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,
The full list in this series:
- 1978 – The Driver (3 out of 4)
- 1979 – Life of Brian (4 out of 4)
- 1980 –Xanadu (Orangutan of Doom)
- 1981 – An American Werewolf in London (4 out of 4)
- 1982 – Class of 1984 (3 out of 4)
- 1983 – Fire and Ice (1 out of 4)
- 1984 – Cal (1/2 out of 4)
- 1985 – Teen Wolf (3 out of 4)
- 1986 –Reform School Girls (2.5 out of 4)
- 1987 – Dirty Dancing (Orangutan of Doom)
- 1988 – Married to the Mob (1 out of 4)
- 1989 – Millennium (1 out of 4)
- 1990 – Darkman (3 out of 4)
- 1991 – Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man (2 out of 4)
- 1992 – Christopher Columbus: The Discovery (Orangutan of Doom)
- 1993 – Hard Target (3 out of 4)
- 1994 – Natural Born Killers (1 out of 4)
- 1995 – Desperado (3 out of 4)
- 1996 – Freeway (2.5 out of 4)
- 1997 – Mimic (2.5 out of 4)
- 1998 – Blade (3.5 out of 4)
- 1999 – Teaching Mrs. Tingle (1 out of 4)
- 2000 – Bring it On (1 out of 4)
- 2001 – Heartbreakers (0.5 out of 4)
- 2002 – Sim0ne (2 out of 4)
- 2003 – My Boss’s Daughter (Orangutan of Doom)
- 2004 – Exorcist: The beginning (1 out of 4)
- 2005 – The Cave (0.5 out of 4)
- 2006 – Invincible (3 out of 4)
- 2007 – War (2 out of 4)
- 2008 – Death Race (0.5 out of 4)
- 2009 – Der Baader Meinhof Komplex
- 2010 – Piranha 3D
- 2011 – Conan the Barbarian