Death Race (2008)

(In theaters, August 2008) No one will be surprised to learn that this remake of a classic B-grade picture has twice the mayhem and none of the (thin) social commentary of the original. After all, it’s become somewhat of a signature move for modern remakes to go for the flash and forget the substance of what worked in the original. The inevitable result of such cutting, of course, is a lifeless piece of action cinema that barely manages to engage its audience. So it is with Death Race, which takes a nasty social premise and hammers it in a prison environment TV show where there’s no chance that any real issues can be discussed. Jason Statham is up to his usual gruff standards as a good tough guy manipulated in causing considerable violence, but the rest of the picture around him is as monotone as the processed industrial look given to the picture. Joan Allen is wasted as the mastermind behind the race, but then again most of the talent in this picture is similarly wasted. Director Paul W.S. Anderson is a certifiable idiot, but at least he manages to find half a dozen good sequences and images out of this whole over-edited mess. Among the film’s least admirable misogynistic traits is the use of young women as race navigators, only to conveniently forget them during the various crashes and deaths that follow –at one gruesome exception. You don’t need to know much more about this strictly routine film: it’s going to be straight to the DVD bargain bin for this title, and then on to “I didn’t even know they’d remade Death Race” obscurity.

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