The future, American prisons have been privatised and inmates participate in Death Race. Televised live to the nation it's the number one sporting event with prisoners racing in souped up armour-plated vehicles augmented with machine guns and similar death dealing paraphernalia. When he's wrongfully arrested for the murder of his wife, ex-racecar driver Jensen Ames is coerced into taking part. But of course, escape is never far from his mind.
Death Race 2000 was a delicious black comedy set in a dystopian future wherein drivers took part in a cross country race, gaining points for running over civilians on the way. Things are certainly a bit different in Paul W.S. Anderson's remake, retaining the futuristic setting but relocating the action to a prison its pretty indicative of his output; resolutely generic and only intermittently entertaining.
In its favour Death Race has a distinct visual style, an almost monochromatic palette depicting a bleak world of prison bars and fast cars. Unfortunately this results in the vehicles becoming indistinguishable from each other, which hinders the enjoyment of the somewhat repetitive action scenes. The drivers are also interchangeable, basically your run of the mill roll call of prison inmates. On the plus side Jason Statham makes for a likeable, if two-dimensional hero, Ian McShane is engaging in the familiar mentor role and Joan Allen is coolly calculating as the villainous prison warden Hennessey. The faux pay-per-view TV trailers are nicely done and the whole thing is gleefully violent as well as having some agreeable eye candy in the shape of Ames' foxy female navigator Case (Natalie Martinez).
Death Race is mindless, occasionally enjoyable, but a pretty derivative movie. It mixes prison movie clichés with Mad Max style action alongside videogame trimmings – competitors have to drive over symbols on the track to activate their weapons. Exorcising all the satire that made the original so entertaining it does pay lip-service to its predecessor; a competitor is named Machine Gun Joe and David Carradine provides a vocal cameo for his character Frankenstein, before Ames assumes his identity. Anderson's movie is basically nothing more than a forgettable distraction for a lad's night in with an accompanying selection of beers.