Monday, 6 October 2008

Death Race


Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Screenplay: Paul W.S. Anderson
Starring: Jason Statham, Ian McShane, Tyrese Gibson & Joan Allen

Paul W.S Anderson gets back on track with a big, load, tire screeching action film that delivers superior car crunching action by the bucket load. Anderson gets a somewhat unfair rap. Yeah, he hit a few bumps with Resident Evil and the first Alien Vs Predator but in general has always made big, slick, fun movies and (quite rightly) never apologized for it. Blockbusters are part of the movie landscape and should be enjoyed for what they are. His Mortal Kombat is still probably the best videogame adaptation, Event Horizon is a vastly underrated horror/sci fi (release the directors cut already!) and even Soldier is big dumb action/sci fi fun. And Death Race delivers pretty much the same with some fine actors having a ball and the welcome addition of some grit to toughen up the action.

Simple story: the future is messed up and we know gets our kicks watching criminals race to their deaths in souped up, weapon brandishing cars. The three day race sees criminals battling and blowing one another up over three stages until there is one winner. The star is Frankenstein, a mask wearing super racer who jacks up the ratings by killing everyone else on the track and only has one more race to win to gain his freedom. However, he was killed in the last race and Warden Hennessy (Allen), smelling a ratings dip, hatches a plan to keep Frankenstein alive for one more race: frame an innocent former race car pro, stick him in prison, tell him to race as Frankenstein and he will get his freedom. Of course it’s never as simple as that. Cut to the chase: car piling, bumper smashing, truck demolishing action.

Set not too far in the future, Death Race has a grey and gritty feel with the action rarely letting up for a second. Anderson has wisely forgone the CGI route and staged the races and smash ups for real. It’s been a while since a really good car chase movie has come along and Death Race certainly makes up for the lack of them. Once things have been set up, characters and alliances introduced and formed, it’s straight onto the chase and Death Race quite literally delivers what it says on the tin: lots and lots of car chases and stunts, each sequence ramping up the carnage. Stunt master and car chase god, Spiro Razatos (Bad Boys 2) coordinates the car action with skill and grit, vehicles flipping, shooting and tumbling with metal crunching glee. And when an 18 wheeler tanker is introduced and flipped, well, things just get even better. The only downside, Anderson relies just a little too much on the de-rigour quick cut editing but, thankfully, not enough to ruin the action scenes.

Characterization may be thin on the ground but enough for this kind of metal mayhem with the likes of Joan Allen, Ian McShane and Jacob Vargas all having fun. Allen is particularly fun as the evil Warden. Statham does his thing well and there is enough muscle bound testosterone to fill several action movie franchises. There could have been a little more time spent with some of the other racers, especially Robin ‘Mortal Kombat’ Shou’s 14K but the sheer spectacle, stunt packed adrenaline more than makes up for it. Lean, mean, tough and occasionally a little silly, Death Race is a pure guilty pleasure and good to see Anderson delivering more blockbuster thrills. Now it would be cool to see him get away from video games, remakes and already established franchises and try another go at an original script a la Event Horizon.

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