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UNIVERSAL

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Paul W.S. Anderson
Cast:
Jason Statham, Joan Allen, Ian McShane, Tyrese Gibson, Natalie Martinez, Max Ryan, Jacob Vargas, Jason Clarke, Frederick Koehler
Writing Credits:
Paul W.S. Anderson (and story), Robert Thom (1975 screenplay, Death Race 2000), Charles B. Griffith (1975 screenplay, Death Race 2000), Ib Melchior (1975 story, Death Race 2000)

Tagline:
Get ready for a killer ride.

Synopsis:
Sentenced to the world's most dangerous prison for a murder he did not commit, Jensen Ames (Jason Statham) has only one chance to get out alive - win the ultimate race to the death. Also starring Tyrese Gibson, Death Race will keep you pinned to your seat all the way to its insane, metal-crushing end!

Box Office:
Budget
$45 million.
Opening Weekend
$7.889 million on 2537 screens.
Domestic Gross
$36.064 million.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
French
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
English
Spanish
French

Runtime: 105 min. (Theatrical Version)
111 min (Extended Cut)
Price: $29.98
Release Date: 12/21/2008

Bonus:
• Includes Both Theatrical and Extended Versions of Death Race
• Audio Commentary with Director Paul WS Anderson and Producer Jeremy Bolt
• “Start Your Engines: Making a Death Race” Featurette
• “Behind the Wheel: Dissecting the Stunts” Featurette
• Previews


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RELATED REVIEWS


Death Race: Unrated (2008)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 23, 2008)

As I mentioned when I reviewed The Women, remakes of beloved classics are a dicey proposition. Filmmakers stand on much more solid ground when they redo largely forgotten flicks – flicks such as 1975’s Death Race 2000, the subject of a 2008 reworking simply titled Death Race.

Set in 2012, we learn that the US economy has tanked, unemployment has skyrocketed, and crime escalates. This means overcrowded prisons, so the private corporations that run the penitentiaries decide to broadcast battles to the death among inmates. Ratings soar so the bosses find new ways to televise mayhem. This leads to the “Death Race”, an automotive free-for-all in which prisoners pilot supercharged vehicles and attempt to survive.

And the “Death Race” is where Jensen Ames (Jason Statham) finds himself. After he loses his job at a steel mill, someone frames him for the murder of his wife Suzy (Janaya Stephens) and he winds up in prison. A former auto racer, Warden Hennessey (Joan Allen) offers Jensen a deal: if he’ll pretend to be secretly deceased legend “Frankenstein” and win one race, he can go free.

Initially Jensen refuses her proposition, but he soon changes his mind. This sends him into the mess with sexy female inmate Case (Natalie Martinez) as his navigator and veteran gearhead “Coach” (Ian McShane) as his crew chief. The three-leg race itself occupies much of the story, along with subplots related to Frankenstein’s main rival Machine Gun Joe (Tyrese Gibson) and the identity of the one who really murdered Jensen’s wife.

Statham and director Paul WS Anderson seem to be a match made in movie heaven. Neither man has ever appeared in a particularly good film. Instead, both make fairly generic action flicks that often feel like less than the sum of their parts.

That streak continues with the loud, aggressive and eminently forgettable Race. Some might blame the failure of the film on its source material, but I don’t. No one will ever mistake the flicl’s premise and characters for Shakespeare, but they have potential.

Potential that the relentlessly mediocre Anderson can’t exploit. The director fails to bring the slightest hint of spark or originality to the project. Instead, it feels like a robot – perhaps the “Michael Bay T-101” – directed the flick. This is generic action filmmaking at its most ordinary.

Many movies have been described as videogames brought to life, but Race escalates this in a more literal way. The races themselves truly play out like levels from games, as the drivers actually have to zip over icons to activate various weapons and powers. The segments that fill space between race legs play out just like videogame cut-scenes.

Maybe some folks like the idea of a live-action videogame, but I don’t. You know how it’s rarely fun to watch someone play a videogame? The same goes for a movie that feels so close to the videogame experience. If someone made a game out of Death Race, it’d probably be a blast to play. Watching it proves significantly less scintillating, unfortunately.

Although my reference to Statham as an actor who never seems to appear in good movies sounds like a strong knock on him, I don’t mean it that way. I actually think Statham has talent; for whatever reason, he simply finds himself stuck in a “B”-movie limbo. He seems to play virtually identical characters in all his flicks, and none of these works stand out as distinctive or particularly entertaining.

