SO. MUCH. FUN.
My love of Death Race is a semi-personal tale.
As a young lad, I caught the original Roger Corman classic, Death Race 2000 on TV late one night when my parents weren’t aware. I was floored. By this point, I had already sewn the seeds for a love of weird and cult films due to a) being a tv baby raised the late 70’s/early 80’s, and b) once I’d moved to the NYC market area, that’s about all they showed on weekends. However, I had not yet seen anything quite this raw. Gore, boobies, etc. Dirty heaven for an 8 or 9 year old. As you might imagine, it left a mark.
Fast-forward to 16 years old, well-versed in cult film, Roger Corman was now as fully engrained on my consciousness as David Lynch, John Waters, George Lucas, John Carpenter, and the like. I was also years into being on a first name basis with every one at the two town video stores, one of which gave me a week of free rentals if I brought in a good report card. It was also the first time I met my biological father. I went down to Florida to spend a week with this man I barely knew. The one thing we had in common, which would become our greatest bond, was a love for movies. Particularly, a love for b-movies, action, sci-fi and the like. All of which are encapsulated in Death Race 2000.
Fast forward to 2008. The second time I had gone to the movies with my dad, the first was Hook. This time, however, I had flown down to Florida almost specifically to go see the new Death Race film with my dad.
We were underwelmed. It was good, but it wasn’t Death Race 2000 good.
Death Race 2050 however…IS Death Race 2000 good.
It’s campy, it’s baudy, it’s gory, it’s goofy, it’s everything that you want as a sequel/tribute to the original 1975 classic, and every bit as fun.
The movie goes right into the race, no big exposition needed, save the fact that the Death Race is a competition where the drivers race across the country, earning points for kiling pedestrians and fans, basically, anyone they can. You see, in this future, 2050 represents atime where the country has become overpopulated, and robot labor as increased unemployment to 99%, so the Chairman of the United Corporations of America (Malcolm McDowell) holds the race every year to cull the herd.
After the Chairman’s introduction, we’re introduced to the racers and their crazy death machine cars;
- Tammy the Terrorist (Anessa Ramsey): Cult Leader and psycho-redneck
- Minerva Jefferson (Folake Olowofoyeku): Hip-Hop Star looking to amp up her popularity
- Jed Perfectus (Burt Grinstead): Genetically engineered man out to prove he’s the best
- ABE: A self-driving AI car
- Frankenstein (Manu Bennett): No mere racer, he’s an icon, a legend of the Death Race. The reigning champ is more machine now, than man, he’s survived longer than the rest, but something about this race. He just knows it’s going to be his last.
Each racer this time doesn’t just have a co-pilot/navigator, they have a proxy who wears a specially designed helmet to let viewers experience the race in virtual reality…and yes, it includes the sense of smell.
Frankenstein’s proxy is a woman named Annie Sullivan (Marci Miller). Frankenstein is apprehensive and aggressive towards Annie right off the bat. There’s just something about her that irks his already rattled cage, and Annie’s persistance to doing her job of getting Frankenstein to interact with the viewers despite his threats doesn’t help things.
Yet another obstacle to the drivers is a group of rebels led by former Death Race producer, Alexis Hamilton (Yancy Butler), who’s looking to bring an end to the Death Race and bring down the reigning government along with it.
All together, this is a crazy flick with copious helpings of just what you expect. It doesn’t try to be anything stylish or otherwise, even though Corman himself was inspired by being asked how he felt about the similarities between The Hunger Games and his original Death Race 2000 (1975). He contacted Universal who had prodouced the 2008 reboot (and subsequent prequel/sequels), to discuss the new film saying he wanted to bring back the satire of the original film, noting that “You did a good job, but you’ve taken the killing of pedestrians and the broken-society themes.” It’s worthy to note here that the Chairman in 2050 is himself supposed to be a parody of Donald Trump, complete with “slight comb-over in his hair.”
Now, if I did have one complaint, it would be that I really, really wish they had gone with more practical effects. CGI has come leaps and bounds, but it’s still only as good as the studio producing it. So when you have a b-movie like this, it just looks wrong. Give me my buckets of karo, food coloring, latex, and animal parts.
All in all, is this goofy, direct-to-video film going to win any awards? Let’s think, “No”. However, do I see myself re-watching this a lot more than I ever will movies like Arrival, La La Land, Silence, or Manchester By The Sea?