Sunday, August 16, 2009

Trash of the Titans

Okay, one last review before I hit the road for a week. I dedicate this post to my broken iPod, whose inability to work led me to busy my 70 minute train ride with another activity.

Onward we go:

Sometimes, there’s truly nothing like big dumb action movie drunk on excess violence to get you through a busy day. Knowing that stress was slowly building up on me last week, I bumped the recent remake of Death Race 2000 (minus the 2000 and set in 2012) up on my queue hoping for a mindless helping of carsplosions and Statham scowling.

I should preface this writeup with two confessions:

1. I have yet to see the original (as it currently isn’t available through Netflix)
2. This was my first experience seeing the much loved by genre fans Statham actually act, as opposed to glaring sexily from movie theater posters

Quick Plot:
In the near future, America is wallowing in some economic lows (imagine that!) and hard-working Statham is trying his bloodiest to provide for his sweet and filmically understanding wife and newborn daughter. Like all movies involving Sweet & Understanding Wives with husbands that insist themselves to be unworthy of such Sweet & Understanding love, Sweet & Understanding Wife is soon murdered in the middle of a stir fry.

Statham is framed and sent to prison, where TV exec/warden Joan Allen (yes, three time Oscar nominee Joan Allen) runs a successful reality competition pitting lifers against one another in a Nascar-esque race watched by millions via pay-per-Internet. Having seen our share of this plot in everything from Series 7: The Contenders to The Condemned, it’s not that Anderson & Co. bring anything new but it seems that even they are aware of that. Little time is wasted on explaining what went wrong in society or just who it is that watches the Death Race. Frankenstein, the Hulk Hogan of the series has perished, but rather than lose a few viewers and admit defeat, Allen recruits her newest inmate to don the previous Frankenstein’s mask and drive his car to freedom...providing he wins the upcoming race.

There’s not a whole lot to say about Death Race. It’s loud, slick, and peppered with some fine moments (usually provided by the fire crackling voice of Ian McShane or the simply unbelievable carving of Statham’s torso) but ultimately, Death Race is a video game for people with arthritis or bad eye-finger coordination. There are some decent deaths and a few explosions. Characters die and others live, but none drudge up any real interest or sympathy between the blaring score and hasty plotting. Anderson takes a few stylizing chances at making Death Race a tad meta and aware, but he never crosses that line to real innovation. The film is what you would expect, for better and worse.

High Points
Considering this is made by Paul W. Anderson, the minimal use of annoying jump cutted editing during the races was far less severe than I was expecting

Ian McShane. Nothing to really say about him; just Fucking Ian McShane

Statham, it would seem, has indeed inherited the title of Best Action Hero currently working. His physicality is quite believable, but more importantly, his acting is good enough to make us root for his character, whether we really care about the film or not

Low Points
While Allen’s icy villainess is entertaining in the ridiculous way only an A-list actress can pull off, a film like this needs a few more colorful baddies with Running Manish personalities. Most of the prisoners here feel like extras on Oz answering a casting call with little flavor to make a real impression

Granted I’m not the target audience here, but do we really need blaring “She’s So Sexy” rap scoring during the extremely slow-motioned scenes introducing female characters to inform us that the these women are hot? Their hair is blowing, midriffs are exposed, and short shorts are worn: we get it

The final plot twist is a decision made by our characters offscreen in a secret conversation. Nothing irks me more than a film that simply cheats its viewers by taking them on one character’s journey, only to then hide key details for an “exciting” surprise. Such a plot can occasionally work if the film never actually lies (think of the hints in Inside Man or The Sixth Sense), but merely holding back information that breaks the flow of the film for the surprise factor is a cheap, dishonest trick.

Good thing I didn’t really care about the movie that much. I may have been angry.

Lessons Learned
In the near future, salaries will crash, but a blue collar worker can still afford a lovely two-level house

All mugshots should involve a topless reel, particularly if the subject is Jason Statham

Declaring “You can’t kill me!” will instantly get you, indeed, quite killed

If you fuck with Joan Allen, you will finally answer the age-old question of just who it is that shits on the sidewalk

Addendum: What the hell does that actually mean?

Eh. You won’t get much out of Death Race that you couldn’t find in other R-Rated action fare. My lack of enthusiasm is probably in some part due to my low interest in car chase films (give me Point Break to any Fast &Furious incarnation), so if you what horsepower rating a '67 Mustang has or leave Ronin on TiVo for months solely to catch a few speed scenes whenever a commercial comes on (as my own Pacer owning father is prone to do), then this may be worthy of a rental with a few beers. Otherwise, tune in when it airs on cable or just stare at this for two hours:

Or for a week, as I head to Dollywood and try to survive car sickness, country music, and not watching movies without turning into a Redneck Zombie. Although, the possibilities of that could make for some reaaaaaaal horror commentary.


  1. This is the type of film that I know isn't going to be all that good, but it is something that I just want to see anyway. It is totally geared towards my demographic, but I know better than that...still, i want to see it. My girlfriend would say I only want to see it because "my boyfriend" is in it (Statham), and she isn't really all that incorrect in her jealous ribbing's towards me.

    I am super surprised that you have never seen Statham in another film before. I knew of him first from the Guy Ritchie films, Lock stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. If you haven't seen either of those films, check them out.

    Great review as always Miss Emily!

    P.S. Series 7 is a great movie!

  2. I heart Series 7 with more heart than is healthy to have.

    Yes, somehow I never got around to the good Guy Ritchie (although Swept Away remains a terribly painful, somehow watchable favorite) so my Statham experience is quite limited. I can now understand how every woman and really, every man would have a crush on him.

    Thanks Matt!