Sunday, October 9, 2011

Death Race

By Sati. Sunday, October 9, 2011 , , , , , , ,
(111 min, 2008)
Ex-con Jensen Ames is forced by the warden of a notorious prison to compete in our post-industrial world's most popular sport: a car race in which inmates must brutalize and kill one another on the road to victory.
Paul W.S. Anderson
Paul W.S. Anderson (screenplay), Paul W.S. Anderson (screen story)
Stars: Jason Statham, Joan Allen and Tyrese Gibson


I heard something about Jason Statham's movies from my friend – that he have made three truly awful movies – Uwe Boll's film, “Revolver” and “Death Race”. I haven't seen first two, but having seen “Death Race” I have to say I strongly disagree about last one. The movie is very entertaining, and as an action movie works well. “Crank 2” was hell a lot worse, to the point I would close the review in two words only - “Jason, why?”

In 2012, amid economic chaos and high unemployment, Americans by the millions watch criminals with life sentences race armored cars on Terminal Island. Two-thirds of the combatants die but the winner may earn his freedom. On the day he loses his job, steelworker Jensen Ames (Statham) is arrested for his wife's murder. Sent to Terminal Island, he's offered an out by the steely and manipulative warden Hennessey (Joan Allen) race as the popular mask-wearing (but now dead) champion, Frankenstein, or rot in prison. Jensen makes the bargain. As the three-stage race approaches, he realizes that the whole thing may be a set up - can an anonymous man behind a mask get revenge and win his release?

The race scenes are amazing – I don't have a driving license myself (because I want to live and had I driven a car a lot of people would surely die) so I'm always impressed by any race/chase scenes. I can't even imagine how some of the scenes were made – after all it's all fake – nobody died, nobody's head was decapitated, but all of those stunts look so incredibly dangerous and realistic you totally forget you're watching a movie. The editing is also very nice and Paul Haslinger's score is excellent.

It's really refreshing to finally see (after all those mindless action films) Statham playing a character you can sympathize with. I liked his character in “Transporter” series, but this could be due to the fact he wore a suit and drove a fancy car, but I hated the one in “Crank”. Here the whole set-up for his character reminded me of “Law Abiding Citizen”, especially the beginning – his wife gets killed and he wants revenge. He also has a little baby girl to whom he wants to return to. That's enough for the viewer to root for him.

Statham also finally got actual woman to play his love interest, not those slutty chicks in “Transporter” movies. Natalie Martinez is very attractive and plays likeable character of Chase, Jensen's navigator. They have very good chemistry and Jason smiles about 10 times more than in all “Cranks” and “Transporters” combined. Hell, I'm not surprised he did, finally having a reason to do that. The ending is also very good and satisfying.

The film has two actors in it, who you think should feel out of place, but they don't – Ian McShane and Joan Allen. McShame plays one of the guys who help the main hero with the car and along with other men from mechanic crew brings a lot of comic relief. Allen plays icy warden and is great to watch – she's cold, determined and ruthless. I had the same feeling here as when I was watching Bill Nighy's performance in “Underworld”. Those actors know that the movie is just an action film, far from masterpiece, but still manage to do great work and have some fun in addition to it.

The story is very simple, as with most action films. Most of the film are race scenes, but given how they are placed in a futuristic world (I cannot imagine this actually happening any time soon, people racing to death with the approval of prison wardens and their supervisors) it's interesting and quite unique. The visual side works well – everything is dark and grim, movie's pace is very fast – I wasn't bored for a second. Yes, some of the lines are cheesy and some of the dialogue is awful, but the bottom line is that I had a lot of fun watching the film and I'm glad I saw it, despite awful reviews and opinions about it.


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