Takashi Seida, Universal Studios
Tyrese Gibson, left, Jason Statham and Ian McShane in the action-thriller "Death Race," which features laughably awful dialogue and performances.
DEATH RACE — * 1/2 — Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, Joan Allen; rated R (violence, profanity, gore, slurs, vulgarity, brief drugs, brief partial nudity, brief sex)

The most amusing part — if not the only one — of "Death Race" is at the beginning. The makers of this trashy action-thriller actually suppose that the audience cares enough about the plot to read a quick "primer" about its rather silly concept.

They need not have bothered. What plot exists here is so nonsensical, so hackneyed that it doesn't deserve or need explanation. And frankly, they should have spent that time on the dialogue and the performances, because both are laughably awful.

The film "re-envisions" the Roger Corman-produced, 1975 cult film (which was titled "Death Race 2000") and stars Jason Statham. He plays Jensen Ames, a disgraced auto racer who's been framed for the murder of his wife (Janaya Stephens).

So, Ames has been sent to a high-security penitentiary that also happens to host "Death Race," a televised auto race of sorts featuring armed and armored vehicles.

The warden (Joan Allen) wants Ames to participate in the frequently fatal "race" to replace a mysterious, masked competitor who actually perished in the last contest.

She promises that if he does so, and if he wins, he'll be freed. Still, that means he'll have to contend with the other, somewhat murderous racers (among them, characters played by Tyrese Gibson and Robin Shou).

Screenwriter/director Paul W.S. Anderson's version of the tale swipes as much from "The Longest Yard" and "Escape From New York" as it does the original film.

And it features his usual, headache-inducing combination of quick-cut editing, herky-jerky camera work and slow-mo, which makes most of the action scenes incomprehensible.

Also, whatever it was that the usually dependable actors Allen and Ian McShane (in a supporting role as a mechanic) got paid to appear here wasn't worth the cost of their souls.

"Death Race" is rated R for strong scenes of violent action (shootings, beatings, explosive and vehicular mayhem, and some violence against women), strong sexual language (profanity and other suggestive talk), some fairly graphic gore and blood, derogatory slurs and language (related to race and sexual preference), brief drug references (marijuana), brief, partial male nudity and some brief sexual contact. Running time: 106 minutes.


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