Death Race is a 2008 action film starring Jason Statham. It received limited release in Australia, and yet was chosen as the video of choice to accompany my foot massage in Xian, China, in September 2012.
Why? One of our masseuses seemed excited by the flatscreen TV and surround sound set-up in the spa treatment room. Granted, it was a surprise to see a fully-decked out home theatre in kind of place I was expecting dim lights and Deep Forest music, but the language barrier prevented me from clearly explaining that I didn't need to select from the multitudes of English-language options; rather, it seemed to cement to the masseuse that what I really wanted was a high-octane no-brainer of an action movie to accompany my relaxing foot rub.
The procedure began with my feet being soaked in a timber bucket, lined with cling film, and seasoned with tea. Death Race began with explanatory titles to inform you that in the future, a discontent populace is kept at peace by watching prisoners regularly compete in a drive-to-the-death race imaginatively titled "Death Race". It's like The Hunger Games but with more stupid.
A significant problem encountered early on with Death Race was the volume level the masseuse had set it on. Loud enough to hear the (admittedly frequent) explosions and hooning sounds, but too quiet to properly make out the dialogue, it meant I was left to fill in the plot for myself.
Luckily, this was managed as easily as my masseuse managed to surprise me by beginning my massage with a neck and shoulder rub. Apparently that is the tradition, in much the same way Jason Statham seems to be following spiritual predecessor Steven Seagal's tradition of appearing in a series of moronic revenge fantasies cut from the same unintelligible cookie dough.
|Jason Statham acting concerned.|
This futuristic Alcatraz is manned by sadistic guards, including one who, on Jason Statham’s arrival, strips him nude and hoses him down. It gives Statham a chance to do the two things he does best: look pissed off and flex.
My potentially sadistic masseuse was also flexing - my biceps, against my will. Back and forth they went, much like jolting camera angles and rapid editing techniques employed during the action sequences.
Jason Statham is given a place on a racing team, replacing the Frankenstein-masked driver who had been killed in the pre-credits sequence. A stony-faced Joan Allen plays the prison boss, who seems to be offering the place to Jason Statham as a quick way out of his predicament. By contrast, my massage had reached only the halfway mark, and there was no easy way out for me.
|Jason Statham acting perturbed.|
They started scraping my feet with a straight blade just as Jason Statham and his crew of unlikely cohorts suited up for their first "Death Race". They consisted, predictably, of an older-experienced-father-figure guy (always lovely to see Ian McShane, even in this piece), a socially-defunct-but-mechanically-brilliant young white guy, and a wise-cracking-strategy-expert black guy.
I sighed at their cliched presence, but it was the next turn of events that saw the film's credibility - much like the skin falling from my heels - crumble.
Each "Death Race" driver required a navigator; and this service was provided by a consignment of women, presumedly bussed in from a female prison. Perhaps I should say "bust" in, as these ladies were not dressed to the specifications I would have thought necessary for high-speed futuristic racing. While the male drivers had racing suits and helmets, the female navigators had crop tops, low-slung jeans or cut-off shorts, and long hair suited more for slow-motion montages than shaky cam mise-en-scène.
The pumice used to slough more dead skin from my heels was rough, but not nearly as rough as the "Death Race" proved to be for Jason Statham and his felonious friends. The competition appeared to be held on some sort of desiccated aircraft carrier, complete with only-to-be-expected obstacles like low-hanging iron bars and land mines.
A word now about the violence. While a certain degree of brutality was always to be expected, the force with which my calves were assaulted came as a real shock.
The same cannot be said for Death Race. I had taken a punt that each blunt stunt and shunt would be more front than grunt. And I was right. The manner in which Jason Statham outwitted, outdrove and outlived his toothless rivals was, by visual assessment alone, a routine dismemberment of narrative convention and the laws of physics, but, unlike my exposed thighs, lacking in meaty substance.
|Jason Statham acting determined.|
Eventually, the whole experience climaxed in an orgy of writhing and screaming. But that was not the conclusion of Death Race – for the film, somewhat unadvisedly, insisted on being longer than my personal torturer required to see me finished off. If it hadn’t already been a highly unusual choice as massage accompaniment, that really sealed the deal.
And so I must conclude my review without being able to offer a satisfactory summary of the culmination of Death Race. One must surmise that Jason Statham wins the competition and makes it out of jail alive, probably losing at least one of his inmate buddies along the way (being Hollywood, I would hazard a guess at the wise-cracking black guy), breaks the cycle of voyeuristic violence, gets his daughter back, and hooks up with the navigator babe faster than you could say “Turn right”.
But what was right was the spirit of experimentation both the salon and my masseuse had, in both the nature of the treatment, and the treatment of the client. When you travel, you choose to open yourself up to new experiences, and my hour with mindless action and aggressive bodily manipulation is not a combination I’ll soon forget.