Joan Allen, who plays a merciless prison warden, unlocks this one when she says, without a trace of camp or irony: “Release the Dreadnought.” (The Dreadnought in question being a tricked-out 18-wheeler sent out to liven up the ol’ death race when the convicts aren’t killing each other with sufficient brio.)
Maybe Botox and what appear to be three dozen facelifts are to blame, but Allen’s delivery reminded me of Montgomery Burns instructing Smithers to “Release the hounds.”
There you have it: treat this one as you would a middling cartoon and you won’t be disappointed. The action and special effects* are quite competent, all the right clichés are in place (Total economic collapse in 2012! Cops are thugs! Prisons are outsourced to The Corporation!), and it’s fun to predict the order in which the bad guys will die.
*Car guy side note: When a quick cut and a demonstration of derring-do are needed, you can always count on movie race-car drivers to shift gears. Doesn’t matter how fast they’re going, how fast they want to go, or whether they upshift or downshift: We cut from a speed shot to the car interior. The driver (Jason Statham, say) grits his teeth, stomps the clutch, slams the shifter, stomps the gas. Movie cars must come equipped with 27-speed transmissions.