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In this 2008 film, Jensen Ames (Jason Statham) finds himself in prison, forced to compete in the Death Race, a brutal three-day closed-course pay-per-view event. The race features armored cars with machine guns, flamethrowers, missiles, oil slicks, smokescreens and everything else a group of prison thug grease-monkeys can think to attach to a vehicle...
A much Darker and Edgier film than the original Death Race 2000, which was more of a grisly comedy. The 2008 version did away with everything in the original except the theme of a killer car race, the names of the two champions (Frankenstein and Machine Gun Joe) and the fact that Frankenstein was not the original, but another driver in the same mask. As a quick tribute, David Carradine, who was Frankenstein in the old film, voiced "Old Frank" in this one (for a couple of lines).
A Direct to Video sequel was released in 2010.
This film contains examples of:
Hennessey: "What would you do with your freedom? Go back to your daughter?"
Jensen: "That's the idea."
Hennessey: "Thing is... are you really the best future she could possibly have? Are you really "daddy material," or deep down are you something else?"
- Asshole Victim: The other drivers.
- Badass: Frankenstein, Machine Gun Joe, and even the Warden qualifies; she walks through the prison yard unarmed and remains untouched. The other drivers would be... if they lasted longer.
- The Bait: Case is this in the end, to allow Jensen to escape as amends to the old Frankenstein.
- Batman Gambit: The Warden, while clearly in control, walks a very dangerous line. If Frankenstein wins, she is rid of Machine Gun Joe, activates the bomb, and finds herself a new Frank. If Joe wins, she is rid of Jensen, finds herself a new Frank, and disposes of Joe during his fifth race. If Frankenstein agrees to stay on board after his fifth win, she's guaranteed a long and continuous payday. One thing prevents it from being a Xanatos Gambit. The fail condition? If Jensen reveals her "dirty little secret" to anyone. That gave him an incredible amount of power that he ultimately decided not to use, and instead escaped and had her blown sky high.
- Big Badass Rig: The Dreadnought.
- Black Dude Dies First: Not counting anything before the first race, Siad fits the bill.
- Blood Sport
- Bilingual Bonus: 14K. Especially his dying words (in English, translated with an equivalent Mandarin phrase in the subtitles).
- Breaking the Fourth Wall:
Coach: "I love this game."
- Break the Haughty: This happens to the Warden, to the point where she starts swearing... and "foul language is an issue" for her.
- Broken Bird: A rare male example with Jensen after his wife is murdered.
- The Cake Is a Lie: Death Race was never intended to be winnable.
- The Cameo: David Carradine, as mentioned above.
- Car Fu
- Casting Gag: Tyrese Gibson was in another racing situation like this before and was all about living it up in Miami, and Robin Shou had previously survived a tournament to the death.
- Catapult Nightmare
- Chekhov's Boomerang: The seat ejector.
- Chekhov's Gun: The cigarette lighter.
- The Chessmaster: Hennessey has a way of placing pawns exactly where she needs them.
- Cluster F-Bomb: The Warden, at the end. Who despises profanity.
- Condemned Contestant
- Cool Mask: The production team went through several designs before they settled on the final one.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: The Warden.
- Darker and Edgier: The film is this compared to the original.
- Description Porn: Nearly everything Lists describes gets this treatment, such as the RPG-7s on Machine Gun Joe's truck and the other drivers.
- Dirty Business: Case is in prison because she killed a good cop... good cop, lousy husband that is.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: Frankenstein has a Jason Vorhees vibe.
- More than a hint of Slipknot too – mask combined with a one-piece racing/boiler suit.
- Dystopia: High crime and unemployment rates, and a high-rated television program is people murdering each other.
- Easily Forgiven: Jensen coerces Case into confessing her sabotage of the races, and does absolutely nothing about it despite her having actively attempted to ruin his reunion with his daughter and accidentally getting his predecessor killed. Didn't even say a word. Possibly Justified in that she was doing exactly what everybody else was doing: trying to get her freedom. And he needed her for the rest of the race.
