For a movie as trashy as Death Race, it opens with a believable scenario. The economy has crumbled in 2012 (actually happening), people pay to watch inmates fight each other the death online (plausible), and now people want an extra level of violence (yes, plausible). None of that makes this movie any more intelligent; in fact, it hovers around the level of a newt. Still, there’s little question that it’s a wildly fun ride for action lovers.
Death Race is a more admirable production than the original, in at least there’s a somewhat reasonable story behind the gory mayhem. That doesn’t mean it’s better, just that the narrative is stronger. Jason Statham is Jensen Ames, framed for the murder of his wife purely so he enters into prison to race for ratings. The story takes a few twists, some of which are obvious and others not so much. It gives a purpose to some extended action sequences that go on for some time.
Obnoxious music drives much of the film, leading into scenes with obscenely loud death metal or rap. Underneath the action it can be mercifully lost, although it would have hardly taken away from the sheer fun of the race itself. Split into three sections, the race is action bliss. Fast cars, hot women, machine guns, popping heads, and loads of explosions: It’s everything low rent cinema should be, and Death Race embraces it.
At the head of the carnage is Joan Allen, playing a cold, manipulative women in the business of killing purely for the money. Her character is despicable, and written purely to instill hate within the audience every time she’s on screen. She may be the best part of the film, even if she (along with nearly everyone on the cast) remains completely underdeveloped as a character.
There’s no need for prior knowledge of the original to enjoy this hokey remake. The sheer joy of a seeing a tanker truck jump itself, sending humanity flying before blowing up in a spectacular display of pyrotechnics is way more fun than it should be. It’s what you go into a movie like this expecting, and exactly what Death Race provides. Plus, the final warning that you shouldn’t try this at home was brilliantly funny. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Movie]
Death Race comes from Universal encoded in a AVC transfer that is at times difficult to gauge. The color scheme is incredibly bland and muted, making it (at times) look black and white. Black levels tend to be weak, although this could be a side effect of a muted look. As such, the disc lacks the usual hi-def pop you would expect from a modern film.
That aside, close ups do provide generous amounts of detail. Sadly, it does seem to falter when at a distance. It looks sharp, with a light film grain layering the movie. Contrast can occasionally run hot, though it stays in check for most of the running time. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Video]
What the disc does deliver on is audio. Not only is this mix incredibly loud, it’s insanely accurate to the on-screen action. Gunfire is always placed in the proper speaker, and the rear speakers get just as much of a workout as the front stereo channels. Bass offers tons of kick during crashes and explosions, and the dialogue remains well mixed into this mess. Ambient sound is excellent all around, from the opening riot to the sounds of the car shop. This DTS-HD track that fully delivers what it should. [xrr rating=5/5 label=Audio]
Universal brings the film to Blu-ray with only a few extras. A commentary from director Paul W.S. Anderson and producer Jeremy Bolt offers the usual round of production details. This leads into Start Your Engines, a shamelessly promotional making of piece closing in on the 20 minute mark. Behind the Wheel is a look at stunt work, and while it starts off with a legitimate tone, it degenerates into promotional babble.
Create-Your-Own-Race is an interactive feature letting you take different camera angles and edit your own race to upload online. It’s easy to use, though it’s doubtful many will take the time to make the most of it. U-Control continues its string of annoying picture-in-picture featurettes that are informative, but frustrating to access. Universal, leave these things in the menu in their own place and stop putting them into the film. It’s no way to watch extras. Finally, BD-Live access offers nothing for Death Race itself, and D-Box support is here for those who have the right equipment. [xrr rating=2/5 label=Extras]