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Death Race: Shawshank Redemption with stock car races thrown in!
on 16 February 2012
In the near future America's jails are privately run for profit, and the most profitable thing about them are the Death Races, very violent rally car races with offenders at the wheel that are screened to the waiting masses in a fashion reminiscent of the Caesars' circuses in ancient Rome, providing enough bloody spectacle to keep the bored populance amused.
Jason Statham is framed for murder and brought into a prison specifically to be a racing driver, replacing recently (but secretly) deceased legendary masked driver Frankenstein. It's all a lot of fun as he tries to survive on the race track and at the same time works out who really killed his wife and how to take revenge. The grand finale is all rather well done and highly entertaining.
The movie makers have obviously immersed themselves in the prison movie genre, and no hoary old cliché is left unclichéd. Many scenes are reminiscent of Shawshank Redemption (with TV's very own Lovejoy Ian McShane adding the gravitas in the Morgan Freeman role of old prison hand and mentor) and the setting of the prison on an island almost has to be homage to all those Alcatraz movies. The scenes when Statham is first introduced to the inmates look like a Face/Off rip off. But while it might not be original it is exceedingly well done, meting out lots of exciting car racing, a fairly easy to follow plot and a grand thrilling finale in which you know what the result is going to be, it's just fun seeing the inventive way in which they get there.
The film is a remake of the 1970's Roger Corman classic `Deathcar 2000'. It is a total reinvention, but still pretty effective and entertaining. In a nice touch David Carradine, who plays Frankenstein in the original film, voices the `real' Frankenstein seen briefly at the beginning of the new film. It's never going to be a classic, but it is a highly effective and entertaining action film that ticks all the boxes. A little less cliché and more originality wouldn't have gone amiss, so only 4 instead of 5 stars.