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Death Race

105 minutes
action, sci-fi, thriller

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Honking my own horn … Gladiator Wrecks – a reasonable and fast moving car combat game.

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This entry created 12 June 2019. Last revised on 12 June 2019.

2,537 hits since 19 Oct 2019
©1994-2024 Bill Armintrout
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Death Race

Rating: gold star gold star gold star gold star gold star gold star gold star no star no star no star (7.14)

Finally watched Death Race (the unrated version).

For film nuts: This film was inspired by Roger Corman's Death Race 2000 (1975), although there is little in common between the movies.

As the movie begins, Jensen Ames (Jason Statham) is laid off from his factory job. It is 2012 and the world is in chaos. Then Ames' wife is murdered, Ames is wrongly convicted, and he is sent to Terminal Island prison.

Under warden Hennessey (Joan Allen best known as the interfering mother in The Notebook), Terminal Island copes with the financial crisis by staging car races for a world audience. Races in which the cars are armed and armored… win three times, get your freedom!

Ames – who it turns out is a former race driver – is coerced into taking the part of Frankenstein, a masked driver and fan favorite whose death has been concealed. Frankenstein had two wins, so Ames as "Frankenstein" only needs to win one more race to gain his freedom.

To boost ratings, most of the drivers are assigned a navigator from a nearby women's prison. Frankenstein's navigator is Case (Natalie Martinez), who is an expert on the course and useful when the guns jam.

Frankenstein has a support team: Coach (Ian McShane), who knows everything about the sport; Lists (Frederick Koehler), enthusiastic nerd; and some other guy who seems to do all the actual work on the car!

Each race consists of three rounds on consecutive days. Driving over illuminated disks on the track cause certain events to occur: activation of offensive weapons, for instance (i.e., guns, flamers, etc.), activation of defensive weapons (oil slicks, dropped obstacles, etc.). Driving over one particular area causes a spiked obstacle to rise up into the raceway.

And that's basically the movie: Ames as Frankenstein must survive all three rounds, and win the third round to gain his freedom (and see his daughter again). A slew of colorful opponents race against him. All the warden cares about is ratings…

As a movie, this is a fun, action-packed, enjoyable time. All of the performances are good, but Joan Allen as the warden is especially excellent (and quite a departure from her usual serious roles).

For gamers, this could obviously be a scenario for the tabletop.

Problems? The movie establishes early on that the warden has eyes and ears everywhere, so it seems a bit silly when Ames is later able to avoid surveillance. It's disappointing that the movie doesn't show the 'global audience' reacting to the race. Why do only some drivers have female navigators? How do the women boost ratings when they are inside the cars most of the time, where nobody can see them? And the race course looks nothing like a prison. If the goal is to make money, why don't the cars have sponsors and advertising on them?

Gamers will be a little annoyed that the filmmakers apparently never played a game of Car Wars. grin Guns seem to have limitless ammo, but only hit things when they are plot-critical (i.e., the 'Tombstone' armor on Frankenstein's car). Cars with more armor are as fast as any other cars. Navigators popping out of their cars to fire weapons or fix weapons amid a hail of gunfire just look silly.

There is violence of the videogame variety, so not suitable for children. There's bad language and sexual gestures.