When does a “B-movie” stop being a “B-movie”? When is it just a bad film? What about the ones that are so bad they are good? These questions have crossed my mind a lot in the last few years. Most recently with Paul W.S. Anderson’s latest video game opus…err cult remake, “Death Race”. Based on the Roger Corman produced cult classic, “Death Race 2000”, this version is set in the dystopian future of 2012 were economic crisis has ravaged the world. The only form of entertainment comes from Death Race, a car race where prisoners race around a track and try to blow each other up. The races are so popular that each of the three stages are sold separately on pay per view sites across the web. Apparently in four years the world will forget that they can just download the video game “Mario Kart”…but I digress.
As luck would have it, Jensen (Jason Statham) is framed for murdering his wife and sent to the same prison where Death Race occurs. With the celebrated masked racer, Frankenstein, still recovering from injuries from the last race; Hennessey (Joan Allen), the prison warden and creator of Death Race, is in need of someone to take his place before the next pay per view. Frankenstein is one win away from his fifth victory and, as the rules state, with one more win he earns a get out of jail free pass. Seeing that no one knows what Frankenstein really looks like, and the fact that Jensen happens to be a former racing legend…wait…did I forget to mention that? Well that nugget of knowledge, like pretty much everything else, is divulged in one of the random throwaway scenes near the beginning. Anyways, Jensen is coerced into taking the driving job with the promise of freedom. Yet not only must Jensen inherit Frankenstein’s mask, but his archrival Machine Gun Joe (Tyrese Gibson) as well. Can Jensen figure out who really killed his wife in time? Will the race prove far more difficult than he expected? Should you skip “Death Race” and just play “Mario Kart” instead? The answers are yes, yes, and yes.
To be fair, you really cannot go into a film called “Death Race” with any real expectations. The movie pretty much delivers on its promise of outlandish deaths and crazy looking cars. Plus, “Death Race” practically begs you to turn your brain off your brain by revealing the entire plot in the trailer…twist and all. Still, you cannot help feeling a little cheated after watching the picture. The major problem with "Death Race" is that it is a big budget production trying to sell itself as a “B-movie.” Yet the movie never really wants to commit to the “B-movie” aesthetics. It really aims to be more of a mindless summer blockbuster. Well at least it got the mindless part right...blockbuster...not so much. What makes a lot of “B-movies” special is the fact that they seem to do so much with so little. Sure the production is poor and the camp value is high; but the movies usually appeal to our most primal urges. This is not to say that big budget fare cannot achieve the same effect. Movies such as “Grindhouse”, “Snakes on a Plane”, ”Cloverfield” (to a certain extent), and several others have proven this. Yet when you have production value as slick as “Death Race;” it is tough to pawn off the movie as something that is supposed to be intentionally bad. Especially when you have scenes clearly designed for the technically savvy video game generation (i.e. driving over weapon power-ups, etc). While is not the worst thing to come out this year, the movie does get boring fast. The action is redundant and the humour is practically non-existent. If anything, the only thing “Death Race” really succeeds at is making you wish you were actually watching the original “Death Race 2000.” At least that movie knew how to let loose and have fun like a true “B-movie.”
Warning: “Red Ban” Trailer (i.e. strong language and violence)