It's called Death Race and it stars Jason Statham. If you think you're going to get an intellectual movie, you need to quit being a dumbass.
Before we get started, I should mention that the DVD I picked up has both the rated and unrated versions. I’m going over the unrated version here, because I liked that one better. Yes, I have watched this movie more than once, and I watched two different versions of it. Don’t judge me.
I should also mention that this review includes spoilers. Actually, not just spoilers—this review includes pretty much every cool part about the movie, a lot of the uncool parts, and even the ending. So if you’re planning on watching this movie and don’t want to ruin the surprises, stop reading.
Death Race is set in the near future—2012, to be exact—when unemployment is at an all time high, and prisons are run by corporations.
At first, prisoners are only forced to fight to the death, but everyone gets bored with that rather quickly, so they switch it to where prisoners can fight to the death in cars.
If Shawshank Redemption and Running Man got drunk and listened to rap metal while they screwed, and ended up having a somewhat stupid child, this would be the result.
It has plenty of car racing, plenty of blood, and plenty of action. What it does not have is much in the way of believability or naked breasts.
If you’re just looking for an action movie, and you don’t care if it makes much sense, I would definitely recommend this movie. If you’re looking for anything else, I probably wouldn’t.
That’s the short review. But in case you missed the title, this is an overly-long review.
Let’s get to it, then.
The movie starts out with a bit of violent car porn, and about a million quick zoom-ins and a shit-ton of gunfire. Also, there’s a hot girl. Already, you can tell that this is going to be a good movie.
We’re introduced to a few different racers—guy in a mask, black guy, and guy who immediately gets shot all to hell. Guy who gets shot all to hell is not a significant player in the rest of the movie, believe it or not.
Guy with a mask gets blown up while his navigator ejects. The navigator is the hot girl, and right away, you know that she’ll probably be in the rest of the movie.
So explosion, and then the scene changes to a factory of some sort, where we’re introduced to Jason Statham. The Stath. His character probably has another name, but who cares?
Right away, you can tell he’s a nice guy, because even though unemployment is at an all-time high, he tells his co-workers that he has heard they’re hiring down on the docks. Five guys, maybe. Which means even though he needs a job himself (because the factory is closing), he is still willing to let them in on a potential job opportunity.
There’s a riot, then, and Statham barely even gets to kick any ass. I find this appalling, because I’ve come to expect fight scenes with The Stath to last at least ten minutes, and involve all sorts of broken glass. He does fight back against the police, so although he is a good man, you know he’s willing to fight for his safety, or for what’s right, or whatever.
I should mention right now that Death Race is about as subtle as cinder block to the nutsack. When someone’s a good guy, you better believe his ass is a good guy, and if a prison guard is corrupt, he will take every opportunity to show you, whether it’s the way he smacks a prisoner with his club for no apparent reason, or the smirk on his face when he thinks there’s some brutal butt-rape happening.
So The Stath gets home, just in time for his wife to be murdered. He’s framed for it, of course, because how else would he be involved in the Death Race?
They haul his ass to prison, where he takes off his shirt. About freakin’ time, I say. No Statham movie is complete without him taking off his shirt at least once. The sooner the better, too. Like I said—this movie is not subtle. They’re like, “You know, people want to see Jason Statham without his shirt. How can we be cock-on-the-forehead blatant about giving that to them?”
The solution is to take his clothes off for his mugshots. Why he’s only just now getting mugshotted, instead of back when he was first arrested, I don’t know. But whatever—strip him down, take his pictures, and just to put icing on the cake, hose him down.
The sadistic guard takes this time to shine by pummeling The Stath for, um…well, for no reason, really. Like I said, he’s corrupt, and you really need to understand that.
We’re then introduced to The Warden, but only for a moment, as she walks across the prison yard. One of the inmates makes the comment, “There goes the baddest ass in this yard.” That’s so you know she’s a force to be dealt with, and again, the movie is wasting no time with subtlety.
From there, we’re immediately taken to the cafeteria, where you’ll never guess what happens. Unless you’ve seen any of the multitude of prison movies ever made. The Stath is just sitting there, minding his own business, trying to enjoy his food, but someone wants trouble. Oh, convicts, when will you ever learn?
Again, Statham barely gets to kick any ass. Let me just say: if you’re watching this movie because you want to see plenty of ass-kickin’ (or, should I say, Stath-kickin’), you’ll be disappointed. He’s still badass, but I don’t think he kicks even one person in the throat. He does drive a lot, though, and if you’ve seen any of The Transporter movies, you know he looks plenty cool doing that.
