Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Death Race vs. Death Race

Death Race 2000
1975. Rated R, 84 minutes.
Director: Paul Bartel. Starring David Carradine, Sylvester Stallone, Simone Griffeth, Mary Woronov.
In the year 2000, racecar drivers compete in the annual "Transcontinental Race," a three day race across the continental United States. Each driver has a navigator of the opposite sex, two of the drivers are female. The winner is determined by some combination of where a driver finishes and how many points they have. They earn points by killing civilians with their cars. Of course, different types of people are worth different amounts with babies (70 points) and senior citizens (100) being worth the most. The race was created by "Mr. President," who's now become a dictator and governs the country from abroad. The race itself is a ridiculous premise but the filmmakers know this and play it to its campy hilt. We get humor from the drivers mowing down pedestrians and the hilarious commentary of our announcing team. In particular, Grace Pander (Joyce Jameson) cracks me up with her "dear friend" schtick. The two overnight pit stops are an excuse for nudity, fighting and yelling. Speaking of yelling, a pre-Rocky Sly Stallone does most of it while obviously hamming it up as Machine Gun Joe. Usually, its about all the adulation his arch-rival Frankenstein (Carradine) gets. At the end of the day, it's a socio-political satire that takes itself even less serious than most. It also gets about 25 years ahead of the reality-TV craze, even about a decade before The Running Man (+1 for Sly over Arnie). Still, it's main strength is absurdity. It flexes those muscles often, making it "so bad its awesome!" MY SCORE: -10/10

Jumping into my Delorean and getting up to 88 mph I arrive at...

Death Race
2008. Rated R, 105 minutes.
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson. Starring Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, Joan Allen, Ian McShane, Natalie Martinez.
Plot: Prisons have become privately owned entities. One of them broadcasts "Death Race" worldwide, a series of three day auto racing events featuring inmates driving armed vehicles on a closed course on prison property. Jensen Ames (Statham) is "recruited" by Warden Hennessey (Allen) to replace the series' biggest star.
The Good: It knows exactly what it wants to do and does it. DR is only interested in amping up the testosterone levels via an incessant stream of car crashes, gunshots, explosions and the occasional peek at hot female inmates in tight t-shirts and tighter jeans. All of this is punctuated by shots of Joan Allen talking tough and doing her best "game face." With videogame sensibilities (the cars actually have to pass over various icons on the track in order for certain weapons to be enabled) and attention to "graphics," its an unabashedly aggressive action-junkies wet dream. By the way, those "graphics" are a nice mix of cgi and organic stunts."
The Bad: A minor problem is that its exceedingly dumb. Every action is taken simply because the result promises to be spectacular. That's okay with regard to the race itself but it's even done outside the race. However, if you only want a popcorn movie then that's minor and you let it slide. The bigger problem is only a problem if you're familiar with the original, Death Race 2000. That was a campy satire taken to absurd extremes while keeping it's tongue firmly in cheek. Its silly on purpose, yet still has something to say. All of this makes DR 2000 "so bad its awesome!" This new version keeps only the action and replaces all the rest with grunts and scowls. It takes itself way too seriously like it has something really insightful to say but it doesn't. This makes its stupidity seem accidental which is always worse.
The Ugly: What happens to the guy who says "You can't kill me!"
Recommendation: This is strictly a popcorn movie. Its watchable crap akin to a vapid supermodel. There's nary a thought in its pretty little head and lots of eye candy but easily forgotten once the next pretty girl walks past. Like most remakes, or "reimaginings" it works best if you haven't seen the original.
The Opposite View: Nathan Lee, New York Times
MY SCORE: 5.5/10
So, if you're keeping up you realize I like the movie with the lower score better.

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