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"Death Race"(available on DVD and Blu-ray)
Reviewer:
Wayne Klein
Studio: Universal Home Video
Genre:
Action
Release Date:
12/26/08
Special Features:

Directors/producer commentary, "Start Your Engines", "Behind the Wheel", "Create Your Own Race" (Blu-ray version), U-Control features including watching behind-the-scenes footage while watching the film (Blu-ray), digital copy for your computer, theatrical version and unrated "Director's Cut" ---

Review:

Paul W.S. Anderson has gone goal in life-to direct entertaining, big budget genre B-movies. He's been accused by critics of being a hack and if he is a hack he's a darned talented one. "Death race" his latest film remakes the Paul Bartel directed "Death Race 2000" that featured David Carradine and a young Sylvester Stallone. The basic concept is the same here--drivers that race and kill each other for entertainment. Anderson has retooled this a bit for a bigger, bolder and nastier "Death Race" that's instep with our time. ***

The United States faces its highest unemployment rate in history, anarchy and an overcrowded prison system on its last legs now run by corporations for profit. Former race car driver Jensen Ames (Jason Statham) gave up the sport after losing his license and serving time. He's now married with a little girl and happy doing anything from working as a welder. When Ames wife is killed and he is framed for it, he's sent away to Terminal Island the prison that's the home of Death Race a profitable internet program that pits prisoner race car drivers against each other in death defying matches. ***

The prison run by a major corporation is overseen by Warden Hennesey (Joan Allen)who happens to need a new driver to replace Frankenstein (voiced by original "Death race 2000" star David Carradine in a cameo)who was killed just as he was about to claim his fifth victory which would have made him eligible for release. Hennesey asks Ames to become Frankenstein, win the fifth race and earn his freedom but, as with all things, there are strings attached. His crew includes a woman navigator (Natalie Martinez) imported for the race and Coach (Ian McShane) the head mechanic. Unfortunately, Frank made a lot of enemies including Machine Gun Joe (Tyrese Gibson) another inmate who is only TWO wins away from being released and is determined to kill Frank this time out. ***

Anderson's film isn't subtle nor does it have much of a plot but it really doesn't need one. Like most of Anderson's films that he's scripted, this is about the action NOT the story and the actors just fill in the gaps between the action scenes. "Death Race" delivers with some rip-roaring action scenes that are mostly physical effects and not reliant on CGI. --

Image & Sound:

"Death Race" receives a sharp looking transfer to DVD. The film has a nice, crisp and sharp transfer with a remarkably rock solid sound track that delivers the booming explosions and sound effects as well as the overripe dialog. The overall look of the film tends to the gritty side and that's well represented by a gritty looking transfer. ---

Special Features:

We get both the theatrical and longer unrated cut of the film. The main differences between the two are some scenes that flesh out the characters in the unrated cut of the film. Personally, I found the unrated cut superior to the theatrical one even if those eliminating those scenes moved the action along more quickly. ***

Director Paul W. S. Anderson and producer Jeremy Bolt provide a blow-by-blow commentary track discussing everything from Anderson's original proposal for the film (which was rejected over a decade ago) to why Anderson prefers physical special effects where possible to CGI in his films. ***

We also get "Star Your Engines" a fine making of featurette that gives us plenty of behind-the-scenes footage of the on the set stunts. ***

"Behind the Wheel: Dissecting the Stunts" breaks down the difficult and impressive driving sequences of the film. It's noted that CGI is used but it was only used in situations where the stunt couldn't be done physically. ***

It should be noted that the Blu-ray also has "Create Your Own Race" where you can combine a variety of angles shot for the film and cobble together your version of a sequence from the film. and also uses the U-Control method created by Universal which also allows you to watch behind-the-scenes footage while watching the film which spits up technical specs on the drivers, their vehicles, etc. as you watch the film. ---

Final Words:

It ain't high art but "Death Race" is an engaging action thriller with plenty of outrageous stunts and minimal character development. In other words this is a perfect 21st century B-movie with an A budget.

 

 
 
 
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