The Fast and the Future Furious
When I reviewed "The Bank Job" I said that Jason Statham movies were becoming a blur as he played one similar character after another. Now to be honest whilst Statham's character in "Death Race" is not that different to many others he has played it actually doesn't matter one iota. It doesn't matter because "Death Race" is all about kick butt action and fast cars and who better is there to deliver both than Jason Statham. With a nod to "Death Race 2000" and feeling like "The Running Man" in cars "Death Race" is a movie light on story, heavy on action and where you need to disengage your brain and buckle your seat belts for bucket loads of violence and action delivered at break neck speed.
The year is 2012 and America is in a mess with high unemployment and high crime rates. Former racer, now steelworker Jensen Ames (Jason Statham - War) finds himself becoming another statistic when the steel mill closes down and whilst innocent is convicted of the murder of his wife, sent to serve his time on Terminal Island. But not long after he arrives he is offered a chance to leave by the devious Warden Hennessey (Joan Allen - The Bourne Ultimatum) who wants him to drive in the popular Death Race where inmates try to kill each other in a series of car races. If he doesn't agree he will rot in jail and so with little choice agrees, but soon comes to suspect that his conviction for murder may have been a set up by Hennessey who wanted him in particular to race.
As storylines go "Death Race" is slim and doesn't take any time at all to get to the main part and main point of the movie, the actual death race. We get just enough history to understand how much life sucks in 2012 with mass unemployment and prisoners being pitched in gladiatorial style battles for the public's viewing pleasure. And we also quickly learn that Jensen Ames is imprisoned for the murder of his wife, a crime we know he didn't commit and before we know having been thrown into prison on Terminal Island he's got into a fight and been hauled up in front of the Prison's warden. It's brief, it's cliche and their is a frightening amount of macho posturing even before we get close to the actual death race but it doesn't matter because it means we get to the death race without any padding.
Now technically alongside all the action you have the continuing storyline as Jensen believes he has been set up by the Warden so that he would become available to race as the masked Frankenstein in the next death race. And as such every now and then you have a bit of drama as Jensen discovers another truth and starts going after those he believes are responsible for his incarceration and the murder of his wife. But in reality the storyline actually ends up filling in the gaps during all the action and leads to what is not the most surprising of endings all though it does bring a nice closure to everything.
But as I've already mentioned the main point of "Death Race" is the action, the brutal car races as prisoners try to kill each other in their heavily armoured chariots as they drive around an industrial track competing in 3 stages. It is fast paced, over the top, amusing and shockingly brutal with deaths being surprisingly visual as people bite the bullet be it at the hands of a better driver or the interference of Warden Hennessey as she tries to spice things up for the millions who pay to watch. It is as already mentioned like "The Running Man" in cars as we watch Jensen drive like a maniac, battling other drivers and outwitting them when ever needed. And all of this fast paced action no matter how outrageous delivers bucket loads of adrenalin packed entertainment.
Now "Death Race" is very much in Jason Stratham's comfort zone, he is playing this action man character with attitude who's not afraid to serve up a butt kicking whilst also driving like an expert. It's the case that we've seen it before but in a movie all about trying to kill others with your car it seems to feel fresh and entertaining. What is unusual is that Joan Allen is cast as Warden Hennessey because to be honest this is not the sort of movie you expect Allen to appear in. But it strangely works because she makes Hennessey an ice maiden, a real bitch who has no regard for the prisoners in her prison yet is surprisingly sexy. And sexy is probably the easiest way to describe Natalie Martinez who plays Case, Jensen's unbelievably sexy navigator in the death races. And if you can take your eyes off of Martinez for a minute there are solid performances from both Tyrese Gibson and Ian McShane as well.
What this all boils down to is that "Death Race" is nothing more than you expect from a movie which features Jason Statham as he plays yet another character who can drive fast and punch hard. But if all you want is some adrenalin fuelled escapism which is heavy on action and light on storyline then "Death Race" will be right up your street. Feeling like "The Running Man" with cars this is a movie when you just need to sit back and enjoy the numerous brutal action scenes.