credit for wrapping things up in a more intense (dare I say clever) fashion. Watching the third act of Death Race feels like watching a tighter, smarter version of itself, and unlike some films (*coughcoughtransformerscoughcough*) this actually leaves you feeling more entertained by the movie as a whole, instead of filled with a resentful wish that the Entire Film Was That Way.

In the end, what makes Death Race work so well is that it understands what it is and does not aspire to be anything more. It is the classic Wronged Man Fights His Way To The Bad Guy In The Ivory Tower And Kills Him Picture. The fact that Statham’s weapons of choice are four-wheeled instruments of doom instead of berettas do not lessen this truth; nor does the fact that the Bad Guy isn’t actually a guy, which in fact adds a sort of subtlety to the piece - in spite of its own stupid brand of awesome - that most Anderson productions lack: Is Statham fighting only for himself, or to free an entire island of men – and maybe even the carnage-addicted viewers at home -  from the iron-fisted rule of woman? Does Joan Allen's warden character do this for the money, the power, or (as the eighty ton phallic-symbol-with-guns she unleashes onto the track late in the film suggests) maybe she just has some unresolved guy issues?

Or perhaps I'm just long overdue for a date, preferably with the kind of lass who thinks a film like Death Race is a good pick for a first outing.