Stars: Manu Bennett, Malcolm McDowell, Marci Miller, Burt Grinstead, Folake Olowofoyeku, Anessa Ramsey, Yancy Butler, Charlie Farrell, Shanna Olson, D.C. Douglas | Written by G.J. Echternkamp, Matt Yamashita | Directed by G.J. Echternkamp
G.J. Echternkamp and Matt Yamashita, who previously worked together on Virtually Heroes – a video game movie that told the story of two self-aware characters in a “Call of Duty” style game – re-team with their producer on that film, Roger Corman, for a remake of one of Corman’s most popular and enduring films.
Set in the year 2050 (obviously given the title) Death Race 2050 sees America controlled by an all-powerful corporate government ruled by The Chairman (Malcolm McDowell). The masses have been brainwashed with violent virtual-reality entertainment; and the event of the year is the Death Race, in which a motley crew of violent drivers compete in a cross-country road race, scoring points for shamelessly running people over and driving each other off the road. The reigning champion and fan favorite, Frankenstein (Manu Bennett), who’s half-man half-machine, wants to take the crown, but his rebel spy co-pilot threatens his legacy.
Whilst the 2008 remake of Death Race 2000 leant more towards action and violence, abandoning the ridiculousness of the original movie; here Corman and co. go for the over the top insanity (there’s a point in this film that LITERALLY mixes sex and violence, a long time no-no with film censors) and cinematic cheese. Making this iteration, for all intents and purposes, feel like it stepped out of the same era as the original – only with an update in filmmaking technology. However the satire, present in the original and amped up to a hundred here, feels more prescient.
Death Race 2050 takes shots at the mundanity (and stupidty) of modern music and TV, corporate America, and idolatry. There’s also some interesting words on science versus religion from death race participant Tammy (Anessa Ramsey), which echoes the current sentiment of the, shall we say, more devout Christians in America today. Though the fact she’s called a terrorist and radical for her Christian beliefs won’t please any religious folks watching!
Though to be fair the concepts put forth by Malcolm McDowell’s “Chairman” – whose look resembles a cross between The Hunger Games’ Effie Trinket and a certain US politician – that Americans have the “freedom to sit on your big fat ass” and that now that the US has taken care of Europe, Asia and cancer, “only Americans can kill Americans” is a ridculous reflection of the current political climate in America. Oh and then there’s the “jobs, jobs, I’m creating jobs” line and the death of a bunch of “whiners, pussies and immigrants”… I wonder who all that references?
Thankfully, this updating of Corman camp classic – whilst spot-on with its current political message – still retains some of the themes of the original: the idea of violence in sport and entertainment used as a distraction from everyday life, “big brother” mentality, and the sedation of the masses through technology, etc. However, the end of the film, with its calls for a revolution against the Chairman (a not-very-well disguised parody of a certain business man turned President), means that this release of Death Race 2050 was timed to political perfection!
They say that art reacts against and responds to the social and political times that creators live in, and nowhere is that currently more apropos than with Death Race 2050.
The film is released today on DVD and Blu-ray in the US, Death Race 2050 comes to the UK on March 20th.