- Eating the Eye Candy: Case mentions that Jensen looks better than the old Frank. Also played straight with several men scoping out the navigators, including Gunner and Lists.
- Epic Race
- Even Evil Has Standards: Pachenko pretends to be this; he tells the prisoners in the chow hall that Jensen was a wife-killer and a "kiddie rapist." This from an Aryan White Supremacist and mass murderer, who killed Jensen's wife on the Warden's orders.
- Every Car Is a Pinto: Of course. It's a car movie.
- Executive Meddling: In-universe, played completely straight.
- Explosive Leash
- The Faceless: Frankenstein is supposed to be this.
- False Reassurance: Hennessey gives Frankenstein signed release papers, telling him all he he has to do now is survive and win. She never mentions she's changed the rules by planting a bomb or messing with the track, as she doesn't intend for him to do either.
- Fan Service: The reason Case and all of the other female navigators are brought in.
- Faux Symbolism: The United States economy collapses in 2012, the year the world is supposed to end according to superstition. They also throw in Grimm's belief that Hennessey is an avatar of the Hindu goddess of death, Kali.
- Fridge Logic: The Behemoth comes out during the second day of the race and tries to kill everybody, and very nearly succeeds. ... What was Hennessy going to do for the third day of the race? Just have it drive around the track by itself firing of weapons at nothing?
- Coach was probably correct that she'd have called it off before then. Possibly she'd been planning for the last racer alive to face the Dreadnaught one-on-one in the final contest.
- Game Show
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Some of the ways the show tries to off their competitors tend to backfire, or take out the other ways it tries to off them. The tanker-truck behemoth is taken out by a Death Head option placed to take out the competitors and the Warden gets killed by the explosive she tried to kill Frankenstein with.
- Hollywood Driving: Jensen can spend an awful long time looking at Case when they're talking for such a treacherous track and its deadly drivers.
- Ho Yay: Jensen and Machine Gun Joe. They end up living together in Mexico with Jensen's daughter.
- And there's that one guard that seems to love watching Jensen do just about anything...
- Informed Ability: The other drivers are supposed to be supreme Bad Asses, with five kills or more apiece on the track which means they had to have at least survived more than one race. They're offed quickly enough.
- In Name Only: Apart from the fact that it features characters named "Frankenstein" and "Machine Gun Joe" in a race that combines Blood Sport with Car Fu.
- It's Personal: Machine Gun Joe really hates Frankenstein.
- Last-Name Basis: Hennessey has a first name (all we know is that it starts with 'C'), but everyone calls her "Ma'am" or by her last name.
- Male Gaze
- Made of Explodium: Apparently detached gasoline tanks are.
- Manipulative Bitch: The Warden.
- Manly Gay: Machine Gun Joe.
- Mauve Shirt: Travis Colt turns out to be this. A little more attention is paid to him in the promos, and it's mentioned he's a record-holding ex-NASCAR driver which makes him "technically the best" out of the group. They set him up to be a long-runner, and he gets napalmed in the first race. 14K and Grimm also fall under this trope.
- Meaningful Name: Jensen Ames, like the car (Jensen Interceptor). Also, Hector Grimm, who of course takes up the moniker of "Grimm Reaper."
- Men Are the Expendable Gender: The precise reason why Machine Gun Joe gets male navigators. Also played straight with the drivers. The women are used as body fodder just as much as the men, but it's only fully averted when 14K's navigator dies up close. The rest of the girls get a Gory Discretion Shot.
- In-universe, only Frankenstein's pit crew seem to play this trope straight, as theirs is the only car shown to be equipped with an ejector seat for its navigator.
- The Mockbuster: Death Racers
- More Dakka
- Mr. Vice Guy: Jensen, who realizes that he's not a perfect person and therefore not a perfect father, but he loves his daughter and he's not going to let go of his "chance at something else, something better."
