In 2008, Paul W.S. Anderson write and directed Death Race, a film “inspired by” Death Race 2000. This time around, Jensen Ames (Jason Statham) is framed for the murder of his wife and sent to the completely randomly named Terminal Island. This is the location of the annual Death Race in which convicts serving life sentences are offered a chance of freedom by winning a three-day race of armed and armoured cars around the island.
Because it makes complete sense that if you bring together the most violent and amoral criminals in a society, the most violent and most amoral is the one that should be released.
Ames is is offered a choice by Warden Hennessey (Joan Allen): to race as the popular mask-wearing (but now dead) champion, Frankenstein or never see his baby daughter again. Of course he joins the race.
Death Race isn’t really a remake of Death Race 2000 but it does draw inspiration, and some character names, from the earlier film and in doing so does invite comparison. This is unfortunate because it’s not as good… not by a long shot.
Certainly this is a much slicker film and special effects technologies have progressed much in the past 40 years. But Death Race also feels like a much smaller film than its predecessor and I think the setting is a large part of this.
While Death Race 2000 took place on the open road, with everyone a potential victim, Death Race restricts itself to a prison complex so that the only victims are also villains. This film also lacks the black humour of its predecessor and, even with a couple of cursory nods towards a dystopian premise, it really does feel like a much more generic action film.
And if you really want to see Jason Statham delivering vehicular carnage, you’d be a lot better off watching The Transporter.