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Death Race
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by Adrian Starland

"Mean & Lean, Like a "Death Machine"
3 stars

When is a Roger Corman movie not a Roger Corman movie? When it's a Roger Corman movie remake of a Roger Corman movie. (Uhhh... have I confused you yet?)

A couple short months ago I'd decided to investigate what was to me an obscure movie I'd never heard of named, "Death Race 2000" ("DR2K") which I'd finally allowed to blip across my radar screen after reading in someone's text comment somewhere about some topic on some website (neither of which I'll ever be able to remember even if my life depended on it) proclaiming how bad of a movie it was.

Noticing the "release date" and "theme" of the movie, it became apparent to me that it was something I'd have probably enjoyed sitting through to some small degree, since I've got this strange little fascination for quirky, cheesy "dystopian future" low-budget fare... and "DR2K" seemed like it was right up that gut-groaning alley and was just crying out to be given the chance to issue the traditional "Ace-of-Stars 'Sit-Through-Me-If-You-Can' Challenge."

When I was finally able to track it down and give it the ol' go-ahead, it was then that I'd learned that it was yet another in the long line of "questionable" classics from schlock jock producer, the aforementioned Roger Corman, whose name is synonymous with: "What the Fxck was that we just finished watching?" [slash] "What the Hxll were they thinking when they made this?"... but often, for some unbeknownst reason, coming entirely from the standpoint of embarrassingly "guilty pleasure" territory (you know, the kind of stuff you'd watch alone in the private seclusion of your own apartment when you're high and battling the munchies with a New York style big cheese pizza, but you'd be totally ashamed to find space for among your personal DVD library collection... c'mon, we've all been there). And the even bigger surprise was finding Sylvester Stallone co-starring alongside ol' Kung Fu himself, David Carradine.

The original movie tells an intriguing and highly implausible story about a cross country race with a major twist: whereas such races present possible risk to spectators in the event of crashes, in "DR2K" any spectators/civilians curious (or stupid) enough to be anywhere along the (not-so-clearly defined) race course do more than just run the risk of becoming accidental casualties... they become deliberate "targets." (See? Implausible.)

But just recently I'd learned that another "obscure" (again, to me) movie I'd at least known a little smidgen about this time around, called, "Death Race" ("DR"), was a "remake" of the 1975 Roger Corman movie of the almost same name which again came up as part of a topic in a discussion board surrounding the 'prequel sequel', "Death Race 2" (yeah...I know). So this newly acquired info inspired me to have a look-see at the so-called remake of the original film.

Lo and behold, once I'd settled in to watch this one, what else should come up in the opening credit sequence but the name Roger Corman being listed as one of the producers? Mass confusion hit right away, because the look & feel of this movie was WAY too "refined" and energetic to be a Corman film.

The newer story is just as highly unlikely, but considerably more plausible. As if to suggest that the year 2012 will finally see Ron Paul as the nation's Chief Executive and the "Tea Party" in full control of the Legislative Branch of the U.S. government, the economy has plummeted to such Depression-level lows that the nation's prison systems have been "privatized." And in one such privatized system they are allowed to web/cable/satellite cast a gladiatorial "sporting" event known as-- you guessed it, "Death Race" --wherein the combatants are violent prison inmates in heavily armored and heavily armed racing machines who try to blast one another to smithereens on an enclosed racetrack, replete with all sorts of deadly and otherwise useful "power-ups," all with the goal in mind of winning (and surviving) enough races to win their release from penitentiary. However, nothing is ever quite as simple as it sounds, is it?

The opening credits also declare that this newer version was "based" on "DR2K." However, both that claim and calling it a "remake" seem to be taking the act of stretching the truth to a whole new level. The only true similarities between these two movies (other than the 'murderous racecar' motif) were that they both featured a lead character known by his racing moniker, "Frankenstein" a mysterious masked figure who seems to have a remarkable ability to cheat death, but at a huge cost to his face & body (think Evel Knievel squared). In both movies, "Frankenstein" is considered the "People's Champion" in their respective versions of their deadly motorsport. But that's where any similarities between the two movies end. Whereas the original "DR2K" looks & feels more like an alternate view of the world of the original "Rollerball" (which was coincidentally released a couple of months later that same year), the new "DR" undoubtedly owes much of the credit for its inspiration to 1987's "The Running Man" and any number of "shoot 'em up" Playstation and Nintendo video games one can name off the top of his/her head.

While the concept of the "eternal mystery man" and the shtick which keeps him & his legend "alive" is identical between both pictures, the fleshing-out treatment of the "Frankenstein" character between the two films is one of interesting contrasts: the first movie gradually revealing his character is less of a conscienceless "win-at-all-costs" icon trying to live up to a reputation and is more of an anti-hero [slash] tragedy figure; the reinterpretation lets us know from point zero exactly who our new "man behind the mask" is, and his motivations are clearly stated from the word "Go!" Both interpretations are effective, though the "reveal-by-layers" technique used to familiarize us with Carradine's version of the character ultimately makes him someone whom we may be more inclined to support and sympathize with, thus making him eventually the more "likable" of the two, while we may tend to share a closer "bond of kinship" with the Jason Statham version, as his predicament and subsequent motivations do a better job of hitting us all close to home.

The starkest comparison, of course, is that "Death Race" replaces the over-the-top cheesy & guttural groan-inducing humor and cheap cardboard cut-out set production of "Death Race 2000" with over-the-top balls-to-the-wall unrelenting violent visual assaults and hard dirty & gritty attention-to-detail stage sets. The story does get itself a little too carried away in spots, but overall it is a decent attention grabber & holder.

Nothing in or about this movie will endear it to anyone coming to it with "Nostalgia Junkie" sensibilities, but for the "reinterpretation-curious" and "gamer" crowds, it just may satisfy. If nothing else, it'll be enough to make you wonder what the course of movie history would've been had Corman always dedicated himself to more serious and deliberately well-made "high quality" projects such as this, instead of the type of screen fare almost universally associated with his famous name.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17024&reviewer=427
originally posted: 06/30/11 03:28:49
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User Comments

9/16/17 morris campbell mindless action fun 4 stars
9/10/11 Captain00Kirk Just a fun, mindless, violent action picture. www.youtube.com/Captain00Kirk 4 stars
8/16/09 harpreet singh wow. i liked this movie because it was jason who got role to play of jensen ames. 5 stars
2/19/09 KingNeutron I liked it - would watch again, lots of nice action even if the plot is thin 4 stars
2/16/09 mr.mike Not bad at all. 4 stars
2/04/09 cody a pretty good remake with great action,fine girls, and explosions. the ending is great. 3 stars
12/28/08 Brap Fuck you hollywood, I'M NOT STUPID! I WANT LOGICAL ENTERTAINMENT! 1 stars
12/24/08 matt wow. shit dialgue. nonsense plot. illuminati symbols everywhere. ws anderson needs to stop 1 stars
11/08/08 This was crap Boring cliches and poorly filmed action scenes. 1 stars
10/31/08 Lenny Zane At best, enough action for about 45 minutes of non-boredom. 2 stars
10/25/08 noops.... fucking sexy movie 5 stars
9/12/08 DW Smith Shoot'em up smash up. I thought it was fun. 4 stars
8/24/08 WeeToddDidd Bad remake, smash up derby with weapons in a prison. 2 stars
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  22-Aug-2008 (R)
  DVD: 23-Dec-2008


  DVD: 23-Dec-2008

Directed by
  Paul W.S. Anderson

Written by
  Paul W.S. Anderson

  Jason Statham
  Joan Allen
  Tyrese Gibson
  Ian McShane

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