Screenwriters: Paul W.S. Anderson
Starring: Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, Joan Allen, Ian McShane
Running time: 104 mins
Are there any scarier words in contemporary culture than "A Paul WS Anderson film"? It's doubtful, given the British director's lacklustre track record with the dire likes of Alien vs Predator, Resident Evil and Soldier.
Sadly, Anderson's remake of '70s action flick Death Race 2000 similarly wastes an engaging premise and talented cast in favour of tedious, jarring action sequences that bear all the thrills of watching someone else play Scalextric for 104 minutes while someone simultaneously punches you around the head. Perhaps that idea should be copyrighted in case Endemol get any ideas?
Jason Statham is Jensen Ames, a retired racing driver wrongly convicted of murdering his wife in a near-future America where prisoners can win freedom by winning five 'Death Races' in a row. These brutal contests involve rival convict drivers in pimped-up vehicles trying to kill off their rivals while attempting to cross the finish line first.
Streamed via the web on pay-per-view to millions, the races are presided over by prison boss Hennessey (Joan Allen), who harbours a chilling secret and a penchant for delivering crass dialogue that is only ever heard in dumb action flicks.
Jensen is given the chance to adopt the guise of Frankenstein, a masked driver who Hennessey wishes to keep in the race despite the actual driver dying. In return for taking over the mantle, Jensen is promised freedom should he be the last man standing.
To some extent, the whole 'death race' concept is a logical extension of the current televisual landscape and scarily plausible, but don't expect any cutting satire or meditation on the exploitative nature of reality TV. Anderson is simply too absorbed with endlessly repetitive sequences that involve cars and drivers being crushed, blown up or sliced apart in various ways. Admittedly, the heap of twisted metal and testosterone-fuelled adrenalin does create a few early thrills, but this soon gives way to tedium.
Deliberately shaky camerawork attempts to immerse us in the driver's seat, but instead serves to make the film visually incoherent as well as narratively inept. Then there's a procession of embarrassing sequences that greet the bevy of female convicts that arrive to accompany the death race drivers as their navigators. It seems that a nubile young female can't step out of a car during this film without a supposedly 'sexy' hip-hop tune kicking in and the camera subjectively adopting the male gaze to glide up and down their bodies in slow motion. It's simply insulting, much like the preposterous ending that defies any attempt at analysis.
Jason Statham, who bears the rugged looks and voice for such an ambiguous character, is poorly served by the script and deserves better quality vehicles. Not even Lovejoy (well, Ian McShane) popping up as the obligatory mentor character Coach can help redeem the movie, which eschews any satirical pretensions in favour of destroying car after car, and faceless convicts.
Yet somehow amidst the wreckage, Paul W.S. Anderson's career survives intact with news that he's planning to remake British classic The Long Good Friday. Be afraid, be very afraid…
> What do you think of the movie? Share your views