Death Race (2008)

Death Race review!Reviewed by Andrew Kasch

Starring Jason Statham, Joan Allen, Ian McShane, Tyrese Gibson, Max Ryan

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

Sometimes I wonder why studios don’t hire kids, force them to play with action figures, and write the results into a screenplay. It would not only be cheaper, they would get the same results as hiring someone like Paul W.S. Anderson to make a movie. It’s been four years since the “King of Hacks” ruined the two best monster franchises with Alien vs Predator, and now he’s back to piss all over the good name of Roger Corman with a big-budget remake of the wonderful Death Race 2000.

No surprise here; Death Race is as mind-scathingly bad as we all knew it would be. In fact, it hits every modern action movie cliché so hard it might very well be mistaken for brilliant parody. But it’s obvious Anderson thinks this stuff is super-cool and, as with AVP, is completely oblivious as to what made the original incarnation work. The 1975 original was charismatic, gleefully exploitive, and carried a satirical edge. Anderson’s re-imagining is The Fast and The Furious with blood and swearing.

Since the concept of killing innocent pedestrians won’t fly in today’s studio system (which is shocking considering the success of the Grand Theft Auto games), Anderson sets his Death Race in a prison where convicts must race through a deadly on-site obstacle course. It’s the newest spectator sport, and the fan favorite is masked racer Frankenstein. But when the prison’s prized racer meets an untimely death, tough-guy/family-man Jansen Ames (Statham) is framed for the murder and forced to slip on the Frankenstein mask to keep the games going.

Death Race review!People are comparing this film to 80’s death sport flicks like The Running Man, and while Anderson blatantly steals from all of them, the result is more akin to the Rollerball remake: Bigger, louder, and stupider with far less entertainment value. It’s a feature length music video where cars and characters are constantly posing for the camera. Anderson is clearly trying to have fun with it, pushing the gore and destruction as far as he can, but lacks the basic imagination to make a serviceable B-movie.

Jason Statham (who plays Jason Statham perfectly) is on badass auto-pilot while facing off with a supporting cast of ethnic stereotypes. No one really stands out, aside from Joan Allen in a career low point as the female version of the evil Shawshank Redemption warden. As in the original, each driver gets a hot female navigator that is mostly there for eye-candy. The original Corman girls had spunk and showed plenty of skin (where’s Mary Woronov when you need her?), but here they’re vapid models who bump n’ grind to Latin hip-hop and show off their midriffs. That’s the big difference between these two versions: The original embraced itself as trash. This is PC Hollywood trash.

Death Race review!Death Race is also proof positive that no one in Hollywood knows how to film action sequences anymore. Like Michael Bay, Anderson isn’t content to just place the camera and orchestrate impressive stunts. He whips the camera all over the place, zooms in and out of the action, and edits it all together like an epileptic monkey. Is there some new studio mantra that incoherence equals action? It doesn’t matter how real the stunts are; each one comes off as artificial as a Pixar movie.

After ninety minutes of car explosions, Jason Statham’s character gives a monologue explaining how “love conquers all”, cementing Anderson’s status as the single worst writer in Hollywood. This new Death Race is a poser, a fake, an imposter. What’s worse is that this tactless excuse for mindless entertainment will probably score big with the same teenage audiences that made Meet the Spartans a hit. Paul Bartel must be rolling around in his grave.


1 1/2 out of 5

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Steve Barton

You're such an inspiration for the ways that I will never, ever choose to be.

  • NeoKefka

    It wasn’t until I was talking it over with some friends why the fact that Statham plays an “Ex-NASCAR driver” drove me so damn crazy. That little bit right there practically screams “Movie by Commitee.”

    On the other hand, that does open up some interesting possibilities if they did a Death Race vs. Talledega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby movie.

  • Rob

    The box office is in. House Bunny beat it. Nomad’s wish has been granted. XD

    • PelusaMG

      Ha, ha, ha… Gotta love the “Bunny”, especially as Anna Faris is in it (Me-fucking-owwwww!!!)… :-p

      Oh, and by the way Gus B, I know for sure that she is ALL woman! 😉


      • Gus Bjork


        Anna Faris? Hell yeah! It’s pathetic but I’ve considered seeing House Bunny just cause she’s in it. Attractive gals who can do comedy, especially slapstick, are hot.

  • bulletcrazy

    Goddamnit first it was AVP:R and now Death Race, but I have to completly disagree with you guys. I get the feeling you are so wrapped up in the memories of a mostly forgotten cheapo exploitation flick that you can’t have fun at a movie like this. This time there are a lot more people with positive reviews though (38% on RT isn’t too shabby for a PWSA film), so I know I’m not alone here. Its no masterpiece, but its a very solid and entertaining B movie, and probably Anderson’s best movie (or second best, I still like Event Horizon). I think if you go with an open mind and take it for what it is, it delivers very well on the idea of death racing in prison. My biggest issue is that the camerawork isn’t great in spots, but I still really had fun.

