So what if Death Race is just one clichéd excuse to smash up cars; it still kind of gets the adrenaline flowing.
The plot is completely superfluous to what's really going on--death and destruction behind the wheel of a car--but nevertheless, there has to be some semblance of a story or it couldn't be a feature film starring Jason Statham. In this case, it's a remake of a cheesy 1975 Roger Corman flick, set in a near future where the world has (again) gone to hell in a hand basket. Statham plays Jensen Ames, a former race car driver, who is framed for the murder of his wife and sent to the dreaded Terminal Island penitentiary so he can compete in the hugely popular Death Race. Inmates try to win by killing off their competitors with their cars, last man standing kind of thing. Of course, Jensen doesn't want to have anything to do with such a spectacle and only wants revenge for his wife's death--but the mean lady warden Weyland (Joan Allen), who makes a butt load of cash off these races, begs to differ, forcing Jensen into it and well, you can guess the rest.
Again, there isn't anything too exciting to report here. Statham plays the same guy he has played in just about all his films--brooding, sexy, British, can drive fast--which works out just fine in Death Race. The guy knows what works best for him and god bless him, he never veers from it. There's also some nice supporting turns by Deadwood's Ian McShane, as Coach, Jensen's main mechanic; Tyrese Gibson as Machine Gun Joe, Jensen's main competition; and Natalie Martinez as the hottie who gets to ride in the car with Jensen (don't ask). But about the only actor in Death Race who truly looks like she's relishing the fact she gets to chew up the scenery is Allen. One wonders in what universe she was persuaded to take this part (butt loads of cash perhaps?), but we are glad she took it.
Director Paul W.S. Anderson really isn't known for Oscar contenders, but the guy understands over-the-top gratuitous violence better than most, having helmed such classics (I'm kidding) as Resident Evil and Alien vs. Predator. The first Death Race 2000 was a lot campier than this redo, however. Death Race takes itself a wee bit more seriously than it should and could have benefitted from some of the original's energy. Nonetheless, it is exactly what you'd expect from a R-rated smash-'em-up: cars and people being ripped apart in all kinds of ways. Good times. If you're an adrenaline junkie, Death Race will most certainly appeal to you.
Hollywood.com rated this film 2 stars.