out of Five
Running time: 100
Death Race is a travesty of the original film but it delivers enough explosions, violence and vroom-vroom action to ensure that it remains entertaining if you leave your brain in neutral.
What's it all about?
A Corman-sanctioned remake of his 1975 original, Death Race is directed by Paul WS Anderson and stars Jason Statham as Jensen Ames, an ex-con-slash-racecar driver who finds himself framed for murder and sent to a high-security prison run by Warden Hennessey (Joan Allen). The reason for his frame-up soon becomes apparent, as Ames is forced to don the mask of the mythical driver Frankenstein and compete for his life in a televised, high-speed, no-holds-barred Death Race, orchestrated by the Warden and run from behind the prison walls, with the heavily-armoured cars all packing serious weaponry.
The cast do their best with a disappointingly pedestrian script, particularly Statham, who's reached the point where he can do this sort of thing in his sleep (scowl, grunt, throw a punch, repeat). Joan Allen brings the film a touch of class it doesn't really deserve, but she doesn't do as much with the part as you're hoping she will.
Whether intentional or not (as with 2 Fast, 2 Furious), the most amusing thing about the film is the quasi-homoerotic relationship that develops between Statham and Gibson. In addition, Ian McShane gets all the best lines as Ames' genius mechanic, while Natalie Martinez provides the requisite eye-candy as Ames' smoking hot co-driver (the women are bussed in from another prison – it's best not to ask).
The action scenes are passable in that they deliver lots of explosions, gunfire and driving (there's even some ejector seat action) but the set-pieces are disappointing and the races quickly become monotonous, especially as the cars all look alike. In addition, the script strips out all the elements that made the original so much fun.
Death Race is watchable enough for a Friday night action movie, but it's nowhere near as much fun as the original.