August 29, 2008

Death Race (2008)

For those of you who don't know, back in 1975 there was a woefully inadequate futuristic car racing movie called "Death Race 2000" where the drivers got points for running over pedestrians.

In fact that's pretty much all that it is remembered for apart from David Caradine playing a "not disfigured at all" character named Frankenstein. Others remember it for one of Sylvester Stallone's earliest roles. The least said about that the better. The whole thing was low-budget and only attained "cult" status because the idea was better than the execution.

This "Death Race" is totally different. Rather than being a direct remake, it borrows heavily from the idea of televised (or webcast) executions as used in Stephen King's "Running Man" and the Japanese "Battle Royale". The "pedestrians as points" idea is abandoned completely in favour of some other gory death scenes, big loud guns, lots of explosions and, most importantly, some high-octane car racing action. This is big-budget stuff and, even if you don't like cars, guns, sci-fi or Jason Statham, you'll still find something to enjoy in this film. I don't particularly like any of those things myself yet I still got the post-movie buzz which I haven't had since the days of "Robocop".

This remake of "Death Race" has also pretty much allowed Paul W.S. Anderson to do the impossible. Not only is it 200% better than the original but he has created a decent film at last after all those awful "Resident Evil" movies. Those people who have written him off lately and placed him in the Michael Bay category will now need to re-evaluate their opinions.

I do agree with the critics that say that 'Death Race" is derivative. Every prison story from "Spartacus" through to "Papillon" and from "Brubaker" to "The Shawshank Redemption" has had an influence on this movie and none of those are very original either. The idea of a futuristic prison where an innocent man gets the better of the evil warden has been done to death by films like "Running Man", "No Escape", "Fortress", "Wedlock", and even "Battle Royale". They are all much the same. For fans of less talky pseudo-political bullshit who, just like me, prefer movies like John Carpenter's "Escape from New York" and "Escape from L.A.", this is great. It's about a million times better than Neil Marshall's "Doomsday" as well.

I certainly don't agree with the critics who have been slamming this film for being a live action version of the "Twisted Metal" computer game. For one thing, I've never even heard of that game, let alone played it, but I can imagine that it was itself based on the infamous "Carmageddon" which we all played about 12 years ago. Since "Carmageddon" (especially "Carmageddon 2000") was inspired by "Death Race 2000" anyway, it's obvious that there would be similarities. Nothing is original in this movie or anywhere else nowadays anyway so get over it.

What else is there to say about "Death Race" other than it has a minimal plot like all action films and just routine performances? It's not that you need to be able to act to be an action hero anyway, Schwarzenegger and Stallone proved that years ago by churning out the same pulp over and over again. All you have to do to be an action film hero is look the part and Jason Statham certainly does that. In fact, he just does his usual "hard man" act which was started in "The Transporter" and is none the worse for it. The only person who could possibly have done a better job is Vin Diesel and he looks much the same as Jason Statham anyway. The accent is an important part of the film though.

The only thing that really annoyed me as a fellow Brit was the irritating pronounciation of the words "offence" and "defence" by Ian McShane. Overstressing the first syllable for "OFFence" and "DEfence" is jarring to the ears and really makes our Lovejoy look like a fool. He did the same thing in "Kung-Fu Panda" recently by completely forgetting how to say his Ts and replacing them with Ds. Ian McShane, you are not an American in spite of being in "Dallas" for all of five minutes so please pick an accent and stick to it!

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