So the fight is broken up, and the corrupt guard takes Mr. Statham away, informing him that he has big stones for attacking the leader of The Brotherhood. The Brotherhood of what, I don’t know, but I’m guessing it’s supposed to be some white power thing or something.
Anyway, Statham is brought in to see The Warden. Almost immediately, he says “ass,” and the corrupt guard hits him in the kidney with a club. “Foul language is…an issue with me,” The Warden explain.
It’s around this time, you realize that this movie basically wants to be Shawshank Redemption, but with more car racing. Your mind might flash back a little, like how the main character is convicted for a crime he didn’t commit, or like where the prison is first shown from above, a sweeping air shot. Or maybe you’ll think about how the guard throws de-lousing powder all over the prisoners after spraying them with a fire hose. Or maybe you’ll just pay attention to the moment, to the strict Warden, explaining how Statham had a talent on the outside world that could help him on the inside.
The Warden explains that the guy in the mask—Frankenstein, they called him, because he was so disfigured from getting in crashes that he had to wear a mask—died after getting blown up in the last race. They want The Stath to put on the mask and pretend he’s Frankenstein.
If he wins the race, he’ll be allowed to go free, The Warden explains.
“Call it intuition,” she whispers to him a bit sexually, “But I don’t think you belong in here with the rest of these animals.”
This is the closest this movie comes to being smooth. I mean, at least she doesn’t come right out and say, “I had your wife murdered and had you framed so that you would be in my race.”
He accepts the offer, and we’re introduced to his pit crew, as it were. The old, wise convict—a white guy instead of a black guy, named Coach instead of Red—the defenseless smart guy, and the Latino guy.
They show him about his car—all the shit that makes it go real fast, all the stuff that makes it to where he can kill people with it, and all the defenses. When they start explaining the defenses, that’s when you realize that someone involved with this movie watched way too many cartoons. “Oil, smoke, and napalm,” Coach explains. Much like Speed Buggy, if I’m not mistaken.
Also, Coach explains how useless it is to try to escape, because it’s so impossible. You know, because no one has ever done it, and no one ever will. Because that’s how impossible it is.
From here, you have blah, blah, blah. They explain how the race works and all that crap. Nothing’s even getting blown up and nobody’s getting kicked in the face, and there aren’t any boobs. I don’t know what this part is even doing in the movie, really. Maybe just to show how they all sit around on benches, like in Shawshank Redemption. Also, they throw out about how the women are bussed in from a prison upstate, “It’s all about ratings,” Coach tells us. “Fast cars and pretty women.” So get to it, movie!
Instead, they tell us about all about the other racers. Most importantly is Machinegun Joe—the black guy from the first of the movie. He’s the only one with a male navigator (because he goes through them so fast), and he’s the only one who approaches them in the yard to talk shit. “Next time you see Frank, tell him this race is between me…and him. There ain’t gonna be no infirmary this time.” Uh-oh. See, nobody knows that Frank is dead (well, except The Warden and the corrupt guard and, um, the pit crew, and the convict who killed Statham’s wife, and…well, actually quite a few people know the truth, but let’s just ignore that, okay?). So although he doesn’t know it, Joe has just threatened The Stath’s life.
Finally, we get around to Stage 1 of Death Race. There are three stages, run over a course of days. You’d know all of this if you had listened in the prison yard, instead of just thinking about how hard this movie is trying to be like The Shawshank Redemption.
There’s the mandatory slow-motion shot of Frankenstein walking down the prison corridor, and then we’re at the starting line, where everyone is revving their engines and shit. For a brief period, the movie switches from Shawshank to The Fast And The Furious. I almost expect some goofy blond guy with terrible acting to step out and offer up a pink slip in exchange for a chance to race, but instead, there’s a prison bus full of hot chicks, which is one of the many reasons why this movie is about a thousand times better than any of the Fast/Furious movies.
Statham is introduced to his navigator—Case—and she explains how she knows he isn’t the real Frank under the mask. Like I said, his identity isn’t quite the secret they first make it out to be.
We’re then treated to a commercial/introduction to the Death Race TV show, Running Man-style.
And then? Then the race begins. Well, after another five minutes of people revving their engines, I mean. There’s all kinds of camera zooms—mostly on people changing gears—so you know that they’re driving fast.
Case is all kinds of useful here, crying out things such as “Punch it,” and “Get ahead of them.” Because that’s what navigators are for, is to tell you to drive faster when you’re in a race. She does also mention a shortcut or two, and although this movie isn’t the kind of film in which you should involve reality, I do wonder why nobody else is taking the shortcut. Perhaps they just don’t know about it?
