It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Hitchcock said a movie should play the audience like a piano. “Death Race” played me like a drum. It is an assault on all the senses, including common. Walking out, I had the impression I had just seen the video game and was still waiting for the movie.
The time is the near future, not that it matters. Times are bad. Unemployment is growing. A steelworker named Jenson Aimes (Jason Statham) loses his job when the mill closes. He comes home to his loving wife and baby daughter, a masked man breaks in, the wife is killed, he is wounded, he is found guilty of his wife's murder, is sentenced to the dreaded Terminal prison.
Treasure those opening scenes of drama, however brief they may be. The movie will rarely pause again. Prisons, we learn, are now private corporations, and Terminal raises money by conducting pay-for-view Internet races. Its Death Race involves prisoners driving heavily armored cars bearing weapons such as machineguns, rocket launchers and other inconveniences. If a prisoner wins five races, he gets his freedom ...
But why, oh why, must I describe the rules of a Death Race? They hardly matter, nor will I take your time to tell you why Jenson Aimes is enlisted to drive as the superstar Frankenstein, who wears a mask, so he could be anybody, which is the point. All of that is simply babble to set up the races.