Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Death Race (2008)

I recently wrote about the unlikely success of British actor Jason Statham and his very dubious action films which seem to be beloved of teenaged boys who want more bang for their buck. This recent effort falls squarely in that league, especially since it is directed by hack Paul W. S. Anderson who is never to be confused with cognoscenti darling Paul Thomas Anderson.

The mystifying anomaly is that this movie derives its name from the 1975 cult fave "Death Race 2000", shares a producer with Roger Corman, and even uses the same names for the two lead characters, Frankenstein (Statham) and Machine Gun Joe (Tyrese Gibson), but that's where the similarities end. The earlier slapdash movie set out to make hit-and-run driving a spectator sport as the colourful contestants, led by David Carradine and Sylvester Stallone, garnered points for the number and type of pedestrians maimed and/or killed. Its tongue stayed firmly in its cheek and it was pretty mindless fun.

This so-called re-make is more like mindless mayhem. Statham plays an ex-racing ace who is railroaded into prison on a faked-up murder charge so that he can assume the legendary status (and mask) of a driver who has died on the operating table. Set in the near future, all of the drivers are inmates looking for a release by winning the violent contest organised by their warden, Joan Allen of all people, who has found a formula for making big money on the jaded and bloodthristy taste of the internet viewer. One doubts that she was in this farrago for more than a paycheck, since she is reduced to acting the big bitch and mouthing some appalling dialogue. There is also a meaty part for old-time British actor Ian McShane who seems to have found a new lease of life in the States after "Deadwood". All of the cars and the track are fitted with machine guns, grenade-launchers, and flame-throwers and the idea is to completely demolish the field by killing the competition in the noisiest and most grisly fashion. For no good reason a bunch of shapely female prisoners are imported to act as navigators, since apart from being the ultimate tough guy, the rather dirty-looking Statham must prove irresistible to women as well.

As luck would have it, this movie was the final film at the 2008 FrightFest and we wisely skipped it at the time, just knowing that it would be the nonsense that it is. Now this year's Festival is upon us, starting tomorrow evening through Monday. It's the tenth anniversary edition with a sidebar of B-movies as well; we have a week-end pass and lots of good intentions to stay awake from early morning through the late-night showings, but time and age will tell. There will be a full report -- probably in a series of articles -- next week, but definitely nothing before Tuesday at the earliest. So wish me luck...
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