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Friday, January 02, 2009


The original DEATH RACE 2000 (1975) is one of my favorite goofball movies, loaded as it is with gruesome humor and outright silliness, so when I heard it was getting remade/re-imagined I had very serious doubts. I skipped the new version when it was in theatrical release (I've gotten very selective with which movies I'm willing to spend $12.50 to see) and heard mixed-to-negative reviews from the media and the two people I knew who saw it, but what finally roused me to give it a shot was famed horror author Stephen King naming it as one of the ten best films of 2008 thanks to it allegedly being exciting and driven by a satirical look at the allure of reality TV. I've enjoyed a lot of what King has written and for the most part have been on the same page with him in his assessment of genre movies, but after seeing the new DEATH RACE I'm inclined to wonder if being hit by that van a few years back didn't do him more damage than was at first apparent, or if he's really off the cocaine that allowed him to write CUJO back in the days and have no memory of having done so.

The original low-budget DEATH RACE 2000’s premise postulated a future in which a jaded public is totally down with a live, televised transcontinental road race in which the object is to mow down as many innocent pedestrians as possible in order to rack up points (arriving at the end of the course is kind of beside the point), and its course from one side of America to the other could not have been clearer to understand. The plot hitches involving the rivalries of the drivers were rather slight but pretty funny, a looney subplot about revolutionaries provided even more yucks, and the film overall added up to coherent entertainment. The same cannot be said of the new version.

The short of it is that DEATH RACE, starring my man Jason (THE TRANSPORTER) Statham, sucks just about as egregiously as any film can, and while I’m proud to stand up and champion a legion of bad movies and subject my friends to them — just ask Jared —, I can’t recommend this movie for any reason. If you don’t feel like reading any further, just take my word for it and skip this motherfucker.

The long of it is that the filmmakers have crafted a “re-imagining” that removed every single thing that made the thirty-four-year-old predecessor so much fun, gave us often-confusing visual storytelling, attempts at humor that fall completely flat about 99% of the time, and even in its unrated version its nowhere near as violent as the classic model. This DEATH RACE instead looks and feels like a big-budget adaptation of one of those old electric slot car racing sets, only with the cars outfitted to wield outlandish James Bondish weaponry (napalm, helicopter assault guns, etc.), much of which we get incredibly bored with after the endless static shots of two cars literally shooting at each other face-to-face as one of them drives backwards. It’s the most boring and uninvolving kind of action figure cinema in that it aimlessly jumps from one crash & shoot-‘em-up scenario to another with the most flimsy of “who cares?” plot to propel it.

In the year 2012, corporations have taken over the running of maximum security prisons (???) and at one in particular the cuntish ice queen of a warden (Joan Allen, who must have really needed some quick cash for a car payment) has instituted a pay-per-view “death race” driven by vicious criminals who are never going to be released anyway, so anything goes as they race around in what I think are circles on the remote prison island — I can’t be sure of the race’s course because it makes no visual sense whatsoever — and no innocents are harmed in the process (thereby eliminating one of the things that made the original a classic of sorts). The pay-per-view event rakes in the cash and makes a killing in the ratings, so when popular masked death-racer “Frankenstein” is killed just one race shy of earning his freedom if he wins his final contest, the warden covers up his death (claiming he was seriously injured but will be back in time for the next pay-per-view event) and arranges the incarceration of a hard-man/former racing star (Statham) by having the guy’s wife murdered, leaving his infant daughter in the care of the state. With that bargaining chip in place, Statham must assume the mantle of Frankenstein and drive to victory with the aid of his superfluous female navigator (Natalie Martinez, who serves no purpose other than to walk about in slo-mo in outfits that are definitely not standard prison-issue), or else find himself at the not-so-tender mercies of his ultra-psychotic fellow inmates and never see his daughter again.

From that point on there are many incomprehensible racing/violence sequences and prison brutality straight out of OZ, and none of them were the least bit exciting or suspenseful. There are no characters to speak of and we certainly don’t care about any of them, although I’m willing to give the awesome Ian McShane (LOVEJOY, DEADWOOD and, believe it or not, ROOTS) a pass because I don’t think he’s capable of turning in a bad performance, somehow even managing to make the most of his thankless supporting role in this stinker and rising above it smelling like an English rose. Other than McShane’s there is not one performance in the entire film really worth mentioning, and his total screen time ends up totaling perhaps twenty minutes.

I watched DEATH RACE with my old friend Chris, a guy I’ve endured countless bad movies with, and we were both bored out of our minds by this mess, but we are both staunch defenders of legendary turd CURSE OF BIGFOOT and that film is so boring that it's fascinating. Honestly, just give this floater a miss and read a book or something.

And to Stephen King: I like some of your books very much and may still read a new one every now and then, but I will never, ever again trust your judgment on a movie.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It seemed to me like an angrier Mario Kart