Published at: Aug. 21, 2008, 9:34 a.m. CST by merrick
Hola all. Massawyrm here.
EXPLOITATION! Pure, unabashed, unapologetic exploitation. There’s no other way to describe it. Death Race is a loud, dumb, adrenaline fueled spectacle that rips off most of its contents from other, sometimes unlikely, movies, but does so in the way the best exploitation does. This movie is not very smart. It is not very original. And yet none of that stops it from being one hell of a fun, explosive hour and a half that wastes no time getting us past the silly plot points and immediately into what we all came to see. Heavily armed cars blowing the shit out of other heavily armed cars.
In what is easily Paul W.S. Anderson’s best film to date, he threw out every last bit of pretension and got back to the kind of silly, fun filmmaking we saw out of him in Mortal Kombat. Anderson has been something of a whipping boy around these parts over the years – at least he was for a while. For quite some time his name was pseudonymous with the very bottom of the barrel of mainstream genre filmmaking. Then Uwe Boll showed up and showed us what it was really like to not give a shit about film. And just as we thought it couldn’t get any worse than Uwe, Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer reminded us that at least Dr. Boll has a PHD. So by comparison, Anderson wasn’t looking so bad anymore. He seemingly found his way to the pinnacle of mediocrity where he served no other purpose than to run great franchises into the ground.
But it’s a funny thing. While adults and critics have spurned his films, the kids have embraced him. Despite the bulk of his films being rated R, he’s found his following among the young who eat them up with a spoon. When Merrick wrote about his experience seeing this , he dared to invoke Verhoeven. And that’s an unfair name to throw out there. Anderson isn’t operating on that level. No, he’s more like Brian Trenchard-Smith. And I don’t mean that as in insult. I remember as a kid seeing Trenchard-Smith’s films by hook or by crook - sneaking in, talking my parents into taking me or catching them on video or HBO. Should I have been watching Escape 2000 or Dead End Drive-in? Probably not, but I was. Watching them today I fully understand why my parents would leave the room when I watched this kind of stuff. But I still love every minute of it. I keep running into these 18-19 year old guys who grew up with AVP and the Resident Evil’s and I watch them try to defend them the way I defend Battle Beyond the Stars or Krull. And I get it.
And come on. This actually has Roger Corman’s name on it. The only thing that this doesn’t share in common with Corman’s brand of exploitation is the budget (which probably made him shit himself) and the time it took to shoot. I can almost imagine Corman staring down Anderson saying “You want to spend how much for how long? I could shoot this in a week! Do you realize I FIRED Jimmy Cameron? Get the fuck out of here!” But that is what this is. A big budget, well cast Roger Corman film.
Pretty much everyone kicks ass in this. Jason Statham and Tyrese Gibson not only compete on the track, but in one of the single greatest grumbling contests ever put to film. Every time they talk to each other, they seem to drop their testicles lower in an attempt to hit notes so low that only whales and heavy machinery can understand them. Joan Allen takes an incredible turn as the hard-nosed warden, complete with one of the most irrational strings of invectives I’ve ever heard. I don’t know what shitting on the sidewalk has to do with anything, but she sure as fuck makes me want to find out. And Ian McShane simply decided not to shave and felt that that was character enough. He looks like he’s having so much fun that it is positively contagious. It’s hard not to smile whenever he’s on screen being the ass kicking genre replacement for Morgan Freeman. And how could I forget the hard-on inducing Natalie Martinez who exists in this film solely to make you want to touch her. Repeatedly.
But logic? Um. No. There’s no logic to be found here. I’ve heard a number of complaints ranging from Statham’s big frame-up to the realities of a Death Race in the modern world and I just have to wave all of that off. You want logic? Riddle me this: in what world do you allow maximum-security convicts, reputed to be the worst of the very worst, access to giant wrenches, blowtorches, welders, sheet metal, muscle cars, napalm and fucking machine guns? But don’t you worry, because we don’t give them the ammunition…until race day.
Yeah. If you can wrap your mind around that one, you have just the right mindset to enjoy the shit out of this. This is Fast and the Furious with machine guns. Make no mistake. This movie rips off the content, style and puts Jason Staham in the Vin Diesel role, exchanging one bald bad ass for another. And since Anderson clearly hasn’t spent the time in prison many in the community feels he so richly deserves for his crimes against Soldier, he turned to the best resource on prison life he had available: The Shawshank Redemption. This movie doesn’t just borrow from King & Darabont. It steals entire scenes. Unrepentantly. But it works.
Death Race dispenses with the character introductions as fast as humanly possible, working as hard as it can to get Statham into prison quickly. Once there we get a fast forward intro to his pit crew and have the whole plot of the movie laid out in about 10 minutes flat. The rest of the film is either ass beatings and pissing contests in prison (where no one ever seems to be locked up) or glorious, 80mph, explosion filled race sequences. When the engines start the music kicks in. When people get killed they get positively vaporized in a gory red mist.. And anytime a women so much as walks across screen, she does so in slow motion to hip-hop/bump-and-grind/come-fuck-me music. They make no illusions about what they’re doing. Hell, they even admit it IN THE MOVIE. Sex. Violence. And bad ass mother fucking automobiles.
This is eyecandy. Panem et circenses – bread and circuses my friends. An exploitation treat for those that have a love for such things. The critics are generally gonna hate it and the more effete are going to turn their nose up at it for its utter lack of logic. But audiences are gonna go nuts for it. The teens that sneak in are gonna get spastic for it. And it will no doubt find itself as a TNT Movie for Guys Who Like Movies. I LOVED almost every magnificent little minute of it. This is exactly the type of testosterone driven, popcorn-chomping extravaganza I was hoping for. If at all possible this should be watched at midnight at the Alamo Drafthouse with bucket of ice-cold beer. And friends. Lots of friends.
Until next time friends, smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em.