It’s hard to take a film titled Death Proof seriously. Never mind that it’s based off of the B-movie classic Death Proof 2000, even in today’s world the idea of racing to your death is a bit ridiculous. Still, Universal green lit this film, starring Jason Statham and helmed by Paul W.S. Anderson and despite a modest budget of $45 million, it still was unsuccessful in making back its budget domestically (worldwide ticket sales did rescue it from the red, however). With the holiday season right around the corner, Universal is likely banking to make even more money on this box office disappointment, but is it really worth even taking a second glance at a film as silly as Death Race?
Welcome to the Death Race, where hardened convicts and smoking-hot navigators race tricked-out cars in the most twisted spectator sport on Earth! Sentenced to the world’s most dangerous prison for a murder he did not commit, Jensen Ames (Jason Statham) has only one chance to get out alive – win the ultimate race to the death. Also starring Tryese Gibson, Death Race is a “supercharged, sick and satisfying” (Nathan Lee, The New York Times) ride that will keep you pinned to your seat all the way to its insane, metal-crushing end!
I knew full well going into Death Race that I’d get a ridiculous film that was low on plot and high on action, and I was 100% satisfied knowing this. I don’t mind action flicks that serve no purpose other than to throw exciting visuals at us, but even though the races in the film were certainly a treat to watch, the story that was interwoven throughout it was not. In fact, it may have been the most annoying and nonsensical storyline that I’ve ever heard and one I’m not too keen on ever revisiting. While I hadn’t seen the original this film is based off of, what I understand from that film was a lot of things were kept mysterious (such as the identity of the main “hero” driver in the film), whereas in this film our main man is Jason Statham and of course we just have to know all there is to know about him.
It’s not that I really had a problem with the way the story was set up (man is framed for wife’s murder due to his driving skills—ok, whatever; lame, but I’ll take it), so much as I didn’t like the ridiculous story that continued once we got Statham into the prison. The idea of a prison warden being such a money grubbing hard ass isn’t all that different from other devious wardens in past prison films, but the way she goes about it here is just stupid. On top of that, Statham’s character is wildly uneven; despite having just lost his wife and his baby girl kidnapped by the conniving warden, the man ends up flirting with his co-pilot, Elizabeth Case (Natalie Martinez) frequently throughout the film. They even end up together in the end, despite their only time spent with one another being in the fast-moving V8 Mustang during the races.
It’s those types of elements that annoyed me more than anything. I didn’t even really care about the inaccuracies of some of the cars pitted against one another (how did a tank-like Dodge RAM [driven by Gibson] not just plow through everything in its path? It was obviously a super powered demon of a car, yet the driver kept screwing something up to cause him to come to a standstill or stall it) and I can even accept the ridiculousness of the concept itself, but…I don’t know, the whole film is just such a mixture of ridiculous combined with a plot that wants us to take it seriously that it’s hard to find an even medium.
I will hand it to the film for the races, however, as they’re quite exciting to watch. I was a bit taken aback by how weapons and defensive were activated in the cars; the cars simply rolled over pressure plates in the road that sent a signal to the car to activate the device. Sound unique and plausible? Yeah, I guess it does, although all I can think of is Mario Kart and half expected one of the trucks to fire a giant blue shell at one point.
I really wanted to enjoy this film just for the action (I mocked it while seeing previews for it in the theaters, but secretly had a desire to watch cars smash the crap out of each other) and while I was able to enjoy that much about it, the rest of the film is just such a giant mess that it’s not worth sitting through. The near two hour film simply runs on for too long, with only about forty minutes of that being occupied by the actual races. The rest of it is spent on the films “plot,” which eventually breaks the third wall when one of the actors looks directly into the camera. Thanks Paul W.S. Anderson…I really wanted to be taken out of the film even more.
Overall this one can be Skipped. Even if you’re a machine head, I’d still avoid it; there really isn’t enough to see of any real cars here (the “tricked-out” cars mentioned in the films description are really just machine gun mounted and steel plate padded add-ons, which are elements I wouldn’t attribute to a “tricked-out” vehicle) and the most exciting moments are revealed in the trailers (I wish the reverse driving was left out of the trailer, as that would’ve been a truly fun visual to see in the context of the film, if it wasn’t already revealed). The ending is also a bit of a disappointment as well and is something comes together in an almost too-storybook way.
Universal has released Death Proof in an impressive Blu-ray package. Arriving in a standard Elite Blu-ray case with a reflective foil/embossed slipcover, the two-disc set (second disc for the digital copy only) comes with disc art that matches the front cover and inserts including a digital copy code and a User Guide for the Blu-ray portion of the film.
The 2.35:1 AVC encoded 1080p transfer for this film is about as immaculate as you can get. The washed out tones of the film give an almost black and white appearance at times and the grain level for this film is nice and steady. There isn’t a frame that looks out of place here and any disappointment you have from this film certainly won’t stem from the transfer—it’s almost reference quality worthy if it wasn’t so washed out at times. Without a doubt it’s one of the better looking films I’ve seen this year, which his saying something, considering this is the first year I’ve been reviewing Blu-ray titles.
The audio is also an impressive DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that is as aggressive as the cars in the film. Sound effects come through loud and clear, with plenty of bass to back up each bullet shot and a room enveloped in the “fwoosh”ing sounds of the flamethrowers. Sadly there’s a lot of talking in this film, so you won’t be quite so impressed with it all the time, but even the garage room sequences where the drivers prep their cars offer up some surround usage, so it’s not all bad. Also included are Spanish and French DTS 5.1 tracks, as well as English SDH, Spanish and French subtitles.
Extras are a bit slim on this release and we start off with a Commentary with director Paul W.S. Anderson and producer Jeremy Bolt that is about as exciting as you’d expect. The two praise their efforts as well as that of the crew and it’s really just an uninteresting track to sit through. It should also be noted that it is only over the Unrated version, which packs in only six minutes of extra footage compared to the theatrical release. Blu-ray exclusive extras include a My Movie Commentary option that allows you to record your own commentary for the film, My Chat to allow you to talk to friends while you watch the film, Tech Specs which pop up during the film to give you the readouts on drivers and cars, and finally an array of Picture in Picture elements that take you behind the scenes of the film with cast and crew interviews.
The remaining extras include two small featurettes, including Start Your Engines: Making a Death Race (19:44, 1080p) and Behind the Wheel: Dissecting the Stunts (7:51, 1080p). Both are pretty fluffy pieces and don’t offer much in the way of amplifying your viewing experience. Nothing short of ejecting the disc would do that, really.
Overall a fair release with a rather impressive visual and audio end, but there’s nothing really redeeming here. Maybe worth a Rental if you want to see some nicely done washout on film in full 1080p, but that’s only if you’re desperate and looking for things to pick up at the store or toss into your queue.
Death Race (Unrated) arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on December 21st.