    • Sirand

      I love having fun at the movies. But with both AVP:R and Death Race, is it too much to ask that I actually SEE the fun?!? Maybe if one of these big-budget B-movie directors could actually shoot a film, I might enjoy myself.

      • bulletcrazy

        While your complaint is valid, I think the camerawork isn’t bad enough to sink the film. While its definitly annoying, outside of a few shots I was able to follow the action fine in Death Race (and its much better lit than AVP:R).

        I don’t know, I wanted a movie where cars race to the death while blowing eachother up with weapons and this delivered. Like I said its a solid B grade movie.

  • Kryten Syxx

    The more I read the positive reviews, it is becoming clearer that some people think “big dumb action movies” should just get a pass. Death Race 2000 wasn’t a dumb movie, but it is OK for this cheap knock off to be…

  • bludgeoner

    Shit remakes aside. This was a great review – I really enjoyed it.

    Two things:

    1. I don’t think the original Corman film was exactly a breath taking cinema masterpiece although respected in it’s own right for the time it was made and at what budget. So I’m not exactly enraged at it’s remake – I can easily turn a blind eye. Let it be shit, I wont see it.

    2. Joan Allen… *shakes head slowly* What the fuck are you doing!? So beautiful, so talented – Paul W. S. Anderson should feel blessed to have been able to work with you – but shit – let this be a lesson.

  • Nomad

    I doubt it’s going to fail. It’s up against the house bunny. yes, that would be poetic justice, but its not going to happen.

    I agree 100% with everything that Andrew said but I have to add two items that make this comedy gold.

    1. Lines that make the insults thrown around by Ben Stiller in Dodge Ball seem intelligent and thoughtful.

    2. In the Death Race world, all hot women move in slow motion.

    The saddest fact of this film is I never thought I would be bored watching killer cars go head to head, but I yawned and I shifted in my seat and I checked my watch often. There were better car stunts in Wanted. Now after you watch this movie, which you all know you will, come back here and re-watch Andrew’s Comic-Con video with the cast and note how they seem to think they are a part of cinematic history and are proud to have been involved. I get that the celebs aren’t going to trash their movie until after the dvd drops..but they are spreading it on thick. It’s a Roger Corman movie for Christ’s sake. I love it to death but it’s not an integral piece of americana. Hell most regular people don’t know this is a remake. Anyway..watch the movie and then come back here for the hysterical “extra”.

    • Sirand

      I love how Anderson talks about how he was inspired by old school car chases like French Connection, Bullit, and The Getaway. That’s like Uwe Boll citing his Cabinet of Dr Caligari influences on the Alone in the Dark commentary.

      • Nomad

        Well in his defense, inspired can mean a lot of things. I’m often inspired to eat McDonalds after watching McDonalds commercials.

        The funnier bit is Tyrese talking about honoring Sylvester Stalone for what he did in the original. Umm…did he see the original?

        Even funnier still is Joan saying she was honored to say her lines!!! I can’t wait for people to see this so they can join in on the tirades.

    • Ultimo Franco

      I was with you up until your line about the original film.

      I kinda think Roger Corman’s production of Paul Bartel’s dark comic sci-fi masterpiece is an integral piece of Americana. It’s just as socially relevant today as it was the year it came out. Maybe more so. It’s a movie about terrorists. It’s a movie about the media. It’s a movie about the President of the United States, it’s about violent reality TV, it’s about turning murderers into heroes. And it’s got an awesome soundtrack, a beautifully animated pop-art credit sequence, one of the best casts ever assembled, cars that look fucking cool as all HELL, actual gore, a terrific pace, laugh out loud lines, visual jokes, and… well… lots of other shit that make it so fucking awesome.

      It probably depends on your definition of Americana, but I’m convinced it’s right up there with the best. I don’t think that widely known recognition is the litmus test for inclusion into Americana.

  • ImTheMoon

    the weirdest news I heard about this flick was that some guy is claiming that Anderson ripped off his scripted, so now he’s suing.

  • Cash Bailey

    It’s a shame Anderson’s ‘Force-like’ powers of persuasion not only worked on studio executives once again, but also on brilliant actors like Ian McShane and the super-tasty Joan Allen.

    Statham, yeah…. That guy’ll do anything you put in front of him.

    Hopefully, after the complete and utter failure of this movie, Anderson will retire to screwing Milla Jovovitch for at least five more years before emerging to ‘bless’ us with another movie.