Film * Paul W.S. Anderson * It’s a Race… to the Death! * 2008
I’ve decided to tweak the formula a bit for some of these movies. Basically, there’s only so much I can write about a movie called “Death Race,” you know? Most of these B-tier films are going to be uneven or straight-up bad, so it makes sense that they’re not as long or in-depth as an article about things with more heft to them. Also, I’m not monitoring spoilers in these. You’re not watching something like Death Race to see what happens next, you know?
Is a movie still a B-movie if it’s actually a (relatively) big-budget Hollywood movie based on a B-movie? Death Race answers that question with an emphatic yes. I mean, Roger Corman’s name is right there, you know? Plus, the original Death Race 2000 had Sylvester Stallone in it, so who’s the real B-movie here? This is such a confusing thing. On the one hand, it’s clear there was money involved with making this movie. On the other hand, the whole premise is dumb as hell and still looks kind of bad? I don’t know how that works either. The whole point of B-movies is to create your grindhouse bullshit on the cheap, because it’s lowest common denominator nonsense in the first place. Enjoyable nonsense, sometimes, but you can get the same effect spending a fraction of the money – which they obviously figured out because there’s like five sequels to this thing.
Okay, here’s the pitch. What if we ripped all the expression and soul out of the Mad Max movies and turned it into Mario Kart? Hell yeah. They literally drive over symbols on the road to acquire weapons, it’s great. I mean, I talk shit, but at least Death Race delivers on its title. We’re here to see idiots race and die. Most of the movie is people racing and murdering each other. It’s real dumb, and I’m not above dumb shit. You can tell the dystopian setting is a total afterthought, too. Like they made their Mad Max cart racer movie and were like, “yeah but why?” Shit, better write a quick summary for the beginning of the movie. I guess in the distant future of 2012 the economy has collapsed and crime is terrible and we end up in an Escape from New York situation where the nastiest criminals race each other to death for the amusement of the unwashed masses. Cool, whatever, that guy just door-checked that other guy’s head clean off. I don’t really care why.
All Death Race is trying to accomplish is the vicarious, visceral thrill of ridiculous violence. Jason Statham is large and sweaty and grumbly and will gleefully murder you. Same with everyone else, except the one sexy lady who is there to ensure you see her shapely torso and wiggle at you. There doesn’t appear to be any kind of subtext like some of the better examples noted above. Mad Max: Fury Road is art, you know? On the surface it has roving death-cars and giddy violence. It revels in it. Yet the almost impressionistic arrangement of that violence is what sets it apart from gratuitous goofiness like Death Race. There’s a relatable humanity in the world of Fury Road that’s completely absent in this movie. Again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes I just want to see things smash up real good, and Death Race delivers on that.