Death Race

PLOT:

By 2012 the economy of the United States has fallen into disaster, unemployment, and crime are on the rise, and private corporations run most prisons across the nation for profit. The movie focuses on the Terminal Island Prison, which broadcasts “Death Race” to the world via a popular paysite on the Internet. Death Race is not only a race to the finish line, but a battle pitting driver against driver for survival.

The film begins by showing a race near its end between Machine Gun Joe (Tyrese Gibson) and a famous masked driver known as Frankenstein (David Carradine in a voice-over cameo appearance), who is accompanied by a female navigator. During the race, Frankenstein’s car’s defensive systems stop working and he orders his navigator to “drop the tombstone”, a 6 inch steel plate in the rear of the car; dropping it disconnects it from the car, tumbling it towards Joe. Joe’s Dodge Ram is heavily damaged but he manages to destroy Frankenstein’s car since, with the tombstone gone, the car’s fuel tank is exposed. Frankenstein’s navigator ejects, leaving him to race alone to the finish line. Joe fires a volley of rocket-propelled grenades toward Frankenstein’s car, which is blown over the finish line in a flaming inferno leaving Frankenstein critically wounded, or dead.

Jensen Ames (Jason Statham) is framed for his wife’s murder on the same day that the steel mill he works at closes; the murderer is actually a masked intruder that points a finger-gun at Ames as he leaves. Ames is sent to prison where he immediately makes enemies by fighting with a white supremacist gang, led by Pachenko (Max Ryan). He is taken to Hennessey (Joan Allen) who tells him that those men will kill him without her help. Thus he is coerced by the warden to become the new driver of Frankenstein’s 2005 Ford Mustang. The warden tells Ames that she knows about his baby daughter left in foster care. She also states that prisoners are freed upon winning five Death Races, but since he will take on the mask of the legendary Frankenstein, who had 4 wins at the time of his death, he will only need to win one race.

The races are broken into three stages: Stages 1 and 2 are races in which the driver must merely survive, and Stage 3 the driver must win the race in order for it to count toward his freedom. The track’s features [devices that activate either defensive or offensive weapons] are controlled by the prison warden and can be enabled or disabled at her command.

Ames meets his pit crew, Coach (Ian McShane) his crew chief who has been eligible for parole for three years. “Gunner” (Jacob Vargas) the mechanic for his car, and “Lists” (Frederick Koehler), who has background info on all the drivers. Lists tells Ames about the other drivers, including Hector Grimm (Robert LaSardo) AKA “The Grimm Reaper”, described as ‘a clinical psychopath and mass murderer’; Travis Colt (Justin Mader) an ex-NASCAR driver trying to regain his fame; 14K (Robin Shou) a tenth generation Triad and considered to be the smartest in the prison because he’s the only one with a degree from MIT. Ames also learns that Pachenko is the driver for the gang he fought with earlier and that no one knows just how many people Pachenko’s killed off the track.

Just before the Stage 1 Race, Ames is introduced to his navigator, Case (Natalie Martinez), who was also the previous Frankenstein’s navigator. During the race, Ames sees Pachenko make the same hand gesture as the intruder that killed his wife. Driver Siad is killed when his car is impaled on a device known as a ‘Deathhead’ and exploded as the Deathhead descends back into its slot. Travis Colt is killed when, after Ames’ car’s defensive systems fail, he uses the navigator’s ejector seat to launch a napalm canister toward Colt’s Jaguar XJS, after which Case ignites the napalm with a cigarette lighter. Grimm is killed after crawling from his wrecked Chrysler 300 when Machine Gun Joe’s Gatling gun decapitates him while Joe is traveling at high speeds. Ames finishes last after taking a hard hit from Machine Gun Joe.

Ames learns he is part of a plot to keep the legend of Frankenstein alive solely for the personal profit of warden Hennessey. He confronts Hennessey about the driver he believes is responsible for his wife’s death, but instead of acting on this information she shows him pictures of his daughter living with foster parents, asking him if he thinks he could provide for his child better than they could. Furious, he takes one of the pictures and leaves. The night before Stage 2 of the race he makes a trip to the Pachenko’s team’s pit to confront him. He is then ambushed by Pachenko but is helped by Lists who stabs Pachenko in the back with a pen, allowing Ames to retaliate, but his revenge is thwarted by head prison guard Ulrich (Jason Clarke) who tells both men to ‘save it for the race’.

