Something about Frankenstein puts me in a good mood.
Perhaps it's his sad, gorilla-like confusion towards the world. We can all sympathize with that; I get confused by friendly supermarket clerks, I can't imagine what it's like to get chased around by torch-waving mobs for the accidental crime of being alive. You think you've got problems? Frankenstein probably falls down 20 times a day because he can't feel his feet because they're the sewed-on amputations of other corpses.
This is a roundabout way of saying just hearing his name brightens my day, whether it's Casanova Frankenstein from the otherwise-crummy Mystery Men to the Frankenstein of the original Death Race 2000. I don't understand why he's named Frankenstein in that, but then there's a lot I don't understand about that anarchic, hilarious, blood-spattered movie, including why those involved with the current remake thought it was a good idea to suck all the humor out of a decidedly ridiculous premise.
In the near future of the new Death Race, corporations have been handed control of the exploding American prison system. They soon happen on a profitable side industry: pitting their prisoners against each other and broadcasting the violent results.
But the masked Frankenstein, the fan favorite in the wildly popular Death Race, died during his last victory -- and without him, ratings would plummet. Soon, ex-racer Jason Statham finds himself framed for the murder of his wife and carted off to jail.
When he runs afoul of a gang of inmates, warden Joan Allen gives him an out: put on Frankenstein's mask. Give the people what they want. Race for his freedom, or die behind bars.
Credit must be given to any movie that delivers what it promises. Death Race is commendable, then, for its commitment to casually brutal car-related violence. People race, people die, then people race and die some more, usually in sprays of blood so grimy it looks like it could be used to pave roads.
The movie's gross, loud, dirt-rubbed look is going to date it as badly as the original is dated by its high-cuffed pants and cars so cheesily intimidating that, were you to ever drive one, you would never fear anything again. Not even spider crabs. Not even spider crabs with machine guns for one claw and syringes full of smallpox for the other.
It also makes the wise choice of casting Statham and Ian McShane, two dudes who could bring something special even to such roles as Man Tied Up In Garbage Bag All Movie #1 and Man Tied Up In Garbage Bag All Movie #2. They make the worst movies temporarily tolerable and mediocre stuff like the Transporters worth renting.
In a phrase I never thought I'd have to say, Death Race is no Transporter. Writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson has done watchable schlockwork in the past (Resident Evil, Event Horizon), but here his script feels hurried, from a passel of half-sketched characters to exposition as subtle as a brick dropped from four stories onto an upturned nose. Do you find it hard to follow such things as the course of the sun? Do you have to glance at your phone's keypad just to remember what number comes after 5? Don't worry, if you fall asleep during one of the few scenes where cars aren't being blown into hailstorms of flaming shrapnel, Death Race will turn the exposition hose on you in no time.
Worse yet is the series of left turns at its climax. They're meant to build suspense, but when they're pulled off through deliberate lies and directorial manipulation, they're more of a cheat than a reward.
The real reward is in Death Race's nonstop, vicious car-fights. Are they cool? Oh indeed. Just not cool enough to make me forget I've been insulted through the rest of the movie.