Playing the ‘Race’ card…and losing


I can only imagine what compromising pictures there must be floating out there of Joan Allen to get her to agree to a role in director Paul W.S. Anderson’s car porn flick, “Death Race.”

Granted, her role in the “Bourne” films was a supporting one, but this woman was thrice nominated for an Oscar.

I mean, she’s got to be more proud of starring in Saturday Night Live’s “The Best of Chris (Mr. Peepers) Kattan” video than this.

I know the argument: “It’s just pure fun, it’s a Roger Corman film, for crying out loud. Loosen up, Mr. Stuffy Movie Critic Guy!”

And while I will admit to a few inventive scenes (the one prisoner’s head that seemingly explodes when he gets plowed into was a nifty little effect. But the director must have thought so too, and decided to show it on three separate occasions), the overall effect is nothing that watching a 90-minute string of Mountain Dew (or whatever your “Extreme” beverage of choice) commercials on a loop.
Sure, of Corman’s 300-plus film credits, he’s produced such titles as “Attack of the Giant Leeches,” “Eat My Dust,” “Bloodfist” and “Chopping Mall.” But in the original film, he was working with witty, subversive director Paul Bartel, who went on to direct the camp classics “Eating Raoul” and “Lust in the Dust.”

“The 1975 original stung with social commentary, from the rising tide of violence in professional sports to the Orwellian machinations of Big Brother inherent in the United States.

As over-the-top as it was, “Death Race 2000” was at least about something.

I suppose the new incarnation is as well. It’s about 90 minutes.

Other than that, there is little to recommend for anyone other than the most adamant auto enthusiast who reads “Car & Driver” as if it were a “Penthouse Forum”: “She had a dual-door, quad-wheel, semi-hemi-V8, stacked with a 440 Mopar and a body for gear-grinding glory! Yeah, baby! Say it slower!”

Jason Statham, who is contractually obligated to release his films in cinematic dust bowl known as late August, stars as Jensen Ames, a laid-off steelworker and devoted family man who coincidentally happens to be a one-time racing champ. I say “coincidentally” because it is only after Jensen is framed for the murder of his wife and imprisoned that we find out this little piece of exposition.

Allen plays the icy warden of this futuristic prison, who is in dire need of a new driver for her popular “Death Race” television show that pits prisoners against one another buzzing around the facilities in “Mad Max” – like vehicles.

One by one, prisoners meet their demise as Jensen, fueled by the rage of his predicament and the promise of release if he wins, eliminates the competition.

This is the point in the review where I would list some of the supporting actors and the characters they portrayed, but, really, what’s the point?

Director Paul W.S. Anderson (who apparently added the initials so we would not confuse his oeuvre — “Alien vs. Predator,” “Mortal Kombat,” “Soldier” — with that of Paul Anderson, director of award-winning films such as “Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia” and “There Will Be Blood”) is solely invested on playing to the ADHD crowd.

There is not a camera held steady for more than 20 seconds and both the race and fight scenes are seemingly filmed by hiccup-plagued cameramen. To compensate, he fills the speakers with death-metal dirges designed solely to increase adrenaline or elicit spontaneous ear-bleeding.

And atop this wreckage of twisted metal Allen is perched, barking out lines as though she was attempting to hold back the bile induced by even having her name affixed to it. Forget menacing, it would be a stretch if she even appeared interested during her minutes on screen.

One can only hope that after the sobbing concludes, she can dust herself off and head back into roles the captivating actress so richly deserves.

~ by usesoapfilm on August 26, 2008.

2 Responses to “Playing the ‘Race’ card…and losing”

  1. I was really surprised to see her in this trash film as well. Personally, I would consider that career suicide. If I was a director I would never hire her for being in such an awful movie. But, that’s me. ;P

  2. I can only fathom that she saw this as a way to pay for a new pool and/or a chance to play someone really against type and have fun with it. The trouble is, she just looks bored and pissed, she never has the fun that say, someone like Ray Liotta has when starring in a Uwe Boll production.

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