Death Race


It’s not that 1975’s Roger Corman–produced Death Race 2000 was so precious a grindhouse treasure that a remake seems offensive—but by running over the blunt social commentary on audience bloodlust in dire economic times, the newly homogenized Death Race has become the very product the original satirized. (Did we not learn anything from Rollerball?) Jason Statham’s sinewy, simian charisma drives the action in this tale of a former racing champ framed for murder in the dystopian days of 2012, then forced by wicked warden Joan Allen to replace a fallen hero named Frankenstein in a pay-per-view bloodsport on wheels. It’s probably cliché to compare this fanboy ridiculousness to video games, but as writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson’s résumé includes Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil, it’s also apt: Statham’s nemeses are introduced to us by their missile-mounted cars and name cards, as if to say “Select a character to play”; Ian McShane’s grease monkey Coach offers tips on how to beat all three “stages” (as they’re titled onscreen) of the brutal race; and convoluted rules about power-ups pervade. “Activate death heads!” commands Allen, who isn’t quite icy enough to pull off this and similar villainous statements (“Fuck with me and we’ll see who shits on the sidewalk!”). With its inexplicably watchable shotgun-riding bimbos, unconscious homoeroticism, and Shawshank Redemption–style ending, this extraneous remake—which could have been retitled The Fast and the Frivolous—is so bad it’s almost good. Almost.