You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Death Race

As hard as metal and just as dumb, Paul W.S. Anderson's "Death Race" couldn't be further from Roger Corman's goofy, bloody original "Death Race 2000."

Jensen Ames - Jason Statham Machine Gun Joe - Tyrese Gibson Coach - Ian McShane Hennessey - Joan Allen Case - Natalie Martinez Pachenko - Max Ryan Ulrich - Jason Clarke Lists - Fred Koehler Gunner - Jacob Vargas Travis Colt - Justin Mader

As hard as metal and just as dumb, Paul W.S. Anderson’s “Death Race” couldn’t be further from producer Roger Corman and director Paul Bartel’s goofy, bloody 1975 original, “Death Race 2000.” Basically a souped-up gladiatorial battle on a racetrack inside what’s supposedly future America’s toughest high-security prison, the pic maintains “2000’s” body count and a few character names, and dumps the rest — including the humor. Fans of the remake may not care, and will pony up for any late-summer package of high-throttle thrills.

It’s 2012, the U.S. economy is in meltdown, unemployment and crime are on the rise, and big, bad corporations have somehow taken over everything, including the prisons.

A rather meaningless action opener, showing how driver Machine Gun Joe (Tyrese Gibson) blows away an opponent named Frankenstein (voiced by David Carradine, from “2000”), gets auds’ heart rates pumping. Rooting interest emerges with former racecar driver and now steel-plant worker Jensen Ames (Jason Statham) being laid off, with his fellow employees inexplicably confronted outside the plant by overly violent SWAT-style cops.

Back home with wife Suzy and baby Piper, Ames is surprised by a masked intruder who murders Suzy and frames Ames. He’s sent away to Terminal Island, home of the race, which is so heavily guarded that escape is futile. Much of this is explained to Ames by friendly but grizzled mechanic Coach (Ian McShane, reviving the same Yank accent he used in “Deadwood”). Big boss is warden Hennessey (Joan Allen), as tough as her well-manicured nails, while the local tough guys known as “the Brotherhood,” led by Pachenko (Max Ryan), try to send Ames a message with their fists.

With Joe having bumped Frankenstein, Hennessey tells Ames she needs a new contender for her “Death Race” pay-per-view show. Her offer: Win the three-day match, and he goes free. The catch: Lose, and he dies, since only the race’s sole survivor wins.

Coach and his pit crew, consisting of nerdy, brainy Lists (Fred Koehler) and Gunner (Jacob Vargas) prep Ames’ Mustang — so tricked out with armaments it makes the weapon cars in “2000” look like puddle jumpers — while Ames is told to wear Frankenstein’s metal mask as a way of maintaining the character’s intrigue.

But like so much else in “Death Race,” this detail is sloppily ignored whenever the story or action conveniently requires it. Since “2000” was dumb on its face, Bartel played it for camp; Anderson (whose other futuristic, effects-heavy exercises include “Resident Evil” and “Alien vs. Predator”), unfortunately, tries playing it straight.

Three race setpieces, styled as an “American Gladiators”-meets-“Ice Road Truckers” TV show, are the pic’s main events, and Anderson trains all his firepower with a numbing assault of quick cuts, hyperactive zooms, closeups of crashes and mega-explosions, lathered with a metal score by ex-Tangerine Dream member Paul Haslinger.

The final race pits rivals Ames and Joe against the prison’s full force — such as it is. Pic’s escape plot and grease-monkey-inflected happy ending are nothing more than a mindless way to place things in park.

After both “Transporters,” “The Italian Job,” “Crank” and this, Statham must be getting tired of acting behind the wheel. But he does maintain his ultra-low-fat, chiseled facade and low-end voice for full effect in a pic that demands little more. McShane and Allen handle their paydays with little damage, while Gibson and Ryan are big masses of muscle and badass.

Scott Kevan’s widescreen lensing was overcooked in the lab to look as metallic as possible, and production designer Paul Denham Austerberry provides a stunning alteration of decaying Montreal industrial landscapes into the giant prison and race track.

Death Race

Production: A Universal release, in association with Relativity Media, of an Impact Pictures C/W production, in association with Roger Corman. Produced by Paula Wagner, Jeremy Bolt, Paul W.S. Anderson. Executive producers, Roger Corman, Dennis E. Jones, Don Granger, Ryan Kavanaugh. Directed, written by Paul W.S. Anderson. Story, Anderson, based on the screenplay by Robert Thom, Charles Griffith, story by Ib Melchior CQ.

