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Death Race

dir: Paul W.S. Anderson
[img_assist|nid=156|title=Statham: He looks like he's carved from granite, and acts like it too|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=300]
There are two Paul Andersons who work as directors in contemporary cinema. There’s probably more but there’s two main ones I’m concerned with. Paul Thomas Anderson is the guy who made Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Punch Drunk Love and There Will Be Blood. The other Paul Anderson, with the W.S. initials betwixt the Paul and the Anderson, is the British chap who made films such as Mortal Kombat, Event Horizon, Resident Evil, and Alien Versus Predator.

Guess which Paul Anderson made this flick.

Death Race is a remake of a flick that was called Death Race 2000, made in the seventies. I guess calling this version Death Race 2000 would have given people the impression it was a period piece, a Merchant Ivory bittersweet coming of age story with Model T Fords and horse drawn carriages fighting it out for the love of a good woman / boy / pony.

Death Race 3000 would have hurt people’s brains by being so clearly set in a far too distant future. Like Futurama.

Death Race, on its own, unadorned, is a purely functional name, the way this flick and Jason Statham’s head and acting are purely functional. In this film, there’s car racing, hence the Race portion of the name, and people are killed, hence the Death. A team of scientists, fresh off of mapping the human genome, synthesised the Race and Death parts together into a working title, yea verily, and nominated Paul W. S. Anderson to extrude, expel and otherwise excrete this film upon an uncaring world.

Truth be told, by way of saying that this isn’t the shittiest film Anderson has directed, it’s almost like saying it’s one of his best ever achievements as not only a director, but as a human being. His best achievement, despite his complete and utter horribleness and staggering incompetence as a writer, producer or director of movies, is the fact that he and Milla Jovovich had a child together.

Yes, it’s all well and good that he’s become a father, and as long as he’s a good father, all his multiple failures as a filmmaker can almost been forgiven. It’s the theory I use to justify my own life in the face of a) multiple failures and b) becoming a father. What I really mean is that the high point of Paul W. S. Anderson’s achievements are that he got to fuck Milla Jovovich.

Sure, Milla can’t act for shit and is looking a bit worn out these days, but it’s still the Mt Everest of achievements for a wheelchair bound guy as shitty at what he does as Anderson. His badness as a director should preclude him not only from having sex with Milla Jovovich or any semi-attractive woman or man on this or any other planet, it should preclude him from ever having sex ever again, including masturbation. His hands should be cut off at the wrist, or maybe the elbows, just to make sure.

Yes, he’s that bad. Am I overstating the case? Perhaps I am, but I tell you now, no other director, regardless of what genre they work in, has ever convinced me that they are as irredeemably incapable of understanding what makes a film work or how to tell a story as this hack here.

Good lord are his flicks terrible, his scripts worse, and his existence a blight upon the art form.

On the other hand, this is a film called Death Race. People Race. Many of them Die. It’s impossible for even a hack of Anderson’s magnitude to fuck up such a basic premise, but by the gods does he try.

Though the entire plot of this shlockfest makes no sense to anyone except those kinds of people who say “you just have to switch your brain off to enjoy it”, whose life support machines should be switched off instead, it doesn’t matter, because cars blow up and people die real good.

Jason Statham plays a character indistinguishable from every other character he’s ever played, whether its Transporter this or Crank that, but it hardly matters. No-one watches Statham for his flexibility: they watch him for his consistency. And he is a consistent meathead, if nothing else.

In this flick he plays some guy with the unlikely name of Jensen Granger Ames, named after some car, who’s an ex-crim who was trying to go straight until the steel mill where he worked closed down. That very same day, some balaclava clad lunatic sneaks into his house and murders his wife, framing Jensen for it.

It turns out that it’s some highly unlikely plot to force Jensen to take over the identity of a driver called Frankenstein who is the most popular contestant in an enforced race called, you guessed it, The Amazing Race. No, just kidding, this contest, televised by the prison, overseen by evil warden Hennessy (Joan Allen), is slightly less vile and demeaning that the aforementioned reality tv program.

In this race, prisoners drive cars around a track inside a prison, using weapons and other special power ups on the track as such to kill each other, with the sweet carrot of potential release after five wins dangled perpetually before them.

Hennessey runs the race for ratings on the tv and subscriptions on the internet (?), because apparently hundreds of millions of people would pay hundreds of dollars to watch moron thugs with sassy hot chicks as navigators drive around a track and shoot each other. Even though they can already get that for free with NASCAR. She needs the money, because not only have all the prisons been privatised and thus need to deliver profits and dividends to shareholders, but also Joan Allen needs heroic quantities of botox to inject into her supernatural face. I don’t think her face moved a millimetre the whole time she was in this flick. To say she had a wax work quality to her would be insulting to Madame Tussaud’s lifetime of work making lifelike wax versions of people. In her honour, Anderson has rendered Joan Allen, an actress I’ve otherwise enjoyed in plenty of films, a lifelike version of a waxwork.