Race surrounds Statham with some good actors, virtually all of whom have “I’m doing this for the check” stamped on their foreheads. What in the heck is Joan Allen doing in this mess? An actor with relentless class, she feels horribly out of place here. I nearly cringed every time I saw her; I don’t know why she took this role, but I felt bad for her.

Just like I feel bad for folks stuck watching this mess of a movie. Death Race had some decent “B”-movie potential. Unfortunately, it demolished any positive elements with persistent crassness and stupidity.


The DVD Grades: Picture C+/ Audio A-/ Bonus C+

Death Race appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Due to a mix of avoidable problems, the DVD gave us a mediocre transfer.

Edge enhancement was the most consistent distraction. Throughout the flick, I noticed haloes of varying degrees; some were more intrusive than others, but I thought they popped up too often. The edge enhancement affected sharpness and made wide shots moderately blurry. Closer images remained fine, though; they showed good clarity and delineation.

No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, but a handful of source flaws appeared. I noticed intermittent white specks through various parts of the flick. Though I don’t think I saw more than six of these, that was six too many; a brand-new movie shouldn’t have suffered from any defects of this sort.

Like virtually all “edgy” action flicks these days, Death Race went with a desaturated palette. The movie took on a bluish tint and rarely featured any prominent hues. The transfer delivered the subdued tones in a decent manner. Blacks were dark enough, while shadows showed reasonable definition. This was never a poor transfer, but it seemed lackluster.

On the other hand, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Death Race proved more consistently satisfying. That came as no surprise; if a movie with so much mayhem couldn’t light up my speakers, I’m not sure what could. The soundfield proved consistently active and involving. Cars zoomed and jumped around the room, and the scenes placed us in the action. Surround usage was quite full, and the mix created a strong setting for the adventure.

Audio quality was always excellent. Speech appeared natural and concise, with no edginess or other issues. Music seemed rich and dynamic, and effects followed suit. Those elements were crisp and clear, and they showed terrific bass response. The audio was good enough for an “A-“.

When we move to extras, we open with an audio commentary from director Paul WS Anderson and producer Jeremy Bolt. Both men sit together for this running, screen-specific chat. They discuss the development of the remake, cast, characters and performances, sets and locations, cinematography and editing, effects, stunts and action, the cars and the racing scenes, changes for the unrated cut, and a few other production notes.

While Anderson and Bolt tend to make mediocre movies, they manage to record good commentaries. A few lulls occur, but they usually fill the time well and give us an informative look at the flick. Although nothing about the commentary stands out as tremendously insightful or memorable, the track covers the movie in a satisfying and enjoyable way. That automatically makes it superior to Death Race itself.

Two featurettes follow. Start Your Engines: Making a Death Race runs 19 minutes, 42 seconds and includes remarks from Anderson, Bolt, production designer Paul D. Austerberry, 2nd unit director Spiro Razatos, picture car coordinator Brian Louis, 2nd unit special effects supervisor Al Broussard, 2nd unit stunt coordinator Andy Gill, picture car mechanic Kaleb Hauge, and actors Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, Ian McShane, Natalie Martinez, and Joan Allen. It covers the project’s origins, cast, characters and performances, sets and locations, visual design, cars and shooting the race sequences.

Because the commentary already covers so much information, you shouldn’t expect a lot of unique material here. It goes over a lot of topics already discussed by Bolt and Anderson, though the additional perspectives add to our knowledge of the film, and some behind the scenes bits help as well. Nonetheless, “Engines” becomes too redundant to turn into anything special.

Behind the Wheel: Dissecting the Stunts goes for seven minutes, 50 seconds, and features Anderson, Hauge, Gill, Martinez, Statham, Broussard, Bolt, special effects supervisor Louis Craig, and stunt driver Jack Gill. As expected, “Wheel” looks at how the movie delivered all the crashes and stunts. It offers decent details and some nice footage from the set.

The DVD presents both the 105-minute theatrical version of Death Race and a 111-minute unrated cut. I didn’t see the film theatrically and only watched the extended edition here, so I can’t comment on the changes between the two. However, I wanted to mention that the disc includes both options.

A few ads open the DVD. We get clips for The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, Burn After Reading, Hamlet 2, Wanted: Weapons of Fate videogame, Battlestar Galactica, and Blu-Ray Disc. No trailer for Death Race appears here.

Loud, crude, and moronic, Death Race plays like a videogame brought to the big screen – and that’s not a compliment. The action never heats up, and the total lack of involving story or characters makes the movie a chore to watch. The DVD provides mediocre picture along with terrific audio and generally average extras. Other than the sound, nothing here excels, and the flick itself is a dud.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.0625 Stars Number of Votes: 16
105:
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12:
21:
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