A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this movie is a non-stop series of graphic, violent action scenes, with lots of blood and some gore. Although it's based on '70s exploitation film Death Race 2000, this movie forgoes the original film's over-the-top satire in favor of even more-over-the-top action. The film's authority figures -- a prison warden and her guards -- are uniformly depicted as corrupt, brutish, money-hungry thugs. The main character is in prison for killing his wife, which he didn't do; at the same time, he racks up a substantial body count throughout the film in his quest for vengeance. Also expect plenty of strong language, plenty of car-related product placement, and some drinking and smoking.
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What's the story?
In a near future in which economic collapse has left millions out of work and put all prisons in the hands of private corporations, Jensen Ames (Jason Statham) may have just lost his job, but he's still a loving husband and dedicated father. But then a mysterious assailant kills his wife, and frames Jensen for the murder. He's incarcerated at Terminal Island prison, where Warden Hennessey (Joan Allen) has created a media empire webcasting a kill-or-be-killed race in which convicts drive cars loaded with weaponry. Hennessey's ratings have been slipping since her best driver, a masked figure known only as "Frankenstein," was killed; she wants Jensen to step into the mask and take his place behind the wheel. Jensen's reluctant, but Hennessey's offer to free him if he wins convinces him to suit up and hit the gas.
Is it any good?
DEATH RACE isn't high art, but it's an impressive piece of exploitation moviemaking. Any troubling questions of logic or sense will be drowned out by the roar of the engines and the guns, and Statham's low-key action-hero presence makes it easy to watch him. There's some nice slumming going on within the supporting cast, too, with Oscar-nominated actress Allen (The Contender, The Bourne Ultimatum) playing the diabolical warden and Ian McShane (Deadwood) playing Coach, the head of Jensen's pit crew.
Director Paul W.S. Anderson has made plenty of mid-level, low-budget, high-concept action films, but he seems unusually inspired by Death Race; the race sequences are well shot, and the film's giddy, guilty-pleasure action scenes are big, bold, and brutal. There are a few hints of social commentary in Anderson's script -- Hennessy notes that her event has "more viewers than the Super Bowl" -- but Death Race doesn't linger on satire, choosing instead to get to the burning rubber and blazing guns. Death Race isn't for young kids, but older teens will be able to enjoy it for what it is -- an over-the-top piece of well-made trash that delivers precisely what you'd expect from a movie called Death Race.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the idea of the Death Race itself -- what point does violent entertainment stop being entertaining? Is the idea of a live, pay-per-view to-the-death gladiatorial event ludicrous or unnervingly ahead of its time? Families can also discuss the cultural history of gladiatorial games, from the Roman Empire's death matches to more "civilized" events like mixed martial arts today. What's so compelling about watching people fight?
- In theaters: August 21, 2008
- On DVD or streaming: December 22, 2008
- Cast: Jason Statham, Joan Allen, Tyrese Gibson
- Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Run time: 89 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong violence and language.
- Last updated: March 28, 2020
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