I had been meaning to watch this for ages. I remember watching the original, set in the far off year of 2000. A more violent age when everyone wore spandex. Sadly the spandex wasn’t true although you do see a lot of lycra around.
So you can imagine my excitement when I arrived for work at the Syfy channel and saw that we were playing it that evening on the Syfy France feed.
Unfortunately, as it was on the French channel all the opening explanation was in French. My French is a bit rusty and the writing went by quite quickly but here is what I managed to translate in my sluggish brain. In the future crime levels increase. Corporations take over the running of prisons and in order to pay for it, they stage Death Races over the web. People pay a subscription to watch criminals race it out in Mad Max style cars that are armed with cool things like machine guns and napalm. They are the new gladiators.
Fortunately I could patch through the English audio tracks so didn’t have to think anymore.
Enter Jason Statham. He is framed for the murder of his wife and sent to the nick. It turns out he was a superb driver and it starts to look like maybe he was framed just to get him in the race. An evil prison governess informs him that there used to be a driver who had won four races and if he had won his fifth he would have been granted his freedom. Unfortunately he died in his fourth race. Luckily, he had been in so many accidents he always wore a mask and no one knew who he was. What he wore in prison before he had his first crash is never really explained, but hey, fuck it, who cares. Statham agrees to pretend to be the guy in the mask, a fellow nicknamed Frankenstein, in order to win his freedom and help boost the ratings of the Death Race. Apparently ratings were dropping off when Frankenstein wasn’t around. Which is odd as people watch Nascar and Formula 1 even though fuck all of interest happens and they aren’t even armed. Not even a pistol.
So Statham enters the race against nine other prisoners and there are lots of cool explosions and prison fights and general violence.
Everything a red blooded male could want really except for a few hot women. Brilliantly, this too has been considered. For each race, the driver gets a navigator who is a smoking hot lady from a nearby woman’s prison. Genius. It actually makes sense in the film’s premise too as it would make the races more popular. So it isn’t just gratuitous eye candy ok? It is like sexy pit-girls in Formula 1 who serve no purpose except being sexy pit-girls.
There are a few other little plot things going on but who cares?
This is a cheesy action flick with fairly stereotyped characters – an evil Russian, a tattoed Latino psychopath, a chinese Triad dude with a degree from MIT, and so forth. The plot is also fairly predictable but actually not too bad for the genre.
It is satisfyingly well acted for a violent action movie and the direction is great (if slightly confusing during some action scenes).
Did I like it?
Fuck yeah! There are a lot of shite action films out there that just leave me cold. Especially once I had passed the age of 16. (Before that, any explosion was cool and Arnie and Sylvester were Gods.) The thing is, it is all tremendous fun and highly enjoyable. Satisfyingly violent with some very cool deaths, the whole thing just works well for what it is. It does what it says on the blood stained, heavily weaponed tin. Enjoy.