The problem with Death Race is that you have already seen the good stuff. Sold as a mindless and violent actioner, this film is nothing more than that and if you have already accepted it as such do yourself a favor and avoid anymore marketing before you head to the theater. This isn’t a bad movie by any stretch, it serves its purpose and fills its genre role, but you have seen so many films similar to this that I can’t really call this film anything more than average.
For those worried Death Race will in some way tarnish the legacy of the 1975 original, don’t worry. If you can even classify Death Race 2000‘s existence as a “legacy” this will only bring it more attention as some folks may be interested to see what Sylvester Stallone looked like as he raced across country in a car race in which pedestrians are run down for points on the way to the finish line. Death Race circa 2008 doesn’t even waste time with a point system, survive to the finish and do your best to win, that’s all you need to worry about here. The kicker is that it takes place in prison.
Convicts, led by Jason Statham and Tyrese Gibson, have the opportunity to win five races and earn their freedom back in a penitentiary system run by corporations in the near future. The plotline is a loose one and not a lot of time is spent on set up and rightly so, this isn’t a film concerned with facts, it’s focused on violent killings. Only problem is that none of it comes as a surprise as every impactful heavy hit was already teased in any one of the trailers shown online, on television or in theaters therefore ruining any kind of real theater experience. Those that go in blind are sure to have a better time than those that have seen any of what is to come.
The only acting note worth mentioning is the fact director Paul W.S. Anderson was somehow able to wrangle Joan Allen into his cast as queen bitch prison warden. The decision by Allen to take on such a role is shocking considering her resume and the fact that this film only really serves as a paycheck. It adds nothing to her filmography and she really doesn’t add anything to the film considering her role is so generic and she is given nothing to work with.
Operating like a UFC cage match on steroids, where death is the final bell, Death Race is sure to drag in the WWE audience, but its general audience penetration is likely to be slim after the opening weekend. Violence alone just doesn’t sell beyond opening weekend and the more studios giveaway all the good stuff in the previews the less likely audiences are going to continue to turn up considering all the surprises are already gone.