Should I Watch..? 'Death Race'

Updated on August 21, 2018
Benjamin Cox profile image

Benjamin has been reviewing films for over ten years and has seen more action movies than he should probably admit to!

Poster for the film
Poster for the film | Source

What's the big deal?

Death Race is an action thriller film released in 2008 and is a reboot of Roger Corman's 1975 cult classic Death Race 2000. The film is set in the near future and concerns televised motor races between incarcerated criminals, racing and scraping for a shot at freedom. The film stars Jason Statham, Joan Allen, Ian McShane and Tyrese Gibson and was directed by Paul W.S. Anderson. Having been in development since 2002, the film was successful enough to begin a series of straight-to-DVD sequels. Death Race made a modest $75.6 million worldwide and was greeted with a generally negative reaction from critics. The film also features David Carradine (the star of the original Death Race 2000) in a voice cameo.

Forgettable

2 stars for Death Race

What's it about?

After the US economy collapses, the increased crime rate in society leads to the rise of super-sized private prisons such as Terminal Island. The warden, Claire Hennessey, has devised a system of televised motor-races featuring prisoners as drivers. These so-called Death Races have become ludicrously popular and nobody is more popular than masked driver Frankenstein, the star of the show. With a variety of offensive and defensive weapons on display, the races themselves are brutal and anybody who wins five races wins their freedom.

Meanwhile, former NASCAR driver Jensen Ames is struggling to support his family after the steel mill where he works closes down. Returning home, Ames is knocked out and wakes up to find himself framed for his wife's murder. After being arrested by police, Ames finds himself sent to Terminal Island where Hennessey wants him to race in the guise of Frankenstein who died after the last race. With viewing figures down in the aftermath of Frankenstein's "disappearance", Hennessey is eager for Ames to race for her. Reluctantly, Ames discovers that he doesn't have much of a choice.

Trailer

Main Cast

Actor
Role
Jason Statham
Jensen Ames / Frankenstein
Tyrese Gibson
Joseph Mason / Machine Gun Joe
Joan Allen
Claire Hennessey
Ian McShane
Coach
Natalie Martinez
Case
Max Ryan
Slovo Pachenko

Technical Info

Director
Paul W.S. Anderson
Screenplay
Paul W.S. Anderson*
Running Time
105 minutes
Release Date (UK)
26th September, 2008
Genre
Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller
*based on the film 'Death Race 2000' by Robert Thom & Charles Griffith and the novel 'Death Race 2000' by Ib Melchior
The film's many action sequences are noisy and incoherent - many of the vehicles look too similar to each other, making it hard to keep up with proceedings.
The film's many action sequences are noisy and incoherent - many of the vehicles look too similar to each other, making it hard to keep up with proceedings. | Source

What's to like?

Death Race is the sort of film that knows exactly what audience type it's aiming for and throws everything it can think of into the film to appeal precisely to that target audience. Unfortunately, the target audience are boys around the age of 15-16 so the movie is a veritable orgy of noise, guns, sexy women, colourful language and vehicular-based violence. Not that the film was gonna pretend to be anything else, let's be honest, so at least it had the smarts to fulfil its somewhat basic brief.

Actually, the action scenes are probably the best thing about the film. The races are exciting if spectacularly dumb (why are weapons only activated by driving over odd markers?) but there doesn't appear to be much in the way of CG - the film has an old-school feel to it that viewers my age (late thirties) will appreciate. The human cast, by contrast, feel far more one-dimensional and boring. Only McShane delivers a suitably slimy performance as Jensen's head mechanic and pit-crew leader Coach and nobody can deny that Statham looks at home in an armoured car adorned with machine guns.

Fun Facts

  • To help get into shape, Statham trained for three months with an ex-Navy SEAL - one of the trainers for the film 300. He went from 20% body fat to just 6% in that time.
  • Allen was the first choice for the role of Governor Hennessey but Anderson never expected her to accept the role. To his surprise, she agreed as she wanted to shake up people's image of her.
  • The film used 35 cars which were constantly repaired by a team of 85 mechanics, even the film only features 11 vehicles. Ames' car is a 2006 Mustang GT fitted with a 5.4 ltr V8 engine, two miniguns, flamethrowers and napalm. Each car cost at least $250'000 to spec for the film.

What's not to like?

If you're not a teenage boy then Death Race will not do much to try and win you over. Granted, it doesn't care what you think so it won't get too upset if I say that watching this film is like watching someone playing a video game and they won't let you have a turn. The cast are fairly anonymous against the backdrop of ultra-violent street races but Allen is hideously miscast as the ball-busting warden. She has a line of dialogue so poorly written, and contains a threat so meaningless, that I can't believe she spat it out without cursing her agent. No wonder we haven't seen her in garbage like this since. She deserves far, far better.

Corman's low-budget influences can still be felt through the Hollywood gloss (not that Death Race is that low budget - at $45 million, it's Corman's biggest-ever budget) as the film's narrative contains little in the way of shocks, surprises or originality. The film has a nasty, grubby feel to it as though it's an exploitation picture and considering the single-minded use of female characters like Martinez's (in her film debut), that feeling is reinforced. The movie is the result of a catastrophic explosion at an idiot factory with clumps of dumbness raining down over the screenplay, cast and audience.

Statham looks the part but doesn't exactly deliver a winning performance in the film, maintaining the same blank expression throughout.
Statham looks the part but doesn't exactly deliver a winning performance in the film, maintaining the same blank expression throughout. | Source

Should I watch it?

Although it needs to be seen to be believed, do not take that as a recommendation of any sort. Death Race is an action film with minimal ambition that's happy to bombard the viewer with noisy cars and explosions. I can't award it one star because the film does deliver on its meagre promises, unlike some others I could mention. But I was so close to throwing the book at the film which is so dumb, you can feel your brain rebelling at being subjected to this nonsense.

Great For: teenage boys, Jeremy Clarkson

Not So Great For: women, men who aren't Jeremy Clarkson, children, environmentalists

What else should I watch?

Driving films aren't exactly in short supply so there is plenty of choice for the more discerning viewer. The Fast And The Furious series contains to bring audiences a heady blend of street racing and vehicular-based heist antics with Statham-lookalike Vin Diesel at the helm. I admit to having a soft spot for the 2000 version of Gone In 60 Seconds which, while it's not great, is still better than Death Race. For a more sedate experience, The Love Bug is a great family film with Disney's VW Beetle Herbie coming to life while Rush offers a look at the real-life rivalry between Formula One drivers Niki Lauda and James Hunt during the 1976 Championship.

Roger Corman has established a rock-solid reputation for low-budget films that focus purely on audience pleasure rather than critical reaction. Ever since 1954's Highway Dragnet, Corman has created a plethora of movies such as The Beast With A Million Eyes, Creature From The Haunted Sea and Galaxy Of Terror that comfortably sit in B-movie territory. However, occasionally, he hit the jackpot - Machine-Gun Kelly introduced Charles Bronson to audiences worldwide while his 1960 film The Little Shop Of Horrors not only inspired the Broadway version in 1982 but also the movie musical of the same name in 1986.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Benjamin Cox

    Soap Box

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      No comments yet.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, reelrundown.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://reelrundown.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)