Escape From New York + Mad Max 2 = Death Race.
Paul WS Anderson’s tenacity must be admired. Mega-flop Soldier should have been a career-killer, and actually put a planned Year 2000 Death Race remake on hold, leaving him to mishandle Resident Evil and destroy both Alien and Predator in AVP.
Working from an irresistible premise the race is Anderson’s to lose, but he crosses the finish line with a brutal, fuel-injected thriller that may have its brain in first gear, but is huge fun to watch.
Ex-con, ex-speed racer Jensen Ames (the perfectly domed, ab-tastic, 40-a-day voiced Statham) is going straight with his adorable wife and daughter.
After being framed for his wife’s murder, Ames finds himself in a maximum security hellhole controlled by sadistic warden and Death Race TV show exec-producer Hennessey (a panto-menacing Allen).
Sniffing the best TV show yet, Hennessey offers Ames the chance to replace legendary audience favourite (and dead) racer Frankenstein, winning back his freedom and daughter.
Anderson’s model of economy script changes the original’s ‘pedestrians for points’ plot to ‘reality TV gone haywire’, moving story and character forward solely through bone-smashing violence.
Picking up where Death Proof’s finale left off, the three Death Races put the car into carnage; road rage orgies of twisted metal, high speed collisions, and outrageous automotive stuntwork, all seemingly achieved with little computer-generated window dressing.
Speed Racer and other CG-why crash carnivals can’t compete, and Death Race's crowning moment, a face-off with an 18-wheel mobile fortress, recalls the glory days of Mad Max 2.
Allen must have thought she was signing on for a PT Anderson film, but is manfully rotten as a Cruella (Coupe) De Vil baddie, while the perennially under-used Tyrese Gibson makes the most of a badboy adversary role Machine Gun Joe (played by Sly Stallone in the original), and the always good value Ian McShane lends rough-diamond heart as Ames’ chief grease monkey.
Frankenstein's lethally pimped-up Mustang, sporting armour plating and 50 cal machine gun turrets, has more personality than Ames' glamour girl navigator (Martinez), but this is Statham's show.
With face carbon-frozen in rage and mid-Atlantic scowl in place, the Brit export is fast proving himself the most reliably fun actor on the scene, standing a good chance of becoming this generation’s Charles Bronson if he keeps making movies like this, Crank and The Bank Job.
Rev up the sequel now.