“He’s taking the short cut!” cries Machinegun Joe’s navigator.
“You don’t think I know that?” Machinegun yells back.
Wait, what? If everyone knows about the shortcut, why aren’t they all taking it?
But then there’s all kinds of machinegun fire and a gory death, so thankfully, you don’t have to think about stuff like logic anymore.
One guy, he loses control of his car (because of spikes dropped from another car), and as his car rolls end over end, another driver shoots him with a missile. This is after he’s already out of the race, and probably dead. That’s what makes this movie awesome. “Look, it isn’t enough that the car is flipping for like fifty feet—there has to be a more in-your-face way to crash. Missiles! Get me some effing missiles right now!”
And good thing, too, because the driver, even after rolling fifty feet, getting shot by missiles, and getting his car launched up thirty feet into the sky, though a billboard and crashing back down again, even after all that, he’s still alive.
“You can’t kill me,” he says to the world as he stumbles away from his car. “You can burn me, you can shoot me, but you can’t kill me.” He is promptly hit in the head by Machinegun Joe’s machinegun. Not shot, mind you—Machinegun Joe actually swerves his car over and hits him, causing his head to burst like an overripe melon.
Now here’s an example of how the unrated version of the film is better. You might not think people driving around a course would have sub-plot, but it does. This is when Statham’s guns jam. So Case has to climb out the window to un-jam it—basically, she just beats on it with a wrench, because that’s how you fix a machinegun.
As soon as she climbs out of the car, another navigator begins shooting at her. The Stath, always quick to form a plan, drives to the side of another car, putting it in between himself and the shooter. This pisses off the guy stuck in the middle—he’s perplexed as to why anyone would suddenly be shooting at him. I like to think that he was enjoying his drive so much that he forgot he was driving in an event called fucking DEATH RACE.
This is important later, because he begins shooting at Statham, and if you don’t have access to the information provided in this scene, you just think that it’s because he’s driving in a death race and wants to kill all of the other drivers, or maybe because Statham “stole a shield” from him. But nay—this is a vendetta, my friend, because The Stath ruined his drive earlier.
If you’re concerned about what happens when this man comes after Statham, don’t even worry about it. His defenses aren’t working (even though he got the shield, which is supposed to enable his defenses), but he’s able to use quick thinking to cover the driver behind him with napalm and give him a fiery death.
All looks well, but then, trouble! The driver beside him points at him and gives him gun fingers. Just like the killer did when he killed Stathams’s wife. In case you don’t remember this, there’s a quick flashback—because the movie wanted to remind you that it had no place for subtlety—and then BANG! The Stath was so distracted by the gun fingers that he wasn’t paying attention to Machinegun Joe. He’s rammed, knocked off course, and ends up coming in last place.
As soon as the race is over, Statham storms up talk to The Warden, and informs her that he won’t be racing anymore. He’s on to her, you see—he knows that the real killer is in the prison, and he knows that The Warden is responsible for his wife’s death. She shows him a picture, then. “Do you know who this is? Because your daughter will—this will be her new father.”
Unless, of course, Statham wins the race.
He leaves, and ends up talking to Coach. It is discovered that Coach was paroled three years ago, but couldn’t leave because he has that syndrome where you can’t deal with the outside world. That’s even how he says it, because nobody involved with the movie could be bothered to Google it, I guess.
I didn’t know you could just choose to stay in prison, but this movie does take place in 2012, so maybe the rules are different then. Except that he was paroled three years ago, which means that it was, um…2009. Which would make it right now. Shit, too much thinking!
Luckily, the scene switches to Machinegun Joe. He’s cutting his face with a razor blade, because that’s what he does for each of his kills. And just in case this makes us think too much, the scene then changes to the pit, where Statham and his guys are working on the car.
And who should walk by, but the driver who killed his wife. Who also just so happens to be the leader of the Brotherhood—the same guy that Statham beat up in the cafeteria his first day. Statham takes a break from working on his car to follow the Brotherhood guy—to kill him.
But it’s a trap!
The members of The Brotherhood choke him with a chain for a while, and just as they’re about to hit him with one of those gigantic monkey wrenches that always seem to be lying around in prison movies, the nerdy guy shows up to stab the leader with a pen. The Stath gets free, and kicks some ass. Again, it’s not nearly enough ass kicking—instead of the usual twenty or thirty guys that he beats up in his movies, it’s only like four. But whatever.
Before he can kill the man who killed his wife, the corrupt guard shows up and stops him. “Save it for the track,” he says.
