Director: G. J. Echternkamp
Script: Matt Yamashita & G. J. Echternkamp
Cast: Manu Bennett, Malcolm McDowell, Marci Miller, Burt Grinstead, Anessa Ramsey, Folake Olowofoyeku, Yancy Butler, Cahrlie Farrell
Running time: 93 minutes
It’s been quite a while since legendary film producer Roger Corman last put his name to a ‘Death Race’ film. Back in 1975, the original Death Race movie saw the likes of David Carradine and Sylvester Stallone racing cross country in an automobile race, set in some sort of dystopian future, that required contestants to run down innocent pedestrians to gain points that are tallied based on each kill's brutality! And now he’s back with an equally crazy ‘Death Race’ film, namely Death Race 2050.
Driver Frankenstein, played by hunky New Zealander, Manu Bennett (Spartacus, The Shannara Chronicles, Arrow) is reluctantly taking part in the latest instalment of Death Race, an event sponsored by the government to help control over-population. As with the first film, competitors score extra points by killing spectators and pedestrians, and the grislier the person’s demise, the more points they accrue.
His main rival is Jed Perfectus, a genetically developed human who takes on the mantle of being the resident race arsehole for most of the film, and the race also introduces a Death Race first, an AI driver named ABE.
Our introduction into this weird world is through Frankenstein’s co-pilot, Annie Sullivan, who also happens to be a member of the resistance on her own mission to bring down the government by any means necessary.
Death Race 2050 is clearly a low-budget quickie from the Corman stable, but still manages to deliver quite a punch considering its limitations. Some of the visual effects are poor; especially some of the ropey back-projection, but there’s still plenty of in-camera car carnage around to enjoy.
Director Echternkamp also doesn’t take things too seriously, keeping the tone light and campy. He’s clearly relishing the sheer ridiculousness of the whole concept. Having said that, I thought having a TV series that features members of the public being filmed watching TV was a stupid, unbelievable idea, but clearly not!
There’s quite a lot of funny lines throughout the film including one armoured resistance fighter saying to another: ‘This used to be a great country – it used to have book clubs!’ There’s also a nice running joke about alternative place names including New Texacco – formerly New Mexico, and Meatpackinstan – formerly Kansas. To go with the sly humour there are also lots of pop culture references dotted throughout.
One of the drivers is a pop star who has a chart-topping track called ‘Drive drive, Kill kill’ which she tortures communities with from loud hailers as she passes through, while another driver has a wonderful line of banter saying things like: ‘It’s easy, just face the inevitability of a violent death!’
And to accompany the on-screen antics of the game cast there’s a very punky soundtrack, which kind of works given the anarchy to be seen throughout the film’s short (by today’s standards) running time.
Malcolm – what the f**k am I wearing in this - McDowell is somewhat wasted in his role as the main corrupt government official, but the rest of the key players get to have a fair amount of fun, and do their best with the rather haphazard script. However, overall the film delivers on its name and is thoroughly enjoyable hokum, if you’re in the right mood for it.
Universal Pictures are distributing Roger Corman’s Death Race 2050 on DVD and Blu-ray. The package includes a small range of special features including:
Making of documentary (10 mins) – More a whirlwind tour of behind the scenes stuff than a proper making of, this short and snappy documentary is still worth checking out. We find out that the director had worked with Roger Corman before several years ago and that the film’s vibe is aimed at a cross between Mad Max meets The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
The look of 2050 (6.5 mins) – We learn that the film was shot in South America, in Lemur, Peru. The production designer was focused mostly on the costumes rather than on the locations, and was going for a comic book look.
Cars, cars, cars (4.5 mins) – Maru and others provide a quick tour of their souped-up cars used in the film.
Deleted scenes (5.5 mins) – Several scenes were dropped from the finished film including one involving a voodoo entrail divining scene.