After a long gestation as a big budget vehicle for Tom Cruise, Paul W Anderson’s rehash of elements from Roger Corman’s 70s cheapie Death Race 2000 finally rolls into theatres to be met with suitably lowered expectations. It’s hard to cheapen the memory of a seedy original in which points are awarded to drivers who kill children and pensioners, but somehow Anderson, the creator of Event Horizon, AVP: Alien vs Predator and Resident Evil has managed it.
Jason Statham (who else?) stars as Jensen Ames, a former race car driver who works in a steel-mill circa 2012 to support his family. On the orders of tough prison warden Hennessey (Joan Allen), Ames is framed for his wife’s murder and stuck in the slammer. He avoids rotting in jail by agreeing to replace popular driver Frankenstein, played by the original Death Race 2000’s David Carradine in a voice-only cameo. With the support of grizzled mechanic Coach (Lovejoy and Deadwood’s Ian McShane) Ames is forced to take part in a three stage Death Race on a trap-loaded track around a grey island prison, with the results streamed to an audience of 60 million plus on pay-per-view television.
Predictably stripped of the anarchic humour and political sideswipes of the original, Anderson’s reboot is still probably the most accomplished entry in his shoddy portfolio of sci-fi duds so far (faint praise indeed). Statham grits his teeth, the three chase sequences are satisfyingly well done and Allen clearly enjoys some action-movie slumming. Snarling B-movie lines like ‘Activate the death heads!’and ‘Release the dreadnought!’, Allen’s confrontation with Statham is surely the weirdest celebrity death match since Vin Diesel took on Judi Dench in The Chronicles of Riddick.
General release from Fri 26 Sep.