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Death Race **
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Jason Statham's heavily modified ride defies destruction in Death Race.

DEATH RACE
(Courtesy of San Francisco Examiner)

Starring: Jason Statham, Joan Allen, Ian McShane, Tyrese Gibson, Natalie Martinez. Rated R.

Paul W.S. Anderson has forged a lucrative career directing cinematic adaptations of video games, including Mortal Kombat and the aggressively unpleasant Resident Evil, and if his productions tend to share common flaws – confusing, rapid-fire camerawork and a gratuitous attention to extreme gore – they’re rarely boring.

The same is true of Death Race, his sort-of prequel to the 1975 cult favorite Death Race 2000, produced by low-budget exploitation pioneer Roger Corman. Anderson – not to be confused with Paul Thomas Anderson, the fearlessly ambitious director of Magnolia and There Will Be Blood – has created a movie worthy of its own video game, fashioned out of a series of hyperkinetic car chases, gargantuan explosions and breakdowns in logic big enough to drive the entire plot through.

While Death Race 2000 reveled in its own blood-soaked absurdity as David Carradine and a then-unknown Sylvester Stallone hungrily mowed down pedestrians, Anderson’s is a more humorless affair that finds Jason Statham (no stranger to the B-movie circuit Corman helped to create) wrongly convicted of his wife’s murder. He can serve his life sentence under the watchful eye of a sadistic warden (Joan Allen), or he can race through a booby-trapped prison yard in a crazed attempt to win his freedom.

And so it goes. Statham, with his chiseled torso and menacing glower, is perfect for material like this, and he does what he can with Death Race. In his best roles, Statham seems to be winking at the audience, as if he’s in on the joke but frantically throwing himself into every stunt just to be a good sport. Not here. Death Race is all doom and breakneck gloom, shot in deliberately murky tones that suggest a certain hopelessness for all involved.

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