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In 2012, amid economic chaos and high unemployment, Americans watch by the millions as criminals with life sentences race armored cars on Terminal Island. Two-thirds of the combatants die but the winner may earn his freedom. On the day he loses his job, steelworker Jensen Ames is arrested for his wife's murder. Sent to Terminal Island, he's offered an out by the steely and manipulative Warden Hennessey - race as the popular mask-wearing (but now dead) champion, Frankenstein, or rot in prison. Jensen makes the bargain. As the three-stage race approaches, he realizes that the whole thing may be a set up - can an anonymous man behind a mask get revenge and win his release? Written by
I shouldn't write reviews for movies like this because it feels like I'm lining up to kick a puppy. A movie like 'Death Race' can only be judged fairly through a set of lowered genre expectations. I'll try but I'm not making any promises. It is fun, very loud and unabashedly dumb. It was never envisioned to be anything other than an attempt at 'cool.' The average viewer will - without fail - be able to pick out every moment where Paul W.S. Anderson had an idea during the script writing and thought to himself "That'd be awesome!" before looking around the room for someone to high five. I shouldn't pick on him because I actually do enjoy his movies. He isn't trying to make 'Casablanca'; 'Robocop' is more his style. Just without the boring stuff like characterization and development. And as little subtlety, satire or nuance as needed. Unless unintentional or totally by mistake and ironic -- That'd be alright.
This movie's lone strength is the special effects and it lives and dies by the car chase, the machine gun firing and the gory death(s). Michael Bay, eat you heart out. Anderson knows the art of kaboom and action junkees should be satisfied with his efforts here -- especially during the second race when the 'Dreadnought' enters the race. As long as you numb your brain into not asking serious questions about things like physics. Or how massive amounts of armour on a car wouldn't make flesh and soft tissue any safer in horrifying car crashes. Or how the American economy of the Dystopian future has crumbled, but 70 million can still afford the pay-per-view price to watch. Maybe some of the viewers are from Canada.
If you were to put any consideration into serious film criticism where 'Death Race' is concerned, then you'd be the first one. The movie is so predictable, lazy and unambitious that it asks you to hand it the popcorn. In fact, have you seen the trailer? You've seen the film. Tyrese's character is homosexual, which I thought was stunningly inventive given the scriptwriter. Sliding back into predictability, it is used solely to make a few tasteless jokes before being forgotten about. Pretty standard fare for Anderson. If you've watched his other films, you know exactly what to expect. Except less. Brain still hurts too much to think about it. I think the annoying thing is that Anderson has potential. I wouldn't keep going to his movies if I didn't enjoy them. It annoys me when the problems at script level are so apparent. He has a tendency to go to predictable places: Requisite gay jokes for the prison? Check. Incredibly hot women on screen? Cue horny Rap music since I need a musical cue to point out the obvious. I'm annoyed when one character asks another if they think that they're really the best choice of parent for their offspring and the second character says later "Someone once asked me if ..." like they and the audience have forgotten the specifics of the first conversation. The audience doesn't need to be spoon-fed the obvious. It's a weakness that I hope Anderson can shed. He clearly loves making movies. Trusting the audience a little more and giving us some credit might let him make better ones.
The crazy thing is that despite it all, I enjoyed 'Death Race.' It is flawed from top to bottom but wears the flaws so honestly and endearingly that you really shouldn't hold it against the movie. Need to go see a mindless distraction for an hour and a half? 'Death Race' isn't a bad choice. With 'Death Race' you get exactly what you expect and exactly what you deserve.
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