Crew: Camera (Technicolor, widescreen), Scott Kevan; editor, Niven Howie; music, Paul Haslinger; music supervisor, Kathy Nelson; production designer, Paul Denham Austerberry; art directors, Nigel Churcher, Michele LaLiberte CQ; costume designer, Gregory Mah; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS/DTS), Don Cohen; supervising sound editor, Stephen Barden; re-recording mixers, Chris Jenkins, Frank A. Montano; visual effects supervisor, Dennis Berardi; visual effects, Mr. X; special effects makeup, Adrien Morot's Maestro Studio; stunt coordinator, Andy Gill; fight coordinator, Phil Culotta; assistant director, Mark Philip Egerton; second unit director, Spiro Razatos; second unit camera, Igor Meglic; casting, Victoria Burrows, Scot Boland CQ. Reviewed at ArcLight Cinemas, Los Angeles, Aug. 20, 2008. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 105 MIN.

With: Jensen Ames - Jason Statham Machine Gun Joe - Tyrese Gibson Coach - Ian McShane Hennessey - Joan Allen Case - Natalie Martinez Pachenko - Max Ryan Ulrich - Jason Clarke Lists - Fred Koehler Gunner - Jacob Vargas Travis Colt - Justin MaderWith: Robert Lasardo, Robin Shou, Janaya Stephens.

More Film

  • Kevin Costner Diane Lane

    Kevin Costner, Diane Lane to Reunite in Suspense Thriller 'Let Him Go'

    Focus Features has tapped Kevin Costner and Diane Lane to star as a husband and wife in the suspense thriller “Let Him Go.” The two also collaborated on “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Thomas Bezucha (“The Family Stone”) is set to direct his own screenplay, based on Larry Watson’s novel [...]

  • Chris Hemsworth Hulk Hogan

    Chris Hemsworth to Play Hulk Hogan in Biopic for Netflix

    Netflix is in the early stages of developing a Hulk Hogan biopic with Chris Hemsworth attached to star as the wrestling legend and produce. Netflix has obtained the exclusive life rights and consulting services from Terry Gene Bollea AKA Hulk Hogan. Todd Phillips, whose credits include “War Dogs” and “The Hangover” trilogy, is attached to [...]

  • Rooftop Films Announces Filmmakers Fund Grant

    Rooftop Films Announces Filmmakers Fund Grant Winners

    Swedish documentary filmmaker Anastasia Kirillova and “Negative Space” co-directors Ru Kuwahata and Max Porter are among the filmmakers who will receive grants from Rooftop Films to help complete their upcoming projects. Kirilova will be awarded $20,000 to finish her film, “In the Shadows of Love,” while collaborators Kuwahata and Porter will receive $10,000 for “Dandelion [...]

  • Jim Gianopulos

    Paramount Chief Jim Gianopulos Unveils Diversity Initiative

    Paramount Pictures chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos has announced that all studio productions will be required to complete a plan to enhance diversity. Wednesday’s reveal follows Paramount’s commitment to participating in Time’s Up and Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s 4% Challenge. The name is derived from women having directed only 4% of the country’s top grossing movies [...]

  • Leave No Trace

    Oscar Analysts Are Sincere -- but Often Totally Wrong

    With Oscars arriving Feb. 24, we can expect multiple “who will win/who should win” columns. There will also be a flurry of post-show analyses about the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and why members voted the way they did. Since AMPAS never releases polls or voting tallies, these pundits will never be contradicted [...]

  • Green Book spiderman into the spider

    On Eve of Oscars, Variety’s Film Experts Answer Three Pressing Questions

    We continue to live in a divided world, with the current political landscape in the United States a seemingly endless hotbed of tumult and acrimony. Issues of racism, bigotry, diversity and gender equality drive the creative players as well, with Oscar-nominated films parlaying said themes into compelling, thought-provoking cinema. To analyze 2018 in big-screen entertainment, [...]

  • Karl Lagerfeld'Lagerfeld Confidential' Photocall at the

    Karl Lagerfeld Remembered at Costume Designers Guild Awards

    The death of fashion and costume designer Karl Lagerfeld cast somewhat of a shadow over the usually jubilant Costume Designers Guild Awards — the only award show where clothes literally steal the spotlight away from actors — which was held at the Beverly Hilton on Tuesday night. Here it was obvious that Lagerfeld’s impact on [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content