Jarv’s Birthday Series: Death Race (2008)

I’ve developed a new theory about Paul W.S. Anderson. I have decided that the persecution complex that I’d developed regarding him going out of his way to find material that I like to then rape in front of me was just nothing more than paranoia talking. Now, my new theory is this: he was bullied in school, and the kids that bullied him were into “cool” things like zombies etc. As a result of this, when he quite inexplicably managed to become a success as an adult, he went back and all his films now are an attempt to appeal to the lost little boy crying in the corner having been ignored by the cool clique. However, the reason that those kids ostracised the little twerp is that he has absolutely no concept about what made these subjects cool in the first place. Now, to disguise his ineptitude, he pretends that the remakes/ destruction of these very films are actually prequels to those original classics. So, in the case of the terrible first Resident Evil movie, he hasn’t botched the adaptation of the game, because his piss-poor cretinous version of it is really a prequel. Which brings me round to Death Race (release date 22nd August in the USA). I unashamedly love the Carradine/ Stallone original, being a wacky blend of dystopia, satire and all round craziness. Little touches such as Euthanasia Day at the hospital always make me smile and I do have to admit that when I heard that Anderson was helming the remake (sorry, prequel), a small piece of my childhood started crying before fetching the doll to show the officer where the bad man touched it.

This is, and I will take no argument on this one, an absolutely terrible film. Death Race stars Jason Statham as Ames, retired race car driver. Society has collapsed, and he’s struggling to make ends meet. Framed for the murder of his wife and child, Ames is incarcerated under the less than tender care of Joan Allen’s Hennessey. Not only is she warden, but she’s also the caretaker or manager of the Death Race game. The idea is, convicts race around a track inside the stadium, the winner of the race (usually last survivor) will eventually, when he’s won enough be allowed release. Ames is teamed up with Ian McShane’s Coach and Case(the smokin’ hot Natalie Martinez) in the costume of “Frankenstein”, the best driver in the game (killed in the opening sequence). Up against Ames are shit loads of other drivers, including Tyrese Gibson’s Machine Gun Joe, Max Ryan’s Pachenko (the man that really killed Ames’ wife and kid. Oh shit, spoiler), Robin Shou’s 14K and Robert LaSardo’s Grimm.

This film is loud, obnoxious and shit. The acting is fine, with McShane and Allen completely wasted in this tosh. The Stath is the Stath and is OK here, Martinez is basically a life support system for a fantastic pair of tits, which is fair enough, and Gibson hollers away for no real good reason. That’s not the problem with the film.

The problem, as is usually the case with Anderson films, starts with the script. Has any writer/ director ever been as inept as him? This is a script that tries to be too clever by half and throttles itself to death on idiotic twists (Pachenko killing Ames’ wife being a prime example, or Case having been in the pay of Hennessey to engineer the original Frankenstein’s death). As if this wasn’t boneheaded enough, there are also an insane amount of plot holes in it, and some of them are absolutely gaping. Why, for example, would Allen “unleash the dreadnought” to kill every single driver on the track? Aside, obviously, that that dickhead Anderson thought it would be cool.

I wonder in this case if the model for the script wasn’t Rollerball. Bear with me a second, but they both essentially deal with a dystopian society where a “game” serves as an all-important safety valve for the population, and the powers that be will do anything to protect the game. Death Race is even structured in a similar fashion to Rollerball, with the story hinging on 3 “games” (races in this case). It’s an interesting idea, and shows how much Anderson missed the point of Corman’s original film.

The second problem is that it just isn’t any fun. None at all. The opening chase with Joe gunning Frankenstein’s car down is loud and cretinous. The unleashing of the Dreadnought is loud and cretinous. The racing itself is, you’ve guessed it, loud and cretinous. It’s  honestly like babysitting a retarded kid who insists on playing the fucking drums. As an example of how dumb and annoying this film is, Ames gets out of his car to kill Pachenko, Why? Wouldn’t you, surely, just drive over the fucker?

With one exception. As lousy as this film is, there’s one scene that saves it from an Orangutan of Doom. I named this as one of the best cinema deaths a while ago, and rewatching it, I’d forgotten precisely how much fun it is. Grimm survives a pretty big wreck, he looks fucked. However, he gets out of the car, puts his hands in the air and starts screaming “you can’t kill the reaper”, an action that prompts Joe to smear him all over the tarmac. This is, actually, highly amusing and hugely entertaining and if the rest of this film was on that level, then I’d think more fondly of it. Also, to be fair to the film, the chases weren’t CGI, so props for that.

This is, typically, a remake of a much-loved cult favourite. Therefore it suffers from the problem that plagues all remakes: comparison with the original. For a very, very select few (The Fly and The Thing leaping to mind) the remake can actually surpass the original in quality, but most of the time you end up with soulless and annoying crap like Stallone’s version of Get Carter. Death Race, unsurprisingly, fits into the latter category. This isn’t a film, rather it is a marketing exercise where they’ve taken the original name, and a few of the character names, and attached it to a story that bears no resemblance (even thematically) with the original. Pretending it’s a prequel is just a lame cop-out to try to avoid the inevitably unfavourable comparison that this effort would earn. Worse than that, though, is that the film is little more than a montage of wannabe hook moments, as if it were shot with the trailer in mind. This is a film which reeks of cynicism, as there’s literally no reason at all for it to exist, and it is so deliberately aimed at the lowest common denominator that I can’t believe that this was accidental. Sadly, as is always the way with the LCD shit that Anderson does, the damned thing did come out in the black in the end (barely). You would think that he’d try to aim a bit higher after that, but nope, he followed it with the dismal Resident Evil: Afterlife, which is even stupider, but in THREE FUCKING D (really just an excuse to poke things at the camera).

