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Death Race


Stars: Jason Statham, Joan Allen, Tyrese Gibson, Natalie Martinez, Ian McShane, Robin Shou, Frederick Koehler, Max Ryan

Director: Paul W S Anderson

The opening legend to this action film has a ring of topicality: '2012: the United States economy collapses'. Well, that could happen - and it's a darn sight more likely than anything else in a slam-bang movie that's just good, violent fun.

The gravel-voiced Statham is an ex-racing driver who has lost his licence (if the film explained why I missed it) and works at a steel plant that's just gone bust. The same night, a masked intruder breaks in and kills his wife, with Statham framed for the murder - possibly by the megalomaniac governor (Allen, slumming in style) of Terminal Island prison, where she runs 'death races' for reality TV , but has just had to have ace driver 'Frankenstein' killed before he can win the fifth race that would guarantee his freedom.

Now she sees Statham as a substitute, donning the Frankenstein mask, as no viewer knows that the last wearer is actually dead. The bait: he needs only win one race to be returned to civilization and his baby daughter. Allen, of course, has no intention of keeping her end of the bargain, and is building a massive 'dreadnought' to make sure none of the racers survive.

Thereafter the film rapidly develops into a kind of Each Dawn I Drive with the contestants' heavily armoured and armed vehicles making James Bond's Aston Martin look like a pussy. Each driver has a navigator, in most cases a busty fox imported from the local women's hoosegow.

The acting doesn't have to be much, and in Statham's case it certainly isn't, although Janaya Stephens briefly impresses as his wife. Action fans, though, get full value here, and the ending even carries faint echoes of The Shawshank Redemption.

David Quinlan

USA/Canada 2008. UK Distributor: Universal. Technicolor.
104 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 20 Sep 2008