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:: Death Race

Jason Statham stars as tough guy Jensen Ames, a one-time pro driver framed for his wife's murder and packed off to a corporate-run prison where brutal muscle-car racing has become a booming bloodsport. The competition's high priestess, heels-wearing warden Hennessey (Joan Allen), promises Ames an expedited release if he'll pose as “Frankenstein” - a masked driver who, unbeknownst to race fans, died after a recent crash.

This is the good-time nastiness that is “Death Race.” It’s a loose remake of “Death Race 2000”, released in 1975, which imagined a bloodthirsty nation crazy for a cross-country rally full of flying, dying spectators and ruthlessly sociopathic drivers. This new picture was scripted and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, who did the Resident Evil series. Anderson’s version goes its own frenetic way, and it seems to hit the spot ferociously. The year is 2012. The US economy is ruined. The prison system lies in the clutches of private enterprise, and the most maximum of all maximum-security prisons is Terminal Island, where rough men lead rough lives and the bravest of them compete in the nation’s most popular sporting event: Death Race.

The warden controls everything about the murderous affair: who gets to deploy weaponry, and when, and who might win his freedom. Joan Allen plays this authoritarian witch with a steely persona. Allen’s very good in the role. So too is Statham, perfectly built and suited to further such adventures.

Ian McShane has a great old time as Statham’s grizzled racing coach. Tyrese Gibson brings the full seethe to the role of Machine Gun Joe, chief rival of Statham’s Jensen Ames. And as Ames’ cohort, track adviser and cleavage administrator, Natalie Martinez really knows how to get out of a tricked-out vehicle in slow motion while removing her sunglasses.

The car chases and most of the characters ' actions and manners are thrillingly executed. They look the part. Again, it's worth mentioning that Statham looks the essential tough guy. The man knows how to wear a tattoo and a shaved head, and he only gets better as his youthful prettiness wears off. Above all, he is given the space he needs to go to work by the fast direction.

Thanks to its character interplay, the movie doesn't drag despite taking a little while to to really rev its engines. And the racing that ensues is loud and fast. For all its brutal predictability, the crash effects and editing are done exceedingly well. Well worth seeing.


Director: Paul W.S. Anderson

105 mins