Overall, I detest this film. It’s a horrible, boring, loud and stupid experience. However, what really puts the kicker on it for me is that it lacks heart and soul. If I want to watch a marketing exercise in action, then I’d actually do my job at work rather than messing around on the internets. I can’t bear this horrible attitude, and at the end of the day this is always what kills P.W.S. Anderson films for me. Nevertheless, the Grimm death scene is entertaining, so it can have half a pissed off Carradine Frankenstein out of four.

Thank fuck that’s over with. I’ve only got three  films left and at least two of them are ace.

Until next time,

Jarv.

The full list in this series:

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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

34 responses to “Jarv’s Birthday Series: Death Race (2008)”

  1. Xiphos0311 says :

    I’ll argue it. even if it wasn’t decent movie i would argue it since you took that stand.

    The first and foremost argument that gives me a clear cut victory is that the first one wasn’t all that good either.

    • Jarv says :

      See, I really like the first one.

      I think it’s the difference in tone that gets to me- the first was light, this is po-faced and grim.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        isn’t it an inherently grim idea being force to fight vehicular combat for entertainment purposes?

      • Jarv says :

        No, the original is primarily an actual race across America and is silly more than anything else. Even the costumes and cars are daft.

        They aren’t meant to kill each other.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        wan’t the whole point of the serial Frankenstein’s was when they are used up bring in another? Wasn’t Rocky supposed to get lured into an ambush so they could replace him? Didn’t Rocky drive his car over the President? That’s not really a skipping down the lane level of light heartiness in my opinion.

      • Jarv says :

        No- Frankenstein has been going for ages.

        He’s trying to assassinate the President.

        I agree that subject matter isn’t light, but it is silly, and it is played for laughs rather than being grim. The silly costumes and car decorations not to mention the OTT commentator lighten the tone.

        The remake is just inherently grim- there was always a risk of that when you set it in prison.

      • Continentalop says :

        Yeah in the original you get points for killing pedestrians. And the more helpless the pedestrian the more points you get.

        It is just a whacked out awesome movie.

      • Jarv says :

        Actually, the original is one of the films that does warrant a good remake.

        This is not it.

  2. Droid says :

    This movie is complete shit.

  3. Col. Tigh-Fighter says :

    I’m a bit indifferent to Anderson, but have to admit that I enjoy the RE films as guilty pleasures. Along with liking Zack Snyder, I guess your idea of hell would be being forced to sit through my DVD collection (especially the slighty gay (no not porn) part of it) :p *

    But this was boring shite. Making a film like this boring is high crimes and treason in my book.

    *perhaps this is a challange to anyone brave enough.

    • Droid says :

      I don’t really see how the RE films are guilty pleasures. How are they pleasurable? I find them pretty tedious and uninspired.

      • Jarv says :

        Me Neither.

        I’ve sat through a lot of Almodovar, so I reckon I’d rather watch the fruity stuff in the Colonel’s collection than Resident Evil

      • Droid says :

        When can we expect your review of the new Almadovar movie?

      • Jarv says :

        Next week.

        Lovefilm have sent it.

      • Jarv says :

        Actually, that’s not true, that’s Broken Embraces.

        The new one is OUT ON THE 26TH IN LONDON!!!

        Special bonus Birthday review in sympathy for pillows.

      • Droid says :

        Have you seen every Almadovar film? Apart from the new one of course.

      • Jarv says :

        Not quite. I’m missing Broken Embraces and another one, one of the early ones.

        I didn’t do it on purpose.

      • Droid says :

        I’m pretty sure I’ve only seen one. All About My Mother. I think one is more than enough for me.

      • Jarv says :

        That’s one of the worst ones.

        I’d strongly, genuinely, recommend Talk to Her. It’s a 3.5 to 4 Chang film that. I also rate Bad Education very highly.

      • Droid says :

        Maybe one day. I’m certainly not going to go out of my way to watch them. Too much I haven’t seen. Still gotta achieve 100% Eastwood and right now I’m only at about 50%.

      • Col. Tigh-Fighter says :

        I think RE is a fun, little zombie flick with some good deaths in it. OTT, but so what? Some silly bits, but also some good stuff too. Happily have 1 and 2 in my collection. But not 3, which was really shite. People seem to like that one too. 4 I need to watch again, but didnt leave much of a mark so it cant have been very good. Good beginning I think.

      • Jarv says :

        1 and 4 both use amnesia as a plot device and are, therefore, shit.

        2 is an atrocity and terrible for loads of different reasons. Comedy Negro, though, is what makes it unforgivable.

        3 is at least a coherent film- but still not good.

  4. just pillow talk says :

    I would give this a one out of four because of Stath and the brilliance of Martinez’s body.

    I will second Talk to Her, his best film.

    And I appreciate the bonus birthday review.

  5. ThereWolf says :

    The original is all right, but it was never a favourite of mine.

    Unlikely I’ll ever see this remake.

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