Movie News & Reviews

'Death Race' takes too many left turns

Something about Frankenstein puts me in a good mood.

Perhaps it's his sad, gorilla-like confusion towards the world. We canall sympathize with that; I get confused by friendly supermarketclerks, I can't imagine what it's like to get chased around bytorch-waving mobs for the accidental crime of being alive. You thinkyou've got problems? Frankenstein probably falls down 20 times aday because he can't feel his feet because they're the sewed-onamputations of other corpses.

This is a roundabout way of saying just hearing his name brightens myday, whether it's Casanova Frankenstein from the otherwise-crummyMystery Men to the Frankenstein of the original Death Race2000. I don't understand why he's named Frankenstein in that, butthen there's a lot I don't understand about that anarchic, hilarious,blood-spattered movie, including why those involved with the currentremake thought it was a good idea to suck all the humor out of adecidedly ridiculous premise.

In the near future of the new Death Race, corporations havebeen handed control of the exploding American prison system. They soonhappen on a profitable side industry: pitting their prisoners againsteach other and broadcasting the violent results.

But the masked Frankenstein, the fan favorite in the wildly popularDeath Race, died during his last victory -- and without him, ratingswould plummet. Soon, ex-racer Jason Statham finds himself framed forthe murder of his wife and carted off to jail.

When he runs afoul of a gang of inmates, warden Joan Allen gives himan 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 casuallybrutal car-related violence. People race, people die, then people raceand die some more, usually in sprays of blood so grimy it looks likeit could be used to pave roads.

The movie's gross, loud, dirt-rubbedlook is going to date it as badly as the original is dated by itshigh-cuffed pants and cars so cheesily intimidating that, were you toever drive one, you would never fear anything again. Not even spidercrabs. Not even spider crabs with machine guns for one claw andsyringes full of smallpox for the other.

It also makes the wise choice of casting Statham and IanMcShane, two dudes who could bring something special even to suchroles as Man Tied Up In Garbage Bag All Movie #1 and Man Tied Up InGarbage Bag All Movie #2. They make the worst movies temporarilytolerable and mediocre stuff like the Transporters worthrenting.

In a phrase I never thought I'd have to say, Death Race is noTransporter. Writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson has donewatchable schlockwork in the past (Resident Evil, EventHorizon), but here his script feels hurried, from a passel ofhalf-sketched characters to exposition as subtle as a brick droppedfrom four stories onto an upturned nose. Do you find it hard to followsuch things as the course of the sun? Do you have to glance at yourphone's keypad just to remember what number comes after 5? Don'tworry, if you fall asleep during one of the few scenes where carsaren't being blown into hailstorms of flaming shrapnel, DeathRace 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'vebeen insulted through the rest of the movie.

Grade: C-