Death Race
By Kevin L. Clark
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Cast: Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, Joan Allen, Ian McShane
Rating: * 3/4 out of ****


There's something about remakes that always goes wrong. Whether it's Paris Hilton's shrill shriek in House of Wax or Madonna's acting in 2002's Swept Away, Hollywood always manages to take something brilliant and dissects it to shreds. The same can be said for the new remake of the violent 1975 political satire Death Race 2000.

In the updated Death Race, Jason Statham plays Jensen Ames, a retired race car driver and recently laid-off factory worker, who's life becomes a living hell after he's framed for the horrendous murder of his wife. He's thrown into a high-security facility where the evil corporation is the prison system (go figure…). As luck would have it, Ames falls into the recently obliterated shoes of legendary death racer "Frankenstein,” who's won four out of the five races needed to "earn” his freedom. With a golden ticket dangling over his head, Statham's character must win at all costs, even if the odds are stacked against him.

In the original film, director Roger Corman played off the idea of human society and their love of violence. What it lacked in budget and special effects, it made up for with wit and imagination. Little of that imagination is on display in director Paul W.S. Anderson's revved up version of Corman's cult classic. Instead of going for social commentary, Anderson fills the screen with bland sights, blasé buildings and an overall Mr. Cloud-styled production. His two typecast stars, Statham and Tyrese Gibson, do what they always do—drive cars and talk tough.

With so many cut-away's from some otherwise grandiose driving/action scenes, Anderson and company turn what could be an adrenaline-paced and action-filled demented version of Speed Racer into a flick filled with blood, guts and bore—as in bor-ing! A filmmaker with a little more creativity could have done more with the film's subtle elements, including the mayhem-for-profit Internet element. Even the catchy one-liners could have been punched up a bit.

Instead, Statham and Gibson (with a cast of talented players all with little to nothing to do) are left to be the muscle, leaving the bench to play second bananas. While audiences will cheer at the blood that splatters across the silver screen during the races, they'll probably miss out on Joan Allen's performance as the prison warden, Hennessy. Delivering a performance based on a poorly written script is one thing, but managing to still be a good actress in a two-dimensional role deserves some sort of praise.

Death Race could've been an extra NOS injection into the failing car film genre, but it stalls before even getting around to the second lap. This one is sure to end up coming in for last place in a race full of strong box office competitors.

Death Race is in theaters now.