a critiQal film review Death Race (2008)

Plot: It's the year 2020. To combat prison overcrowding, the powers-that-be have devised a brutal 3-day car chase, with the winner gaining their freedom. Speedway champion Aimes (Statham) takes on the challenge when he is framed for a murder he didn't commit. But it's going to take all his skills to make it to the finish line of this race alive.

815 words (Est. Reading Time 4m 4s)
  • ...this violent and action-packed film keeps the adrenaline flowing from start to finish!

After not getting to see Death Race – the new Jason Statham starrer/remake of the Sly Stallone cult classic – last week, we were bound and determined to see 2 movies this long Labor Day weekend to finish of our Summer At The Movies – 2008 Edition – this film and Babylon A.D. (2008).

Thanks to some unforeseen circumstances, we ended up seeing Babylon A.D. (2008) first – and were unimpressed. Now, we look to Death Race to end our summer on a high note. Would it be able to let us go out with a bang, or were both of our Labor Day weekend films going to sputter?

Jason Statham is a definite rising star in the movie biz. After his start with Guy Ritchie’s combo Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1999) and Snatch, Statham has gone on to become quite the action star, appearing in everything from The Transporter (2002) to The One. True, he needs to work on his emotional depth, but he’s got the action part down pat.

Thankfully, Death Race puts that to good use, as it pushes Statham through thrilling sequence after thrilling sequence. Whether it’s his background in action or the director’s ability, Statham manages to stay in the forefront, rather than getting lost in all the action.

He’s pretty good (by this point in his career) of playing the dark hero. He’s not perfect – in fact, he usually has a bit of a mean streak – but his goals are just. As a prisoner forced to undergo a death-defying race – despite having never actually committing a crime – he manages to hold his own amongst the ruffians while still maintaining his degree of heroism. True, he’s not above a little killing, but he’s still the guy everyone’s going to root for.

Tyrese Gibson shows up as another one of the drivers, and it seems obvious he chose the role to get further away from the male model he used to be. In Death Race, he’s dressed in dirty clothes and sporting a cheek full of supposedly self-inflicted scars – and he’s definitely as ruthless as they come. It’s a nice change for him, and it works well. He should definitely stick to roles that get him in the nitty gritty, as he seems to excel at being something no one expects.

Joan Allen also shows up as the leader in charge of the prison. Despite not really seeming to fit in (to the point where a crazy looking inmate has to vouch for her badness), she manages to bring a rather cold and calculating persona to the film – one that works perfectly for her character. Sure, the viewer can’t ever quite connect her with the prison, but she still manages to be a good villain to Statham’s hero.

The plot of Death Race – like most action movies – is more about bringing as much violence to the screen as is possible, rather than being as believable as possible. All the writer has to do is give viewers something they can’t dismiss totally out of hand on the first glance, and provide them with the action sequences the crowd is looking for, and most viewers will go home happy.

Death Race delivers on that account. With an intro that gives audiences their first taste of the violent car chase, viewers may be expecting to be shot directly into the new race – instead, the film pauses and introduces Statham’s character, providing back story while the audience catches their breath.

Then, it jumps right back into the race – and the viewers will wish they had a bit more time to rest, as they don’t get another breather until the end of the film. As soon as the race begins, it’s carnage and mayhem from start to finish – and the audience will eat it up with glee.

Take an action movie, toss in fast cars and a couple of actors who know what they’re doing, and already Death Race is sounding good. Toss in a director that knows how to shoot an action sequence and keep the audience in tune with the characters, and the movie becomes an adrenaline-pumping ride audiences will thrill to.

That’s Death Race – sure, it doesn’t require a lot of brains to watch Statham and Gibson wreaking havoc on everything in their sight – but it sure does get the heart pumping and the adrenaline flowing!

For action junkies, Death Race is a movie not to be missed. For those of you who instead focus on who wins an Academy Award every year, the non-stop action and over-the-top violence may be a bit much.

Thankfully, both Heather and I have a bit more action junkie running through our veins than haughty art critic, so we both agreed on this one – Death Race ended our summer just the way we wanted it to – with a bang.

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