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Movies Kelly Parks

Review by
Kelly Parks

Death Race
DEATH RACE - 2008
Universal Pictures
USA: Rated R

Have you seen Roger Corman’s classic 1975 sci-fi/thriller, DEATH RACE 2000? It’s an awesomely weird, wonderful movie about a race across the country where drivers get points for running down pedestrians, all on national TV and with the blessing of Mr. President, America’s dictator since the worldwide economic collapse of 1979. It was Corman’s most successful film.

So when I heard Paul W.S. Anderson (EVENT HORIZON, RESIDENT EVIL [all], AVP: ALIEN vs. PREDATOR) was doing a re-make I thought, okay, a modern take on this story might be cool. I just want you to know that I approached it with an open mind.

DEATH RACE was written and directed by Mr. Anderson. It begins with several pages of text telling us that after an economic collapse unemployment and crime spiraled out of control in the U.S. As a result the prison system had to be turned over to PRIVATE CORPORATIONS.

Death Race teaser
WHY DID THE FINAL DEATH RACE MOVIE POSTER LOOK SO DULL? THIS TEASER LOOKED PRETTY COOL.

I wrote that in blood red bold because that’s how it appeared on screen.

And as everyone knows, the government has no power to regulate these horrible, evil entities so when they started doing pay-per-view and internet subscription cage fighting death matches, who could stop them? No one, that’s who.

Cage matches to the death weren’t enough for the public’s bloodlust, however, so then came Death Race.

Cut to a race taking place on the grounds of the huge prison complex on Terminal Island. The heavily armed vehicles are in the home stretch with Frankenstein (a man so horribly disfigured from multiple crashes that he always wears a mask) in the lead and his arch enemy Machine Gun Joe (Tyrese Gibson: TRANSFORMERS) close behind. The race does not end well, depending on your point of view.

Cut to hard working man Jensen Ames (Jason Statham: GHOSTS OF MARS) being laid off from his job by another one of those damn private corporations. He goes home to his wife and daughter and lives a long and happy life.

Not really. He gets framed for a terrible crime and ends up in Terminal Island. Turns out Jensen has a background as a race car driver which makes him the perfect guy to be the new Frankenstein since the old Frankenstein, well, died. But cold as ice Warden Hennessey (Joan Allen: MANHUNTER, THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, THE BOURNE SUPREMACY) doesn’t want the public to know that because Frankenstein is very popular. The only other people in on the deception are Jensen’s pit crew: Coach (Ian McShane: DEADWOOD [TV], SEXY BEAST), Gunner (Jacob Vargas: DRAGONFLY, THE HILLS HAVE EYES II) and Lists (Frederick Koehler: A KISS BEFORE DYING, OZ [TV]).

Oh, and Elizabeth (Natalie Martinez), his navigator.

Okay, enough description. Navigator? Why the hell would you need a navigator on a closed course? The only reason would be because in the original movie each car had a navigator (usually a hot chick), which makes sense in a cross country race but here, not so much.

Death Race German
THIS GERMAN MOVIE POSTER LOOKED THE BEST, AND IN FACT, WOUND UP BEING THE DVD COVER AS WELL. WHY THE SUCKY U.S. THEATER POSTER?

I also have to point out that having a navigator and having a character named Frankenstein and a character named Machine Gun Joe are the only things this movie has in common with the original. Otherwise the story is so completely different that I have a hard time thinking of it as a remake at all.

Now I can understand that if a director decides to do a remake he will, of course, want to put his own spin on the story – otherwise what’s the point of doing a remake in the first place? But if you tell an entirely different story what’s the point of even calling it a remake?

But what’s done is done and I need to judge this movie on its merits as a story and not let Mr. Anderson’s strange choice affect my review. Even so, I think I need to take a breath so let’s pause for a

!!!SCIENCE MOMENT!!!:
Just as a technical point I’d like to mention that machine guns blazing away are cool, but that coolness comes at the cost of lots and lots of ammo which is pretty damn heavy to carry around, especially in a race car! And that’s all I have to say about that.

Judged on its own merits, DEATH RACE certainly isn’t Mr. Anderson’s best work (I liked AVP much better). But it does have a certain check-your-brain-at-the-door style to it: lots of crashes and explosions and gory deaths and a plot that doesn’t stand up to the slightest bit of scrutiny (is it really believable that a man who is clearly a sociopathic casual murderer becomes best buddies with the good guy at the end?). And I did like that the voice of Frankenstein in the opening scene was done by David Carradine (he played Frankenstein in the original version). That just barely pushed it into three shriek girl territory.

Barely.

Shriek GirlsShriek GirlsShriek Girls
This review copyright 2009 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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