Review: Death Race

What do you get when you smash Top Gear into Gladiator? Death Race! If the title alone doesn’t convince you, the trailer (above) will: this is a film for the boys.

Imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, Jensen Ames (Jason Statham) is given the chance to drive to freedom in the Death Race, a competition best described as Touring Cars on steroids, Nitrous-oxide and napalm. There are almost no computer-generated effects and it’s difficult to work out when this fact is most impressive: when vehicles are exploding or when Statham is showing off his back muscles.

The dialogue is minimal – “horsepower” is probably the longest word used in the film – and all relationships develop and are defined by actions rather than words. The most emotionally expressive moment is when the Ames breaks another man’s neck whilst wearing a mask. That really is how deep this film is prepared to get. But that’s exactly what the audience has come to see: cars, guns, violence, vengeance. Not words.

As such, the acting is perfunctory. Jason Statham doesn’t miss a beat (or a beating) in his quest to be Hollywood’s action-man of choice, Joan Allen is all steely-glares and Margaret Thatcher-but-without-the-niceties, and Ian McShane puts in an excellent audition for the role of Johnny Cash should a sequel to Walk the line ever be made. These are three decent actors but their efforts are mostly confined to swearing, punching or looking grim. It’s the polar-opposite of a for-the-girls-by-numbers movie where the leads simper, pout, and look pretty.

Death Race doesn’t really have much to say, or a new way of saying something old. What could it teach the interested viewer about men? That we like explosions, impressing women without having to say much, and that the good guy who fights against all the bad guys and becomes a badass is the kid of hero we prefer. Of course you could work this last point out by watching slightly more ruanced films such as the aforementioned Gladiator, Braveheart, Batman, or maybe even Shrek.

There are no sex scenes so it’s likely that a bunch of Christian guys would be happy to watch this together because somehow explicit violence is seen as more acceptable than explicit sexuality. Whilst the apostle Paul does highlight the uniquely self-destructive nature of sexual sin (1 Corinthians 6:18), movies like this continue the commodification of people: men are cannon-fodder and women are eye-candy. Fail to notice and filter this and that’s how you will consider the real people around you. Just like Jesus didn’t.

That said, Death Race is not, and was never meant to be, a conversation-starter. So if pizza has been ordered, girls are nowhere to be seen, and brains have been left at the door, itmakes for a pretty good choice, if not a great film.