And then we’re back to racing. Statham doesn’t even care about the race, though—you can tell by the way he’s staring at the Brotherhood driver. The Brotherhood guy gives him the gun fingers again, just in case we forgot that he was the one responsible for the death of Statham’s wife.
We also find out that Case—the beautiful navigator—had sabotaged the old Frank’s weapons, in order to keep him from winning. The Warden promised her freedom in exchange for this, you see. Even though The Warden is probably not the warden of the prison upstate, but, um…
Oh no! Thinking again!
Coming to the rescue is the NOS system. The Stath hits the nitro, causing his car to rocket back into the race (he had pulled away in order to question Case). He takes just enough time to glare at The Warden as he passes and BANG! a collision that causes Machinegun Joe to crash and makes sure we don’t think too much.
But the Stath isn’t interested in winning this race. Oh, no. He’s after the Brotherhood driver. After a daring one-eighty, Statham drives backwards whilst firing his machinegun directly into the front of the other driver. Then he uses his smoke to cause the driver to crash. Then he stops his car, walks over to the man who killed his wife, and breaks his neck. Because one thing you don’t do is mess with Statham’s woman.
And if you thought that was all of the action for this race, you’re out of your freakin’ mind, because that’s when The Warden releases “The Dreadnought.”
You know earlier, when I mentioned that somebody involved with this movie watched a lot of cartoons? Well, they also played a lot of video games. The Dreadnought is an eighteen wheeler, complete with a tanker trailer covered with machine guns, a flame thrower, and missile launchers. In case that isn’t enough to kill you, it also has spikes on the wheels. Because, you know, sometimes machine guns just can’t do the job that spiky wheels can. Oh yeah, there’s also a cannon on the back, and The Dreadnought releases a net of spikes to catch cars while it shoots them with said cannon.
And here’s where The Stath’s cleverness really comes into play. He devises a plan to take out the Dreadnought. I’m not going to ruin it for you, even though I have ruined so many other things about this movie. But trust me—it is badass.
But then the movie kind of drops the ball. The race ends, and there’s The Stath talking to Machinegun Joe, which is boring enough. But then The Warden gives some lame-ass speech to the prisoners, and even if she doesn’t look a little like one of your ex-girlfriends, you can’t help thinking that she’s a lying bitch. And before anyone gets excited, I’m not saying that The Warden kind of looks like one of my ex-girlfriends. But she does.
And then, more of Statham and Machinegun Joe talking. Come on, guys! If I wanted a bunch of chit chat, I would have watched a thinking man’s movie, like Batman.
But okay, because there’s the track, we’re back to racing, right?
Wrong! The Warden’s back, talking to Statham, trying to convince him to stay here even if he wins, because he needs to think about the best thing for his daughter.
Yes, that’s right—she wants him to stay in prison, driving in a thing called Death Race, instead of getting out and spending the rest of his life in freedom, with his daughter. Like I said, she’s kind of a bitch. I mean, she has already planted a bomb on the bottom of his car, so it’s not like she’s going to let him live, but she still gives him this lecture about how rotting in prison is the best thing for his daughter. Shitty.
The race finally begins, and the corrupt guard begins cheating so that The Stath can use neither weapons, nor his defenses. As if that isn’t bad enough, Machinegun Joe is right behind him, and he has his weapons. Surely Statham is doomed!
Hah! Obviously, you don’t know about The Stath.
Instead of dying, he dodges the missiles, and they shoot a hole in the side of the track, allowing both Statham and Machinegun Joe to escape. It was all a big plan! Thought up by The Stath! Because that, my friends, is just how the dude rolls. And never mind that you knew he was going to escape the second Coach started talking about how impossible escape was. Also, never mind about how you knew he was going to escape as soon as the movie began.
There’s a chase, and Machinegun Joe drives one way while Statham drives the other. The Warden instructs the helicopters to follow only Statham, even though there are two helicopters, so theoretically, they could follow both drivers.
Soon, the entire plan is revealed—The Stath jumps out of the moving vehicle and quickly hides. Meanwhile Case—who already has her release papers, but still agreed to be in the Death Race, for some reason—dons the Frankenstein outfit, and tricks everyone into thinking that she’s Frank.
The movie’s almost over, so let’s just ignore that she has giant tits that the movie has been highlighting for the last hour and a half, and just because you put on a mask and some coveralls, those tits aren’t going to vanish.
So while everyone’s busy capturing her, Statham and Machinegun Joe meet on a train. They then go to Mexico, where, along with the daughter (and eventually Case), they presumably live happily ever after.