Probably the most disappointing aspect of Paul W.S. Anderson's remake of Death Race 2000 (and there are many disappointing aspects to account for) is the absolute failure to reach any of the potential that this action film had. I'm probably doing more of a service than most to admit that there was any potential, but as the original Death Race has simply gotten campier with age, our society has gotten more severe. As a result, the set up (economic collapse, corporate penal colonies, brutal reality television) is even more appropriate today than it was in 1975. However, it is pretty obvious that most of the brains behind this film came from below the (male) belt, leaving any social commentary on the sidelines. Death Race wishes to do more than what summer movies are supposed to do: earn cash from the young men.
Starring underrated action stud Jason Statham, a pursed lipped Joan Allen, and a subdued Swearengen (aka Ian McShane) who are all dropped into the most ridiculous situations, it is hard to take any of the performances seriously. Statham is Jensen Ames, set up for the murder of his wife which is all a part of some master plan by Hennessey (Allen) who is not only the active CEO of Terminal Island, but also the Death Race. Ames is sent to Terminal Island where he is roped into driving as the now deceased but very lucrative driver Frankenstein. The Death Race is run in three stages and people can subscribe to one are all stages of the race which is less reality TV than reality video game. The drivers are all convicts from Terminal Island (completely expendable) and the co-pilots are all from the women's prison. The whole thing is rigged for maximum suspense and bloodshed which equals maximum viewership.
The scenario of Death Race is propelled by by outside forces - economic collapse, a desperate populous - that never materialize. Ames is apparently making less that $3 per hour on the outside, but his living situation looks like a better situation than mine. The scriptwriters simply keep the eye on the prize of their target audience with hackneyed low-brow jokes about homos and women. Men are not allowed much complexity either, as they are either relegated to husband or father or social ill, no other variance exists in Death Race. The action is visceral and the look is dark and apocalyptic, but no special effects or glossy production is going to save this film from itself. Ironically, Death Race ends up being not only stupid, but also heavy-handed with its lame flirtations with intellectual or emotional provocation.
Do yourself a favor and rent the original.