Death Race is the latest in the action sub-genre where humans from a dystopian future get hooked on hyper-violent TV game shows: The Condemned, Battle Royale, Wrong Turn 2, The Running Man, Series 7, and the original Death Race 2000. Same story, same dull result. They just keep pushing the fictional time stamp up... 2000... 2012... 2017. It's humorous that none of these films ever whip themselves around with enough edginess to take a look at this "social commentary" from the audience's perspective. What we're left with is the director getting off on showing us his gameshow kill daydreams.
[NOTE: To be fair, the original Death Race is a fine film and does the best at tackling this conceit, poking fun at media personalities - commentators, sportscasters - and their phony objectivity].
Paul W.S. Anderson helms this remake, and just like his Resident Evil trilogy the best thing about Death Race is in the casting of the lead. Jason Statham, like Milla Jovavich as Alice, is a sexual force of an action star with a moral code that rides up his spine. Lately, he's had a bad run with In The Name of the King, War, The Bank Job, and now Death Race, but he's been entertaining in all. (With Transporter 3 and Crank 2 coming in late '08 or early next year, Statham is sure to rebound. Those two franchises are ideal for his type of soft-shelled machismo.)
Anderson is similar to fellow fanboy whipping post Uwe Boll (really, shouldn't the fannies aim for someone like George Lucas, instead of Boll or Anderson, at this point?) in that the amount of leg work put into writing, producing, and directing his own projects is admirable. However, the finished products always come off so listless. Honestly, there's not much separation between Resident Evil and Death Race; take the shell off and you've really got identical innards. Once again the villain is "the corporation" - this time with a boring Joan Allen as the capitalist svengali behind the online subscription juggernaut.
Like other divisive buzz words ("neo-con", "socialist", "evangelical", "muslim") that are often misused and tossed into screeds and salvos to ignite uproar when the speaker/writer has lost their way - or never had one - , "the corporation" has become another boogeyman term that makes one's eyes roll with each heavy-handed dose. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if upcoming generations start taking "the corporation" for a proper noun... like, the Earth, the Grand Canyon, or the Tim McGraw.
Had a pop impresario like Louis Leterrier, Jon Chu, or Pierre Morel directed Death Race it could've kept its preachy tones while still having fun. Further, I think of someone with slapstick sophistication like Edgar Wright following in the footsteps of the original and even improving on it. Ah well... it's bad, but harmless bad. You could do worse, like Pineapple Express.