As far as filmmaking goes, Death Race is an inept and uninspired film. The stylistic flourishes just barely overshadow the film’s greatest faults, that range from craptacular dialogue to it’s blatant misogyny. Filmed in Montreal, one of my friends worked on the film, even noting that the script had to be re-written on several occasions to accommodate Jason Statham’s lack of emotional range. Though somehow magnetic to watch (I think it’s the rippling muscles), his facial expression doesn’t change throughout the entire film. Anger is the same as resignation or sadness, and there even in his happiness, he never quite seems… happy. Real men don’t show emotion though, that’s the mistake I’m making in this analysis. Jason Statham is the man all the woman want, and all the men aspire to be. He is a cold slab of concrete.
The film’s misogyny has more to do with the fact that all but one female character skimps around in tight, revealing clothing because that is clearly part of the satire that has been lost amidst the conventions of Hollywood filmmaking. There is a clear attempt to bring depth and strength to the Case character, though it’s still only half-hearted and there is a constant reminder of her exposed and exploited sexuality, in well… an exploitive way. I take more objection with the role of Hennessey, who further makes Case look like a whore with a heart of gold. Almost justifying and allowing blatant female sexual objectification as a release, because any woman in power is stripped of femininity and almost quite literally attacks the male’s well… masculinity (in one scene, she has a gun pointed directly at Statham’s crotch, though unbeknownst to him). I see this all too often in modern cinema, that women in places of authority are not only powerful and
aggressive, but resentful and sexless. Hennessey is a villain, but the fact that she is a woman reveals a double standard where equality is only equal if men are in control. Despite Case’s humanity, she is still subservient to the men who surround her. She comes across as likeable, mostly because she is under control. Hennessey demonstrates the same authority over the men, and is portrayed as a villainous hell-bitch.
Of course, she is the villain, and the representative of a huge corporate power, but her gender is played up all too often as a weapon against her. The corporate criticism in this film are taken to extremes, and unfortunately under-developed. The idea that if the American economy were to collapse, that the Corporate powers would take over what were previously government and socially run establishments (like prisons), is actually well within the realm of possibilities. They already have play in schools and hospitals, if given more control, I have no doubt that they would take it. Would they really be allowed to pit racers in a gladiator type race to the death? That is inconsequential, but it is worth pondering. It reveals in a very literal way the appreciation these institutions have for human life, and that to these faceless entities, we are as much a commodity as any raw material. Them running Death Races makes it obvious, but the real truth here is, already their actions in the world are not far from the extremes portrayed here. Human life is inconsequential, except as a consumer audience. If the loss of 100 lives, means the profit of $1,000,000 dollars there is no doubt they will take it.
Despite my seemingly unrelenting criticism of the film’s ethical and technical failures, I have to admit it was pretty damn fun. It’s laughably bad at times, and the car races are pretty inept in their direction, but there is a violent, testosterone energy that fuels the film. I also like seeing sweaty men do sweaty things. Mmm… male objectification. Also, quite impressively, this doesn’t look or seem like an effects driven show. There are some obvious uses of CGI, but it mostly feels very real. It’s kind of impressive.