Darwin's Film Club: Death Race
I admit it. Corny action films are a registered vice of this sober correspondent. And I watch the careers of action heroes a little too closely. After seeing Death Race yesterday I believe Jason Statham (state-ham) has cemented his action future with this one.
I had forgotten that the original Death Race 2000 (1975) was a Roger Corman enterprise until the credits of Death Race (2008) rolled and Roger Corman's name appeared several times. What the Hell?? I thought, until I remembered. Oh.
Directors like Scorsese, Cameron, and Copolla all trained at the Roger Corman School of B-film making, which is to say quick, cheap guerilla-style exploitation flicks with heart and humour.
The original Death Race, while schlocky, had some political aspirations (the rise of fascism) whereas the remake has no such pretentions–it's pure adrenaline action from start to finish.
Other recent remakes like Gone in 60 Seconds and The Fast and the Furious (Corman derived also) have boasted stunts galore and/or star power, yet lacked an anchor point. They remain cool but uninvolving, shallow, yes but also thin. They are forgettable and somehow cloying.
Death Race 2000 is shallow and cool too, but it has one significant advantage: its casting of Jason Statham. Action heroes come and go. Many have looked promising but ultimately proved vapid (The Rock, Vin Diesel). But a small select few stay with us for decades.
Statham alternately displays taciturnity and humour, the best qualities of Eastwood (first action film 1955) and Willis (born 1955), two of the most enduring action heroes in film history. You could see Statham comfortably reprise the iconic roles of either Harry Callaghan or John McClane without any insult to the originals.
Just think about that for a moment. Could any other modern action star fill those shoes? Tom Cruise, Matt Damon, Will Smith, Eric Bana, Brad Pitt and the rest would all fail miserably at one or the other.
Is there even a single action role Statham couldn't have done? Han Solo, Aragorn, Léon, Maximus, Tyler Durden? He could be stuck in remakes for 20 years–and I'd watch them all.
In ten years Statham has given us Lock, Stock, Snatch, The Italian Job, Transporter, Crank, The Bank Job and Death Race. He's still only 36–think Willis 17 years ago(†) .
And in a final act of political correctness, following 1h:39m of utter carnage and gore , the end credits of Death Race provide us with this hilarious disclaimer.
- † that's before Pulp Fiction, Armageddon, 12 Monkeys, 6th Sense, Sin City, Hart's War, etc [back ↩]