Death Race (2008)
Remakes/reboots/reimaginings... All just other words for "we can't be bothered to think up an original idea" and a large part of the reason I gave this a miss the first time around. It's like The Wizard of Oz, Horton Hears a Who, or any other beloved children's classic that just doesn't need to be remade. It's been done, and done correctly, now leave it alone. Oddly enough, other than the title, a few character names, and weaponized cars, this has exactly squat to do with the original. All things considered, that's actually a plus for me and if the original trailers had done a better job conveying that, I might have forked over some cash to see it in the theater.
An unfortunate victim of this reimagining is all sense of whimsy and imagination the original had. Dark humor to be sure, but the original was a pretty entertaining and biting satire on society in a similar vein to The Running Man. Here we have a fairly standard Fugitive framejob, a yawner of a prison story, and one of the more implausibly motivated villains I've seen this side of Uma's Poison Ivy. While the plot is a bet of a letdown and the sci-fi angle is confined to the opening title sequence, the execution was surprisingly adequate. Nothing to write home about, but Statham and McShane are quite good here and Token Objectified Female navigator was at least easy on the eyes.
Statham was in top form again and they did a really nice job setting up his character's motivations and playing up the family man side of things. Unfortunately that's completely out of place and unwanted in a movie of this type, but props for the effort. Man, I'd thought Statham was in good physical shape before this, but goodness gracious. My sister would definitely appreciate the bod and how much time he spends shirtless. He really leaned himself down something fierce and is just completely ripped. That actually works pretty well within the bounds of the narrative and it's not flagrant, just adds to the fun.
I was going to skip tearing on the plausibility of this because obviously it's not supposed to be plausible, but they had to go to the trouble of trying to explain too much that I have to call them on it. Firstly, the warden's motivation to improve ratings for the show that brings her parent corporation all the money is all well and fine, but goodness gracious she was completely inept in trying to accomplish that. Stepped right over the character motivation line into being an obvious writing issue and more's the pity because without that, we lose any chance at an underlying tension or drama behind the action. Secondly, where exactly do they fit a couple million rounds of ammunition in each of these cars? I'd have been okay if anyone ever ran out of ammo, but Machine Gun Joe pretty much drives all 3 stages of the race with the trigger depressed. Sure that's his name, but let's at least pretend there are some limitations at work here. IMDB's trivia mentions four tons of blank ammunition were expended during filming and I can't help but wonder if that estimate is low by a factor of ten.
Special nod of appreciation to David Carradine. He was completely awesome in the original and it was a very nice touch to have him do Frank's voice at the beginning. Had to look him up to be sure, but yep, that's him. Also interesting that he's been continuing to release a decent number of movie roles after dying. Usually that puts a kink in someone's career, but he's apparently still going strong. Thanks very much for the memories, David. I'm glad we'll always have your mostly excellent body of work to enjoy. Plus whatever new movies you put out in the future.
Badassery Quotient - 9
Pretty nice amount of shooting, brawling, and of course shooting while driving going on here. Couple that with Statham being just crazy-ripped and this is one of his more badass roles to be sure. Nice touch that they didn't have him use martial arts of any sort in his brawl. It's good to not overuse that in every movie.
Rewatchability - Rarely
It was reasonably entertaining for what it was and it does have me wanting to go back and watch the original again soon. I wouldn't avoid seeing this again and could see enjoying it with a like minded friend, but it's not quite solid enough to merit regular viewing. I'd be hesitant to recommend it to anyone who was a fan of the original.
Up next - Transporter 3! It's a testament to how strong a movie this is that I've seen it and thought I enjoyed it, but can't for the life of me remember a single thing about it.