I can’t quite decide how I feel about Paul W. S. Anderson. On the one hand, he clearly has a great deal of affection for his inspirations, and since most of his filmography, as either a director or producer, consists of adaptations, this is to the good. He is, for instance, one of the few filmmakers who actually seems to respect video games, even if his Resident Evil films consciously depart from the games’ story arc in a fairly massive way. Unlike Stephen Sommers, he does not feel the need to trivialize his material by giving up on the suspense and going for the cheap laugh.
However, his most interesting work remains his original material. Event Horizon, though wearing its influences on its sleeve, is still a nifty and nasty little exercise in SF/horror, and is head and shoulders above AVP. Weak as that entry was, it at least afforded the creatures a modicum of dignity, and didn’t descend to the Jason-like antics of AVP:Requiem (leading candidate for most meaningless title ever).
At any rate, Anderson has been at the director’s helm for the first time since AVP with Death Race, an effort relevant to this column since it is a reworking of Death Race 2000, surely one of the greatest B-pics ever made.
First, the good stuff. With Roger Corman credited as producer and David Carradine doing a vocal cameo in the opening scene, there’s a certain obeisance being paid to the original. And, like the Corman-produced films of old, Anderson’s film wastes no time in delivering exactly what it promises: non-stop vehicular mayhem. In this respect, the passage of time and the inflation of budget does give the new version the edge over its model: the driving, stunt-work and crashes are first rate, and great visceral fun. Anderson understands what we’ve come here for, and gives it to us, unlike, say, the remake of Gone in 60 Seconds, which spends nowhere near enough time behind the wheel. A further plus is the presence of Joan Allen. What, you may well ask, is an actor of her caliber doing in such unapologetic trash? Based on the available evidence, having the time of her life. Unleashing an ice-goddess demeanor and a kill-you-dead cobra gaze, she revels in the chance to play a full-on B villain, and the film loves her for it. She does rather tower over leading man Jason Statham, but so does her performance.
But if there’s good stuff, there’s also bad. Fun as the movie is, its essential vacuity (especially the love-conquers-all final voice-over) serves to reminds us, again and again, of how clever and witty the original was. It delivered non-stop action and sharp satire. This new beast only gives us the former.
As well, the prison setting is far more restraining than the cross-country race of the former. And then there’s the mechanism of having the competitors having to race over lit icons in the road to activate weapons, defenses, and environmental traps. Yup, we’re talking power-ups here, turning the film into something more like Twisted Metal or a gory version of Mario Kart. Anderson is showing the influence of another medium here, but he’s importing distinctly uncinematic elements.
A fun time at the movies, then, but unlikely to become a object of cult veneration itself.