Saturday, September 27, 2008

DEATH RACE (2008) - does exactly what is says on the tin

Frankenstein can't die. He's just a mask.Back in the 70s schlock movie maestro Roger Corman produced a drive-in hit called DEATH RACE 2000. It starred David "Kill Bill" Carradine as Frankenstein, a racing driver in a dystopian future where the US government runs gladiatorial cross-country violent auto races to keep the plebs happy. Racers get points for how many and what type of people they run over - therein the social satire.

Brit helmer Paul W S Anderson's DEATH RACE is less a straightforward remake than a loose re-working. In fact, bar the violent car racing, I thought DEATH RACE (2008) had more in common with the Schwarzenegger classic, RUNNING MAN, where death-row inmates fight each other on national TV for a chance at freedom. Like RUNNING MAN, DEATH RACE posits a dystopian future in which ratings are king and pay-per-view dollars don't so much grease the wheels of justice as steer the driving wheel.

A demure-looking Joan Allen plays the greedy capitalist bastard at the top of the pile. She hams it up as Warden Hennessy, the Madam running the show. Her job is to select the appropriate drivers from her prison full of murderers and wack-jobs; drum up the publicity; milk the pay-per-view dollars; and then run the three-day Death Race. Simple as. Only problem is, her most lucrative driver, Frankenstein, is dead, and she needs a replacement.

Here steps in Jason Statham as the patsy in the driver's seat. He doesn't do anything more than the typical Jason Statham performance - gruff voice, buff body - this man's career is a glorious triumph against all rationale! To watch Statham try to force up some emotion at a picture of his baby daughter, or to try to register intellectual effort as he works out whodunnit, is comedy of the purest form. Anyways, he's joined in a souped-up racing car by sexpot Nathalie Martinez. You have to hand it to Paul W.S. Anderson: there's something wicked about being so blatantly exploitative but then writing that exploitation into the social critique in the film. He HAS to cast a hot chick because that's exactly what the Pay Per View Death Race execs would do!

Anyways, there's a bunch of car races. There are horrific mash-ups. Heavily tattooed men of many ethnicities die. Eventually, Statham figures it out and we all go home. Job done. It's not pretty, it's not intelligent, and it's nowhere near as brilliantly trashy as RUNNING MAN, but if you want mindless entertainment, look no further.

DEATH RACE was released last month in Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, the USA, Indonesia and the Ukraine. It is currently on release in Iceland, Russia, Estonia, Romania and the UK. It is released next weekend in the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Poland and Spain. It opens later in October in Belgium, Egypt, France, Hungary, Mexico, Turkey, Brazil, Finland, Sweden and Argentina. It opens in November in Venezuela, Slovakia, Italy, Norway, Germany, Denmark and Japan. It opens in Chile on December 4th.

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