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DEATH RACE 2050 is Old-School B-Movie Cheese at its Ripest (Review)

DEATH RACE 2050 is Old-School B-Movie Cheese at its Ripest (Review)

There’s a lot of colorful cinema history behind the wildly goofy Death Race 2050, but here’s a quick recap: in 1975 there was a broadly violent, extremely silly satire unleashed called Death Race 2000. Produced by B-movie mega-lord Roger Corman, the movie (which features the likes of Sylvester Stallone and David Carradine) turned out to be one of the prolific producer’s biggest hits, and it went on to enjoy a deservedly long shelf-life as a well-admired cult classic/midnight movie. Death Race 2000 also earned itself a nifty enough remake — 2008’s Death Race — which jettisoned much of the broad satire in favor of a more conventional action template, and of course, as is often the case in today’s movie landscape, that remake led to a series of sequels that showed up in 2010, 2013, and 2017. So where else is there for this property to go?

Right back to the original drawing board, it seems. Roger Corman is back, and his old-school b-movie goofiness is on full display in Death Race 2050. More of a remake of the original than a latecoming sequel–although it certainly could be taken either way–Death Race 2050 is all about emulating that mid-1970s drive-in/grindhouse/unapologetic b-movie lunacy that might be short on budget, but delivers the goods on tongue-in-cheek action, simplistic yet effective social commentary, and a bunch of actors who clearly get the tone of the piece, and are willing to go way over the top in silly, campy, and sometimes ultra-violent fun.

It’s tough to predict if Corman’s type of willfully bizarre and brazenly inexpensive kitsch will strike a chord with today’s more cynical b-movie fanatics, but speaking as one movie nut who adores low-budget cheese and pulpy, self-referential satire in equal measure, I had a pretty good time with Death Race 2050. It is, of course, impossible to recapture the innate lunacy of the original film, but kudos to a new generation of off-kilter filmmakers (including writer/director G.J. Echternkamp and co-writer Matt Yamashita) who not only get what the original Death Race 2000 was all about… they’re not ashamed to admit they love this stuff, either.

The plot couldn’t be simpler: in a stupidly horrific future there is a coast-to-coast race in which the drivers earn points for running over pedestrians. Yep. That’s pretty much the whole plot. There’s also a welcome diversion about a team of freedom fighters who are intent on destroying the racers by any violent means necessary, plus there’s an unexpectedly amusing parcel of cartoonish yet legitimately funny characters. Also tossed in:  a “virtual reality” / viewer surrogate upgrade that works a lot better than expected and a handful of “oh, come on” action scenes that are goofily entertaining. And while Death Race 2050 may be a palpably “cheap” production in many regards, the casting director certainly earned their paycheck.

Not only do we get the always enjoyably oily Malcolm McDowell as a vaguely Trump-ish autocrat who runs the race; Manu Bennett as a stoic yet dryly funny bad-ass hero; Marci Miller as his plucky sidekick (of sorts); Folake Olowofoyeku as a maniacal rock star who mows down on her owns fans; Anessa Ramsey as an insane evangelist who does the same to her own flock; Burt Grinstead (wonderfully manic) as a genetically enhanced, sexually confused, super-muscular man-child; and veteran character actor Yancy Butler as the furious leader of several ill-fated race protesters.

It’s all very clunky and ramshackle and kitschy, but that’s just part of the “shaggy dog” charm of the production. There may not be much of a market these days for Roger Corman’s unique brand of oddball indie filmmaking, but Death Race 2050 capably indicates that there’s still a little juice left in the man’s tank. Those who sit down expecting a slick action flick in the vein of Death Race (2008) may walk away confused or irritated by Death Race 2050. Those of us with a healthy respect for Roger Corman’s admittedly wacky oeuvre may find themselves pleasantly surprised by Death Race 2050. It may be cheap and weird and intentionally dim… but it’s also pretty damn funny.

 

3.5 old-fashioned mega-cheesy burritos out of 5

3.5 burritos

Image: Universal Home Video

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