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The 365 Best Films of the 2000s

Heroes of the Zeroes: Death Race

Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“Death Race”
Rated R
2008

Wait, 2008’s remake of “Death Race” from the director of “Aliens vs. Predator”? You’re damn tootin’. (And Paul W.S. Anderson didn’t really direct this, or at least what’s great about it. More on that in a bit.)

This list has taken readers far from shore. But before cutting bait and chancing it with the sharks, know that what lies ahead on “Death Race’s” Terminal Island is the most epically loaded triple-cheeseburger action movie since “Con Air.”

For those who couldn’t guess, felons like Jason Statham and Tyrese Gibson race to the death. Here’s where the real director came in: Driving-team maven Spiro Razatos handled second-unit (read: action) duty, and flung gas, sweat and oil at the screen with the hard-cornered glee of having real, live Hot Wheels with which to play. (The behemoth Dreadnaught makes the Joker’s “Dark Knight” semi look like a Smart Car.)

Like John Malkovich and Nicolas Cage, Joan Allen (as an ice-queen warden with a 10-letter curse bottled inside) and Ian McShane (as Statham’s fourth-wall-breaking mechanic) roll in it like the happiest pigs you know.

Mind you, nothing goes on under the hood of “Death Race” that hasn’t been shot, stabbed and harpooned by countless predecessors. There’s not much under the hood period given its invocation of ancient Rome … by misspelling “Colosseum.”

But “Race” is the irrationally entertaining trash “The Condemned” failed to be. If this list were ranked, this is No. 365 — aka the miles per hour at which it consistently kicks gloriously dumb ass.

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11 Responses to “Heroes of the Zeroes: Death Race”

  1. […] it’s “Death Race 2,” a prequel to the Jason Statham remake a few years back. The story revolves around the creation of the Death Race, which oddly matches up […]

  2. Nick Rogers says:

    See, now I’d argue that Gibson, while certainly not bad in the movie, was the only one taking it perhaps just a wee bit too seriously. And I’d argue that it *is* a really good action flick – a damn good one.

  3. In order to be good trash, a movie must on some level by aware that it is trash. "Death Race" thinks it’s a really good action flick. Tyrese Gibson was the only actor in this movie who was trying to be comedic.

  4. Nick Rogers says:

    See, it’s when actors get excited to do something like this outside their comfort zone or fan expectations that good surprises like "Death Race" can happen. Yes, Malkovich had played a bad guy before, but John Cusack had never done a cheesy big-budget action movie before "Con Air," and it was still Cage’s experimental period with that sort of thing (along with "The Rock" and "Face/Off," which, when combined with "Air," are the only truly good action films he’s made). And for what it’s worth, I love the "Don’t move, or the bunny gets it" line.

  5. Joe Shearer says:

    Yeah, she never got any " over your dead corpse" speeches like Malkovich did. I interviewed Joan Allen for "Bonneville" and actually spoke to her briefly about "Hachi" and "Death Race," and it was awesome to hear how excited she was about both of them, especially "Death Race." She said she had fun playing that role, which was so different than what she was accustomed to. I believe the interview is in the Yap’s interview archives if I’m not mistaken.

  6. Nick Rogers says:

    Austin: It’s fair that you can’t out-camp Roger Corman and Paul Bartel (at least in their heydays), but this "Death Race" isn’t really going for that same tone. I’d say "Death Race" should be added to your list of ones to watch, but it’s best watched with drinking company that’s game for it.

  7. Austin Lugar says:

    I haven’t seen the remake, but like others I’m surprised it’s on this list. I am a fan of the original, though, which was wonderfully campy and featured a great bad performance by Sylvester Stallone.

  8. Nick Rogers says:

    I enjoyed "Crank" and "Crank 2" (but not as much as "Death Race") and "A Perfect Getaway" was fine. Yes, the original is much better as lower-budget trash, but I’m unable to recall a racing film of any stripe with such consistently astounding car choreography from last decade (and with the always-tricky spatial clarity). The scene when Jason Statham and Tyrese Gibson take on the Dreadnaught is one of the greatest "Oh, shit!" action moments from The Zeroes as well. My only complaint is that Joan Allen should have been given more room to go bonkers when she lost her cool a la John Malkovich in "Con Air."

  9. Joe Shearer says:

    "Crank" wasn’t on your list, was it? "A Perfect Getaway" from last year might be an acceptable substitute. But Nick, I think in this particular argument I fall more toward your side than Chris’. I had a lot of fun with "Death Race," though I have to say the original is much better in terms of being trash.

  10. Nick Rogers says:

    Chris: Merely out of curiosity, what glorious trash from 2000 to 2009 might you recommend in its place?

  11. I’m all for glorious trash. "Death Race" is just trash.