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Death Race

Entry updated 14 January 2017. Tagged: Film.

Film (2008). Universal Pictures presents in association with Relativity Media an Impact Pictures-Cruise/Wagner production in association with Roger Corman. Directed by Paul W S Anderson. Written by Paul W S Anderson from the screenplay for Death Race 2000 (1975) by Charles Griffith and Robert Thom, itself adapted from Ib Melchior's short story "The Racer" (October 1956 Escapade). Cast includes Joan Allen, Tyrese Gibson, Natalie Martinez, Ian McShane and Jason Statham. 110 minutes. Colour.

Ex-convict and racing driver Jensen Ames (Statham) is framed for the murder of his wife by a sadistic prison warden (Allen) and forced to perform in a three-day race-to-the-death televised to raise revenues for a Near Future version of the Terminal Island Penitentiary in California – a high-profile jail increasingly dependent on its presence in the Media Landscape following the Economic collapse of post-industrial North America.

Actor-producer Tom Cruise pulled out of this remake of the cult classic Death Race 2000 after a dispute with Paramount Pictures over a series of disappointing screenplays, but his business partner Paula Wagner took the project to Universal and Paul W S Anderson, director of AVP Alien vs Predator (2004), rejoined the project to write as well as direct. There follow several of the well-worn Clichés of the Prison drama – the lack of honest employment for faceless Hero Jensen Ames, forced to wear a mask as resident-but-anonymous driver "Frankenstein", allusions to the Aryan Brotherhood, the Nation of Islam and other tribes of the North American prison system, the violent Social Darwinism of life inside, and so on – and Anderson moves the action with some degree of pictorial accomplishment; but it is soon clear that little of the social Satire of the original Death Race 2000 survives, as Jensen beats the system with the help of a team of inmate mechanics led by "Coach" (McShane), wins the respect and cooperation of the co-driver (Martinez) who betrayed the previous Frankenstein in order to secure the promise of her own release from prison, and hatches a deal with rival driver "Machine Gun Joe" (Gibson) to make good their escape at the end of the film. The overall effect is that of somewhere between the BBC television series Robot Wars (1998-current) and the chariot race from the remake of Ben-Hur (1959).

Two direct-to-video prequels to Death Race were released: Death Race 2 (2010) and Death Race 3: Inferno (2013). [MD]


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