If you were expecting this to revisit the thorny – y’know, sick – issues of pedestrian-splatting contained in its 1975 predecessor, you might be disappointed (depending on your level of depravity) to discover there’s none of that. Despite being produced by Roger Corman – also responsible for the David Carradine and Sly Stallone starring original – this replaces the pan-US homicide jamboree with a convict-on-convict demolition derby scenario, like a gas-guzzling take on The Running Man.
By nature, this is knuckle-dragging stuff – the screen is populated almost entirely by steroid-pumped men who look like extras from Con Air, with a few girls who are a bit like Megan Fox in Transformers (but aren’t really her) thrown in. But as violent actioners go, the execution is decent enough. There are moments where spasm-cams and machine-gun editing become infuriating, but there are others – the destruction of a monster truck called the Dreadnought for instance – where you can’t help but admire the sheer bombast being dished up. Director Anderson wisely sidesteps the CGI in favour of real stunts, giving this some visceral visual oomph.
In the middle of it all, Statham is reliably steely, Joan Allen (the Bourne films) gives it a good go as a ruthless prison warden and Deadwood’s Ian McShane is on hand to add quips and wrinkles to the proceedings. They can’t rescue the dunderheaded script, but they do add just a hint of gravitas to the booms, clangs and twisted metal screeches going on around them.
In terms of artistic merit, Death Race has nothing to recommend it. Nada. Zilch. It’s a big, dumb, gratuitously violent bogan bonanza. But hey, some of us like that sort of thing from time to time, and for mindless entertainment this just about takes the chequered flag.