Ex-con Jensen Ames is forced by the warden of a notorious prison to compete in our post-industrial world's most popular sport: a car race in which inmates must brutalize and kill one another on the road to victory.
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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
Now here's an exploitation film that knows what a solid B-movie is supposed to be: an action-dense, amped-up, gore-soaked killfest. It's the cinematic equivalent of eating that entire box of Red Vines you bought at the snack bar, using them as candy straws to suck down your extra-large Coke.
As a fan of the original "Death Race 2000," I was pleased to see just enough of a shadow of the original movie inhabiting the skin of the new one. Roger Corman's name on the producing credits gave me hope at the start, and his seal of approval seemed to mean something, perhaps as counterweight to Paul W. S. Anderson's track record of shooting mediocre video game adaptations. Surprisingly, Anderson rises to the occasion, effortlessly elevating a cliché-rich but fast-moving script to the level of a satisfyingly adrenalin-fueled confection aimed like a bullet at the A.D.D.-addled brains of the short-attention-span generation.
Set in an "Escape From New York"-style dystopic prison-culture (that sounds suspiciously like current American society), slaughter happens, stuff blows up, and the weak are culled like bunnies caught in the headlights of gas-sucking American muscle cars. Fans of the "Twisted Metal" video game will love the newest wrinkle in the race, the addition of weaponry a needed bloody bump for version 2.0. And what a bump it is, with each car's chugging machine guns indiscriminately spewing hot rounds at every foe, shredding Detroit steel like it was used Kleenex. It's unabashed gun fetishism at its gleeful best, and it makes you want to strap an M60 to the hood of your Prius in order to cut your commute in half.
Jason Statham does his standard tough-guy job as the scowling Frankenstein, Joan Allen plays a ball-busting warden (perhaps a bit in the mold of Louise Fletcher's Nurse Ratched), and Ian McShane of "Deadwood" has a solid cameo as the prison-wise mechanic, Coach. Even Machine Gun Joe gets a new incarnation in the form of Tyrese Gibson, who thankfully is nothing like Stallone's blustering Italian meatball.
I loved it, and can't wait to see it again in a theater with enough bass to pump up those impact crunches to the bone-jarring level they deserve.
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