Anderson showed a satirical edge in his 1994 debut, Shopping, but brings his video-game sensibilities to this belated remake of Death Race 2000. Reportedly, he wanted to make the film 8 years ago, to coincide with the date in the original film, but the financial failures of Soldier and Event Horizon derailed those plans. As it stands, we’d have been better off if the release date had matched the working title, Death Race 3000.
There wasn’t much about Paul Bartel’s 1975 B-movie that resembled the 21st century, except that it had the foresight to lampoon our culture’s increasing appetite for violence. That bloodlust was on display at the promotional screening of the new movie, as the audience cheered and applauded every time one of the bad guys got what they deserved; evidence that both the filmmakers and the viewers are taking the material too seriously.
Apart from a connection between cars and carnage, and retaining the names of the two main characters, there’s very little resemblance between the two films. For the main character of Frank(enstein), David Carradine and his black leather S&M mask have been replaced by Statham, who wears a metal welding mask that makes him look like Jason Voorhees. Instead of Sylvester Stallone’s caricature of Machine Gun Joe, we get Gibson, who carves a mark into the side of his face for every person he kills.
Then there’s the plot, which the new film has. Bartel’s picture really just had a loose framework—a cross-country race in which contestants willingly participated and received points for running over pedestrians—that served as a broad canvas for parody. Rather than create a narrative of his own, however, Anderson apparently just decided to borrow the one from The Shawshank Redemption. The protagonist is wrongly convicted of murdering his wife, has to deal with sadistic prison guards, is befriended by an old inmate who can’t cope with the outside world and eventually masterminds an imaginative and climactic escape. Sound familiar? These remakes often do.