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Death Race

Less sarcastic, humorous than original, but remake an appealing 'Race'

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Death Race

(Unrated)

Movie: •••1/2 (out of 5)

DVD experience: •••1/2 (out of 5)

Starring

Jason Statham as Jensen Ames

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Joan Allen as Warden Hennessey

Ian McShane as Coach

Tyrese Gibson as Machine Gun Joe Mason

Natalie Martinez as Elizabeth Case

Studio: Universal

Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson

I'm not a big fan of movies that need an explanation to fully understand. However, if a movie's decent on first exposure, there's nothing wrong with appreciating it a little more when you learn what went into the film.

Paul W.S. Anderson's remake of Roger Corman's 1975 classic "Death Race 2000" was one of those rare films that made more sense when I learned how it came about. And we have the DVD special features to thank for this.

In the bonus material, Anderson explains that he was originally developing "Death Race 3000" for Corman with the classic producer's full blessing. However, in typical Hollywood fashion, the project stalled and flopped around for more than a dozen years before being resurrected.

The original concept was to make a sequel to "Death Race 2000," taking place a millennium in the future with lots of CGI and futuristic cars. However, when the year 2000 came and went, the project was re-imagined as a gritty remake that could serve as an out-of-sequence prelude.

The modern "Death Race" is far less sarcastic and far less humorous than that which was envisioned by original genius director Paul Bartel. But ultimately, this was what appealed to me about this film. Not only am I a fan of Paul W.S. Anderson (who, along with directors like Renny Harlin and Brett Ratner, are produce my coveted cinematic equivalent of junk food), but I like a good practical-explosion action flick.

By breaking with the look, feel and flavor of the original "Death Race 2000," this new film can be digested as a stand-alone film. Putting Jason Statham behind the wheel, flanked by one of the hottest new Latinas to grace the silver screen, wasn't a bad idea either. And let's not forget that "Death Race 2000" was hardly an untouchable film that could never be remade.

The film is set only a few years in our future, with the global economy collapsing. Prisons are now run for profit, and the biggest reality television entertainment production comes out of the same penal system. The new "Death Race" competition pits drivers in an enclosed track against each other with cars that are tricked out with ass-kicking weapon systems.

Family man Jensen Ames (Statham) is framed for the murder of his wife, and he's sent to prison. The cold, hard warden Hennessey (Joan Allen) fingers him as the new driver for the persona Frankenstein in the Death Race. However, as he moves through the competition, he learns more about how he ended up in jail, and he makes his own opportunities to survive the competition.

What makes this film work is the action. The cars are real. The explosions are real. This isn't a wimpy CG-laden movie with no practical effects. It's like "The Road Warrior" with four walls, and there's a certain macho appeal in that for me.

The unrated DVD comes with six minutes of extra footage scrambled into the film. If you want a softer approach, choose the theatrical version, which is still rated R for violence and language.

Special features include a commentary track on the unrated version with Paul W.S. Anderson and producer Jeremy Bolt. There's also two behind-the-scenes featurettes, one featuring the making of the film, and the other featuring a look at the stunts of the movie.

Kevin Carr is an independent writer, journalist and filmmaker who lives in Columbus, Ohio.

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