Death Race

By Mark Ramsey | 2008/08/20

It’s a race to the death!

Or to the exit! Which looks a lot more appealing than death under normal circumstances. But once Death Race starts you’ll want to dig your way out of the theater with a spoon.

Looking around the room, I’m the only person above 30.

And I don’t just mean I.Q.


Hey, I’d like to say Death Race insulted my intelligence, but I was in the audience so what intelligence could I possibly have?

It’s 2012. The economy has collapsed, crime has skyrocketed, and the only available work is on the docks.

On the docks?!

Say, mack, did President Hoover get re-elected? Swell!

Death Race stars Jason Statham, Mr. “Damn the Dialogue, full bench-press ahead.” Yes, testosterone sticks to Jason like Velcro, and his acting ranges from dour to angry – and back to dour and angry.

Jason is framed and sent to the Big House, a prison where the maximum security is of the maximally ridiculous kind.

Wait a minute, a death race in a prison? What happened to the constitutional protection from “cruel and unusual punishment”? No wonder I’m trying to dig my way out of here with a spoon!

Into the prison yard strolls the one and only Joan Allen.

Yes, Oscar-nominated Joan Allen. Into this mess. To say Joan is slumming is an insult to a slum. Picture Bette Davis in Norbit or Judi Dench in Daddy Day Camp. Joan has devolved from Jason Bourne to Jason Statham.

Who’s next, Jason Voorhees?

Joan’s own Death Race is with a syringe of Botox, and the syringe is winning.

My favorite part is when Joan shouts “Activate swords and shields! Activate death heads!” I believe she first uttered those words in the Kennedy Center production of Eugene O’Neill’s Moon for the Misbegotten.

“It seems you have some talent behind the wheel,” Joan tells Jason, and Joan sure must be using her good glasses if she can spot talent at the wheel of anything in this movie.

Joan wants Jason to stand in for the audience’s favorite driver, “Frankenstein.” So named because he is so disfigured he must wear a mask. “The audience loves Frank,” she says. “He moves them, inspires them – like Robert Redford in The Natural but in a muscle car equipped with machine guns and napalm.”

As “Frankenstein,” Jason must wear a mask which offers almost no visibility. No surprise, then, that the race was going fine until Frank realized his car was in park but his windshield wipers were running at 850 horsepower.


One character has “777″ tattooed over one eye, which as any former convict knows, represents one’s preferred Boeing jet family. I have “737″ over my eye because my lockdown is usually aboard a Southwest jet.

Jason’s “coach” is craggily-faced Ian McShane, who played in Deadwood and now plays dead wood. Ian’s face is what you get when you train a raisin at the Actor’s Studio.

Ian’s helper is a stuttering fool convict. Says Ian, “He’s in for ‘Reading Harry Potter books out of sequence in the third degree.’”

And what prison-based car-and-killing epic would be complete without a bus of inmates from the ladies’ prison, where these convicts don’t look like any lady prisoners I have ever seen. “They’re in for ‘Pussycat Dolls in the Third Degree,’ said Ian.

This new version of Death Race is from writer/director Paul W. S. Anderson, best known for movies like Alien vs. Predator and Resident Evil – movies best experienced when your hands are holding a video controller rather than a bucket of popcorn. When Paul comes knocking, I cover my eyes and my wallet.

Hey, I don’t have enough hands!

How do I cover my eyes and my wallet at the same time!?


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