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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Death Race (review)

In the future, prisons will be hellholes and prisoners will be the new gladiators, entertaining us via Mad Max-imum carnagefests on pay-per-view netcasts. Hardly the most original idea ever, and indeed, this is a nominal remake of Roger Corman’s 1975 flick Death Race 2000 filtered through the hackish auspices of Paul W.S. Anderson, who has given us such incoherent and/or laughable and/or exaltingly violent movies as Soldier, Event Horizon, and Alien vs. Predator. Unsurprisingly, this is more of the same nonsense: the only thing deadly about it is how dull it is. Jason Statham (The Bank Job) — the appeal of his thuggish screen presence eludes me — is framed for the murder of his wife and sent to “Terminal Island,” where the warden (Joan Allen [The Bourne Ultimatum], coolly malevolent and almost amusing with it) enlists him, a former pro race driver, to play in the bloody sandbox of the to-the-death bumper-car rally she produces, at great profit. Audiences tune in for the blood-and-guts, and Anderson’s glee in presenting the show’s graphics — complete with merry tally of who’s dead and who’s still alive — is outdone only by his immense pleasure in finding inventive ways to kill his “characters” (I use the word loosely; there’s barely a recognizably human being among them). I’d like to say that Anderson wants you to believe he’s satirizing our seemingly endless taste for imaginatively graphic violence — look, a new way to commit vehicular manslaughter! — but I don’t think he cares what you think, as long as you think it’s cool. It isn’t.

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MPAA: rated R for strong violence and language

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer

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