Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Roger Corman’s Death Race 2050


I watched this ten or twenty minutes at a time over a week on Netflix, early in the morning when I couldn’t get to sleep. There’s no way in the world that I would recommend this to anyone … but I will say there are some good things in it, and if you are ever in the mood for a splatter movie that is pretty funny in places, you could do worse.

I don’t think I ever saw the original, Death Race 2000, with David Carradine and Sylvester Stallone before he was a big star, but reading a synopsis it looks like it was sort of satirical, as this one is. Roger Corman, ever one to cash in on a trend, wanted a violent sports movie like Rollerball. What he got was way, way, way over the top in violence, as five cars race across a devastated America, scoring extra point whenever they hit a pedestrian. Even more for children and the elderly! I would kind of like to see it, but only if I stumble on it on AMC or TCM.

It was remade with Jason Statham in 2008 as Death Race, and the synopsis makes it sound like it took itself seriously. This would probably be a mistake. (I haven’t seen this one, either.) It has a better cast, including Joan Allen and Ian McShane, and it changed the plot considerably.

This one gets back to basics and the original plot, with five cars racing across a wickedly funny satirical America. They are starting in Old New York and will finish in New Los Angeles, where all the streets are underwater. They pass through regions like Caucasia in the Midwest, Googleplex in the Pacific Northwest, Upper Carcinoma in the Rust Belt, and Call Center Territories around Old Chicago. Or how about Biscuit Planet, formerly West Virginia? Utah is now Mormondia People Farms. The Bakersfield Retirement Community and Genetic Research Lab.

The only name star is Malcolm McDowell. The rest are nobodies who may be on their way up, as is traditional in a Corman movie. You know, like Jack Nicholson, Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Towne, and Martin Scorsese. Or maybe this will be the peak of their careers.

People follow the race in virtual reality, as if they were sitting in the passenger seat. Fans of different racers go out and stand in the road, waiting to be slaughtered and get more points for their idols. Sort of like today, right?

The racers are the reigning champ, Frankenstein, a religious fanatic named Tammy the Terrorist, Joe Perfectus, a biologically engineered superman who is very insecure about his sexuality, and Minerva Jefferson, a rapper. Her hit song goes something like “Drive, drive, drive, drive, drive, kill, drive, kill!” On and on. Oh, and a self-driving murder machine that is pretty stupid.

The movie is part Idiocracy, part The Hunger Games, part bargain basement Road Warrior, and 100% sheer insanity. At about the 2/3 point it loses its way a bit, trying to somehow humanize these people and getting a little serious with an environmental message. I just tuned those parts out and waited for some more gore. Like I said, emphatically not for everybody. It has a 3.2 rating at the IMDb, so be warned.