Ever since Spy Hunter mankind has asked the question, "Wouldn't it be awesome to have guns on a car?"
Death Race is set in a dystopian future where corporations own all the prisons (instead of merely a lot of them), there's still a vestige of an American steel industry, and the highest form of entertainment is driving Detroit muscle very fast and killing people. This is old school combustion punk. There's not a hatchback or hybrid in sight. No, sir. This is Chevy country.
The premise is the hoariest cliche since Wife Swap. Prisoners kill each other on TV for a chance at freedom. But give Death Race credit. The message isn't a dire commentary about violence in the media, the message is: "Violence is fun! Wooohooo!"
Much like its combustion punk progenitor, Crash, this is a movie about the transformation of the human body through technological means, whether that be spinning blades, napalm, hydraulics, cannons, or the various sharp and weighty objects in a machine shop.
For those of us who consider Roger Corman's original Death Race 2000 a classic, there is much to recommend its inheritor, for all that it departs from the original premise. The gleeful disregard for human life remains. And watch out for David Carradine's voice-over cameo!
Nothing about Death Race comes as a surprise. That's because they give us everything we want.<>
Here we have the essential power-fantasy of all prison movies: the moral permission to destroy the powerful and your fellow oppressed alike. A hatred of authority infuses every scene. In the libertarian utopia of futuristic prison gladiatorial combat, it's every man for himself, and no man embodies the superman ideal quite like Jason Statham, the angriest Brit since Churchill.
Except possibly Christopher Lambert in Fortress. But that's neither here nor there.
If one had to find something to criticize about this movie, it would be the difficulty in discerning which car is which as they chew each other apart with machineguns and caltrops. After post-apocalyptic death-modding, all cars look pretty much the same.