"Death Race" isn't for the faint of heart or the lactose intolerant, because there's enough cheese in this remake to clog every artery in China.
Writer/Director Paul W.S. Anderson casts aside some CGI in favor of introducing a new generation to Corman's B-movie popcorn classic. Before there was Mario Kart or Mad Max, there was Death Race 2000, a movie that made running over people for points a part of Americana long before Nintendo.
Set in 2012, the US economy isn't just in the toilet, it's clogged. So much so that not only do private corporations run the prisons, but they put on a pay-per-view blood sport called Death Race, where inmates must win five auto races to gain their freedom. In this slight redux, Jason Statham is Jensen Ames, a former racecar driver and recently laid off steel worker. His life sucks except he gets to come home to cute wife Suzy (Janaya Stephens) and his baby daughter, that he feels the need to tell everyone has his daughter’s eyes.
No sooner than he's laid off than an intruder kills Suzy and framing him for the murder. Once in prison, he's chosen to be the new Driver in the Death Race. Accompanied by team members Coach (Ian McShane) and baby faced Rainman-lite Lists (Frederick Koehler), he attempts to clear his name and take down the wicked Warden Hennessey (Joan Allen).
Death Race is testosterone driven escapism at its finest. Although co-produced by Corman as well as Tom Cruise and his former UA partner Paula Wagner, this is clearly Anderson's show. Known best for making Resident Evil and Mortal Kombat come to life, Anderson nixes some CGI for good old fashion explosions and well-done decapitations with just enough T&A to make you forget about $5 popcorn.
Statham is as scary as an IRS audit, but just as cool (when it happens to an ex). With his Clint Eastwood type of rasp, it's almost hard to believe this badass allowed himself to be taken into custody. Joan Allen won't be making any Oscar acceptance speeches with this one, but her botoxed brow, power suits and hair that wouldn't move in a hurricane shows she can pull off camp with the best of them. Watching her drop an F-bomb has to be covered in a Freud thesis somewhere. Ian McShane's coach mugs it up for the camera in the final scene that reminds you he had fun collecting this paycheck.
Death Race is that rare endangered species: The R-rated movie, but there's no nudity, not a ton of profanity and nary a nude shot (except for Statham's butt), so leave the tykes at home. Besides, it's more popcorn for you.
Billy Tatum gives Death Race 4 scoops (out of five).
"Death Race." MPAA rated: R for strong violence and language. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes. In general release.