DIR/WRI: Paul W.S. Anderson • PRO: Paul W.S. Anderson, Jeremy Bolt, Roger Corman, Paula Wagner • DOP: Scott Kevan • ED: Niven Howie • DES: Paul Denham Austerberry • CAST: Jason Statham, Joan Allen, Tyrese Gibson, Ian McShane
In the grip of massive depression unemployment is snowballing, the global economic system is in free-fall and the prisons are full to bursting. At breakneck speeds, drug-dealing maniacs toting machine guns make Swiss cheese of each other in high-powered car chases. No, this isn’t Dublin’s M50 on any given Saturday night: welcome to ‘hyper-reality’, welcome to Deathrace.
Jason Statham (The Bank Job, Snatch, Lock Stock…) ‘brings it on’ as lead character Jenson Ames, who – somewhat unoriginally – finds himself as ‘a good man framed for a murder he didn’t commit’, in a remake of the 1975 Roger Corman-produced cult classic Deathrace 2000. The 2008 version lacks the agoraphobic desolation of the original transcontinental races, based as it is in an industrial-style Alcatraz ominously named ‘Terminal Island’. However, Statham pumps up the testosterone to volume twelve as Ames, and bounds onto our screens, full of menacing attitude and rippling biceps. Let’s hope he can save this flick from being a cliché-infused Gubeen cheese-fest. The by now caged Ames is immediately recruited by sexy, sub-zero prison governess Ms Hennessy (Joan Allen). She demands he pose as their star driver Frankenstein (now deceased) in the next three races before a global audience of billions. Oh yes, there’s one more thing… Hennessy delivers a hammer blow: should Ames win by slaughtering all other competitors – his release papers are signed. The other option: being left for roadkill. Ames reaction to the governess is an absolute classic – ‘You wanted a monster, now you’ve got one.’
Ian McShane makes a welcome appearance as ‘Chief’, a kind of prison-fixer crossed with a Pimp My Ride mechanic, either way he’s as dodgy as a Picasso without provenance. I would have liked to have seen his character developed more by English director Paul W.S. Anderson (Shopping, Mortal Kombat, Event Horizon, Resident Evil). Anderson’s fast-cut/high-action stuff is perfect for this type of grown up boy-racer movie and his specialization in cinematography that draws the worlds of the silver screen and plug-and-play video games ever closer is highly marketable. So might I predict a version of Deathrace for PS3 and Xbox on the shelves for Christmas?