She gets the key line of dialogue in the flick, a flick where if Statham actually spoke more than once I can’t recall, when she says to no-one in particular “Fuck with me, and we’ll see who shits on the sidewalk.”

I say to you, Mr Paul W. S. Anderson, what the fuck, exactly, or approximately, does that line of dialogue mean? Is shitting on the sidewalk a good thing, a bad thing, or neutral? Will it be Statham’s punishment to be made to shit on a sidewalk, will the winner of their little contretemps be the one shitting on the sidewalk? Is it a metaphor for death or being killed, and if so, how is shitting on the sidewalk equivalent to being killed? I don’t particularly ever intend to find out firsthand, or first cheeked, as the case may be, what it’s like to shit on a sidewalk, but, truth be told, given a choice between that and been killed, I’d take the former over the latter any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

The prison, billed as the worst of the worst, looks more like an industrial grey childcare centre. Of course, it’s populated by every stock standard prison cliché character you’ve ever scene, but damn, do they look scary. To other kids in the childcare centre.

Is there a chance, a slim chance at that, that the guy who murdered Ames’s wife might actually be in the prison? And, even better, do you think there’s a chance he could be a competitor in the race?

The races themselves don’t really seem to make much sense, since the vehicles seem to be carrying so much armour and an absurd amount of guns and ammo to the extent where none of these fantasy vehicles would be able to avoid crushing their own wheels and sinking to the ground, let alone leaving the starting line to commence the race.

The competitors, in the tradition of any flick where people fight to the death for the applause and bloodlust of an audience, are one-note clichés who bray out that one note like retarded donkeys. The Asian guy of course is a triad, and drives a Japanese car. The African-American guy with a convoluted name involving Machine Guns and such drives what we in Australia call a four-wheel drive, which the rest of the world probably calls an SUV with spinners on the rims, the Hispanic guy drives an armoured lowrider, the hero drives a Ford Mustang etc etc.

And for all the outright stupidity of the entire endeavour, and, make no mistake, it’s utterly, utterly devoid of intellect or wit or even vague plausibility, it is not entirely without entertainment value. Ian McShane, a tremendous British actor most famous for his role (at least recently, since he’s been getting tv and film work for over forty years) as Al Swearengen on Deadwood, lends his credibility to an endeavour that ill deserves it, but is well served by it all the same. He runs the pit crew who fix up the vehicle Jason Statham is meant to drive, and gets the only deliberate laughs in a flick that should have been overflowing with them.

Tyrese Gibson, as one of Statham’s many enemies, shows why Calvin Klein models shouldn’t act, but he is at least half amusing as a dumb thug who lives for only two things, cigarettes he doesn’t light and killing fools in the race. The running joke with him is the brief life expectancy of his navigators, which only occurs because the other drivers have sassy girl jailbirds bussed in from the women’s prison just for the races themselves. And, as one of these chicas explains to Statham – Jensen – Ames – McGilicutty, whatever his name is, it boosts the ratings.

The ratings? No-one apart from “we” the viewers and the drivers even see these bimbos. Not that I’m complaining. Given a choice between looking at hotted up cars being destroyed, Jason Statham’s head and an attractive, busty Latina in tight clothing, it’s no contest, race or dilemma at all.

My apologies to those of you who think what I said was sexist, demeaning to busty Latinas in tight clothing, or demeaning to Jason Statham’s mechanical head.

I know the races, the actions taken by the warden, most of the dialogue and most of what happens in the flick including and especially the ending make no sense, but it didn’t matter. I laughed a few times, it entertained me, it amused me with its fast- paced idiocy and even in the extremities of its artificialness, I was still curious as to what dumb, somewhat tongue in cheek thing was going to happen next. Statham’s role could have been fulfilled by anyone from Shia LeBeouf to Morgan Freeman to Tom Arnold to Governor Arnold: It wouldn’t have mattered, and probably would only have been marginally more/less entertaining at that.

I’ll never watch it again, I’ll never recommend it to another sober living soul, but gods forgive me, I was amused for brief moments in time, which is all we have on this planet before someone murders our loved ones and forces us to drive in one big Death Race in the sky.

6 orders of magnitude by which Paul W.S. Anderson is still one of the worst directors working today out of 10

“Okay cocksucker. Fuck with me, and we'll see who shits on the sidewalk.” – and people lament the death of the English language – Death Race.