Ames goes into Stage 2 of the race and immediately questions his navigator Case on her intentions, threatening to eject her into the ceiling of a tunnel if she does not answer truthfully. She tells him she was ordered to sabotage the previous Frankenstein’s defense weapons so he would not win his freedom, promised that she would earn her own. Ames realizes he is not meant to survive the Death Race at all, but is meant to die so another “Frankenstein” can be brought into the prison and his purpose is ‘just to make it exciting’. He realizes that one way or another Hennessey will sabotage any driver that gets close to winning five races and will allow no one to leave the contest alive. He causes Pachenko’s Buick Riviera to crash and roll, allowing him another opportunity for revenge. Pachenko crawls away from the car wreck, pleading with Ames and saying that Hennessey made him kill. Ames replies that “She’s next” and snaps Pachenko’s neck. Five drivers remain until 14K, Carson, and Riggins are killed by ‘the Dreadnought’, the warden’s secret weapon, (an 18 wheel tank truck filled with assorted weapons) that had been secretly in production for months. Ames and Machine Gun Joe collaborate to destroy the Dreadnought using one of the Deathheads and finish Stage 2. Realizing that Ames knows what’s going on, Hennessey orders Ulrich to plant an explosive under Ames’ car before Stage 3 of the Death Race to ensure that Ames does not cross the finish line alive. However, Ames devises his own scheme when Coach shows him a video of Grimm’s death, highlighting that Grimm’s car collided with a particular billboard in the earlier race. Ames then meets with Joe, who now suspects him to be “Frankenstein” and tells Joe that Joe and Frankenstein should talk.

The Stage 3 Race begins with only two drivers remaining: “Frankenstein” and Machine Gun Joe. The race begins, and Ames soon takes the lead but the warden rigs the track to benefit Joe to Ames’ disadvantage. Throughout the entire lap, Joe stays on Ames’ tail, hammering him with bullets; Ames drops the ‘tombstone’ again, but Joe dodges it without taking damage. As they near the beginning of the second lap, Joe preps newly added missiles and fires an RPG in Ames’ direction, seemingly with the intent to kill him. However, they miss the car and instead hit the billboard at the first turn of the track. It is shown that the Ames saw a pathway to the bridge leading off the island behind the destroyed billboard in the video he and his crew reviewed previously.

Ames and Joe escape onto the bridge, pursued by police cruisers and helicopters. As the police close in on the two cars, Ames releases his exposed fuel tank, causing it to explode and stop the pursuing cars. (Gunner had equipped Ames with an extra half-gallon tank for his escape). Hennessey then orders that the explosive under Ames’ car be set off, but nothing happens because Coach had found, removed, and deactivated the bomb prior to the start of the race, proclaiming “nobody fucks with my car.” Escaping past the bridge, Joe and Ames separate, and Hennessey orders the helicopters to focus on ‘Frankenstein’, but he switches seats with Case when she tells him that Hennessey had already signed her release papers, and that she ‘owed one’ to the old Frankenstein. He bails out of the car without being seen, making the helicopters believe he is still inside. Joe meets up with Ames and they board a train to escape, lamenting on Hennessey’s continued existence. Soon, Ames’ Mustang is stopped and Case, posing as Frankenstein, is apprehended.

Later, Hennessey exults in the high ratings and revenue and the supposed apprehension of ‘Frankenstein’. Ulrich then hands her a present sent to her for the record number of viewers subscribing to the Death Race. However, the explosive that was put on the Frankenstein car is inside the box and Coach detonates it remotely, stating directly into the camera, “I love this game.”

Six months later, Ames and Joe are shown working on a car in a junkyard in Mexico, when Case unexpectedly arrives. The two men are happy to see her, and Case hugs Ames, and he shows her his baby daughter. The movie closes with Ames explaining that even though he knows he’s far from being the best parent in the world, no one could love his child more than he could.

REVIEW:

I’ll admit that when I saw the trailer for this film over the summer, I didn’t know what to think, so I stayed away from it in the theater. I just finished watching it on DVD and I have to say, I was impressed.

I’m not too familiar with Jason Statham’s work. I know he’s been in a lot of action films, such as The Trainsporter franchise, but this is the first film I’ve actually watched with him in it. Taking into consideration that he doesn’t really need to do anything other than look pissed for most of the movie, he works perfectly in this role. Not to mention, the dude has a body I only could only wish for.

Joan Allen is positively bitchy as the warden. A far cry from her role as the mother in Pleasantville.

Tyrese Gibson, while not a mainstream actor, holds his own as Machine Gun Joe. His acting chops are getting as good as his modeling skills were at one time.

Natalie Martinez adds a nice bit of eye candy to the screen. As much as I hate to say that’s all she was good for, it’s true. Her role as the navigator isn’t much more than glorified pin-up girl riding shotgun.

Make no mistake, this movie screams adrenaline and testosterone and nothing else. If you’re not a fan of blood, sweat, cars, action, and blowing stuff up, then stay away from this film. However, if you are, then you will love it. I know I did!

4 out of 5 stars

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2 Responses to “Death Race”

  1. […] maybe they had come up with an original story for this, but it turns out they just mutated the Death Race plot. what I mean by that is that the stories are very similar, but they have subtle differences […]

  2. […] wish that they wouldn’t have taken this film so seriously, though. I had that complaint about Death Race, if I […]

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