Loosely based on the Roger Corman trash cinema classic of almost the same name Death Race is set in the very near future in a time when the US penal system is filled to busting. The operation of jails has been handed over to the Weyland Corporation who devise a unique way to solve over crowding. They create a television spectacle that’ll bring in huge ratings pitting the most violent thugs against one another for fun and profit in a to-the-death cross country car rally. Called “the ultimate in auto carnage” the Death Race is broadcast on the internet to an audience in he tens of millions.
At the center of the action is The Transporter star Jason Statham as Jensen Ames a three-time racing champion who’s mad, bad and dangerous to know. An ex-con, he is framed for a crime he didn’t commit and forced to race or face years of confinement in America’s most notorious penitentiary Terminal Island.
The premise, I imagine, was meant to be a satire, commenting on the length that evil corporations will go to make money and the debasement of a culture that would tune into this auto butchery but instead we’re handed a fast paced, but brainless action flick with all the depth of a Mötley Crüe music video. The campy fun of the original is gone, replaced by mindless violence, slow motion explosions and souped up-not-so-funny cars complete with machine guns and napalm.
The action and violence are pumped up to ridiculous levels, framed by characters that do little but grunt and flex their prodigious muscles. But what do you expect from a movie called Death Race? It doesn’t have the same high octane excitement of some of star Jason Statham’s other films—most notably Crank—but director Paul W.S. Anderson (not to be confused with Paul Anderson, helmer of Magnolia and Punch Drunk Love) gives the audience everything they want—action, blood and guts—and nothing that will make them squirm in their seats—story or well rounded characters. He has calibrated this movie to appeal to people who would pay money to go see a movie named Death Race. All others beware.