- Neck Snap: Happens to Pachenko.
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Jensen gives one of these to Pachenko, for good reason.
- Not What It Looks Like: Everybody initially gets the wrong idea when Jensen tells Case to get on his lap, including an uncomfortable Case.
- Oh Crap: Plenty of these scattered around.
- The Old Convict: Coach, played by Ian McShane!
- Only Known by Their Nickname: 14K, Pachenko, Lists, and Coach.
- Power-Up: A rare non-videogame example. The cars' weapons are intially locked and must be activated by running over magnetically-active pads with simple symbols: sword for offensive, shield for defensive and such. But the skull pads activate a Booby Trap.
- Precision F-Strike: The inmates are not shy about their language, but to hear it comes from Joan Allen?
- Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Played straight and subverted multiple times, but most notably:
Pachenko: "Let me go man. I'll do anything."
Jensen: "You're gonna die here."
- The Pen Is Mightier
- The Quiet One: Frankenstein doesn't talk to the other drivers to preserve the mystique.
- Rated "M" for Manly
- Reality Show: Type III.
- Recycled in Space: The Running Man with A Car Race, with other prisoners as the enemies instead of 'stalkers'.
- Red Shirt: Carson and Riggins, neither of whom actually appear except to be killed by the Dreadnought. They're not even mentioned when the team tells Jensen about the opposition. Siad is also one of these, but he at least gets a few seconds on screen.
- Pretty much all of Machine Gun Joe's navigators. Lampshaded by Ames' pit crew when they say that Joe had lost so many female navigators, it squicked out even Death Race's target audience and they started giving him male navigators instead. One poor bastard is Genre Savvy enough about it that he had to be forced into Joe's truck kicking and screaming.
- Refuge in Audacity
- Rule of Cool: Sole reason this is fun. Well, that and Case.
- Running Gag: Joe's navigators and their grisly demises. The audience knows something is up towards the end when his newest navigator is happy to be there, as if he hasn't been paying attention to what's going on, before the final reveal.
- Screwed by the Network: The network builds a massive death tank tractor trailer train to screw their cast, sometimes literally.
- Skinheads: Pachenko and his brood are Aryan Brotherhood.
- Smug Snake: Hennessey, all the way.
- Spiked Wheels
- Spotting the Thread: Machine Gun Joe finally figures out who Frankenstein is when he hears him speak.
- The Stinger:
Hennessey: "Okay cocksucker. Fuck with me, and we'll see who shits on the sidewalk."
- Take a Third Option: Jensen and Machine Gun Joe team up and escape rather than try to kill each other.
- Tempting Fate:
Grimm: "Fuckin' Reaper baby! Can't kill me. You can burn me... heh... you can fuckin' shoot me but you just can't motherfuckin' kill me!"
- This Is for Emphasis, Bitch: It sort of loses its punch after it's used so many times.
- Throw It In: One of the crashes staged for the film unexpectedly sent the empty stunt car much higher than intended, so it hung up on top of a wall rather than smashed into it. The resulting footage looked so cool that the filmmakers went back and equipped one of the other racers' vehicles with a rocket launcher suitable for blowing rival drivers sky-high, purely so they could justify using the clip.
- Title Drop
- Treacherous Advisor: Case is a variant of this, before her Heel Face Turn.
- The Triads and the Tongs: 14K, tenth generation Triad.
- Twenty Minutes Into the Future: The film is set in 2012, and was made in 2008.
- Vehicular Combat
- Villainous Breakdown
- Weaponized Car
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Grimm and Pachenko survive crashes in their cars, but the fate of their navigators is never shown.
- Win Your Freedom
- Xtreme Sport Xcuse Plot
- You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: When one of Joe's navigators incorrectly identifies a deactivated Sword panel as being lit, Joe angrily tells him to get out of the car and then proceeds to kick him out and into steel railing.
- Hennessey attempts to do this with Jensen.