Let me start off by telling you that there is no way to gauge how hyped I was for this film. This is a review about the value of camp. This is a review that gives you part of my life's essence. This is a review about the truth and about the effect of film and how it shapes a man into the type of deranged cinephile that I have become.
TWENTY-FIVE OR MORE YEARS AGO I spent the night at my friend Chris Lemon's house. On that fateful evening, we watched DEATH RACE 2000. It is a mean-spirited little movie about the future and a bunch of fiberglassed silly-cars plowing their way across the land hitting everything bi-ped in sight. Bonus points are for old people and babies. It is a twisted vision couched in profanity, boobs and lots and lots of 70s splatter. There is a pre-muscled Stallone in there. There is a stoic Carradine in there. I had never seen such a crass thing, and it took me weeks to process the assault.
A few years ago, I picked up DEATH RACE 2000 on VHS and began the mastery. The bottom line is that it is a mediocre film all the way across. The upshot is that it knows it is mediocre and it plays that mediocrity to the hilt. It goes slapstick. It is silly. It is mean. It has nothing really positive to say. It is just there, for giggles and juvenile snorts. DEATH RACE 2000 is a piece of crap is what I am trying to say here. There is no reason for anyone to seriously watch this film, unless they are hopelessly nostalgic, as I am.
And now we come to the 2008 re-imagining of DEATH RACE. Right out of the gate, I have to cite a few things. I LIKE Jason Statham. I think this guy is where it is at. Forget Kung-Fu, this guy is a brawler. In all of his movies, he does a pretty good job of beating people into submission with his fists. I don't remember the plot for THE BANK JOB but I do remember Statham WRECKING FOOLS in that movie. The man is formidable, and that is half of my ticket sale right there. Here is another thing: I like Joan Allen. I do. She is this frail looking creature, but you know she is spunky and vicious when she needs to be. Lastly, I like cars. I like them big, loud, fast and violent. DEATH RACE was tailor made for my ilk.
DEATH RACE is a BLAST. It is some of the best fun I have had in a theatre in a long time. I was rolling with other Mediasaurs, so that was cool; but the hype was in the air, and it was kinetic.
The plot is really rather simple, suitable for a movie about a DEATH RACE. This guy gets framed, yanked into prison, forced to race and then there is a sub-plot about his attempt to escape. But then the movie takes it too far and tacks on elements of serious film. A serious film has a protagonist with emotions. A serious film has a guy with real-time odds he has to deal with. But these are out of place in DEATH RACE to begin with. Furthermore, they are never integrated in a convincing way. The half-assed realism bookends the movie.
What needed to happen was a complete disconnect from all semblance of reality. They needed to go headlong into this ridiculous, violent world and stretch it all. DEATH RACE never reaches out, grabs the brass ring and assumes the 100% reality-stretch position. They did a good job of stretching big parts of the reality, but the whole tapestry needed to be worked over. All of the scenes in prison, all of the car races, all of the violence, death, explosions, tobacco smoke and splatter are part of the reality-stretch. Anything that happens outside of the prison are attempts at some so-called "real-reality." This is a mistake on Paul W.S. Anderson's part.
Paul W.S. Anderson is a hack by the way. EVENT HORIZON and RESIDENT EVIL are the movies that come to mind when I think of this clown prince of Hollywood. The mad ass-hatter. I want to hate him because he screws up time and time again. This time though, I have to say that he pulled in at about 89%. The original DEATH RACE 2000 ended with a final fatality--the news guy. This DEATH RACE ends with a strange Zihuatanejo/SHAWSHANK vibe in a wrecking yard with Tyrese, Statham, Statham's baby and a shimmying Natalie Martinez. It falls completely short. The stuff that got you there did not, however.
DEATH RACE is socially conscious. All of the races are broadcast online in their crimson glory. The roads are mapped out like video game tracks with power-ups. I am amazed that DEATH RACE isn't on the PS2 or 3 as I write this. That movie had "video game" written all over it.
DEATH RACE is completely sexist. The women aren't racing in this. no, they are bussed in from a nearby women's facility. The camera ogles them and that is all they are there for. It is only obvious that Joan Allen had to be the HBIC in this movie, or else the issue that I just brought up would have sunk the film completely.
DEATH RACE is violent, but not over the line. There is a line in R-rated movies. mainstream Hollywood movies know that line, B-movies do not. DEATH RACE maintains the the A-movie violence line. The violence is processed, clean and edited perfectly. There are no lingering guts on the walls and no chunks of brain on the dashboard.
DEATH RACE is frenetic. The racing passages are awe inspiring. The speed communicated by these heavy metal killing machines is really convincing. The bullets flying and the slow motion shots of cars whizzing by as spent shells hit the ground is dizzying. All sorts of things regarding motion are captured on film and it works.
DEATH RACE is predictable. You know who is going to get hit. You know who is going to get hit hard, and who is just going to be a passing casualty.
The bottom line? DEATH RACE is FUN. Hang your brain at the door. Go into this thing looking for eye candy, violence and some wicked one-liners, and you are set. If you go in trying to analyze this thing as a serious film as the rest of the critics have, you are going to dislike it. This isn't a serious movie. And when it tries to be serious, it fails. Perhaps one more rewrite and we could have had campiness all the way through. We were almost there though.
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