My DVD Shelf: ‘Death Race: Unrated’ (BluRay)

12.24.08 9 years ago

Universal Pictures

Not terrible.

That’s a pretty big shock, actually, and I’m inclined to call this Paul “What Script?” Anderson’s most competent film overall.  But still…

… and don’t get me wrong.  I’m not a purist.  I’m not the sort of person who believes that no remake can ever improve upon the original.  Hell, I just saw the 3D remake of “My Bloody Valentine,” and I’m dizzy in love with that one.  I just think that when you remake something, you have to make choices about what you do or don’t adapt.  I think remakes offer some great opportunities to a smart filmmaker, and so each one has to be judged differently.  I don’t have a blanket hatred for the mere idea of a remake.

But come on.  This is such a conceptual misfire, and in such a startlingly obvious way, that it makes me wonder if anyone involved in any level of the production has even the most cursory understanding of why the original works.

It’s a race across America.  And you kill people with your car for points.  That’s it.  Simple.  Easy to comprehend.  And totally vile and filthy.  It’s iconic in its simplicity.  I know people who have never seen the original film who still get the point if you aim your car at a pedestrian and say, “10 points.”

Yet in this film, there is no cross-country race.  And there are no points for hitting different types of pedestrians.  Instead, it’s all about prisoners being forced to race against each other.  That’s some weak shit designed to let the audience off the hook on a moral level.  The film pretends it has something important to say about reality TV, but that’s a total bust as well.  It’s a defanging of the basic idea that seems to me to be one of the most gutless revamps I’ve ever seen.

So, sure, the film’s professionally produced and the car stuff is shot well enough.  Jason Statham gives the same exact tough guy performance he gives in everything, as does Tyrese.  Ian McShane’s basically wasted as a wise-cracking member of Statham’s pit crew, and Joan Allen takes the worst hit as the warden of the prison, delivering nonsensical profanity as if she’s in a real movie.  I’m not sure if the terrible script for her character bothers me more or less than the plastic surgery that has finally rendered this remarkable actress immobile, but whatever the case, this may be the worst work she’s ever done on every level.

The point is, this isn’t “Death Race.”  At all.  And when you start from a creative choice as wrongheaded as this one, nothing else really matters.

Universal tricked the disc out with a number of features that are exclusive to BluRay, and if you really did love this film, you’ll be in heaven.  It’s obvious that Universal is starting to really embrace the potential of BluRay now.  I just wish this film was worth the effort.

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