March 7th, 2017

DEATH RACE 2050 (2017) ***

To avoid any confusion, I guess I should tell you straight away that Death Race 2050 is a remake/continuation of Roger Corman’s original Death Race 2000. It is not a sequel to the Paul W.S. Anderson remake, or the DTV sequels that were directed by Roel Reine. As with the original, the racers get points for running over pedestrians. There’s a heavy concentration on black humor and social commentary too. While it’s never consistently successful, the movie was a lot more memorable, goofy, and (oddly enough) endearing than I was expecting.

Looking like a cross between Phil Donahue and a Vegas showgirl, Malcolm McDowell presides over the race as the evil Chairman. All the racers have dumb/slightly amusing gimmicks. The Bible Belt religious fanatic Tammy the Terrorist (Anessa Ramsey) bombs the arena before the race in order to jump out ahead on points. Minerva (Folake Olowofoyeku) is a Lady Gaga/Beyonce type of pop star. Jed Perfectus (Burt Grinstead) is a genetically perfect, but sexually confused racer who dresses like Rocky in a shadow cast of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Of course, our hero is Frankenstein (Manu Bennet), the (supposedly) misshapen racer who is so mangled he has to wear a mask. Annie (Marci Miller) is his sexy navigator who may or may not be working with the resistance (headed by Yancy Butler) to sabotage the race.

While the racers’ personas have been updated to fit the time, the feeling of the film is very much in the vein of the original. Another update is the fact that the unemployed population gets to live vicariously through the racers using Virtual Reality headsets. There also is a kind of a Hunger Games vibe here as the sportscasters wear outrageous costumes. The cars thankfully are a throwback to the original and would seem more at home in Wacky Races than in Twisted Metal.

The race scenes are appallingly cheap though. The cars are obviously only going about five miles an hour with the film sped up. They mostly are only seen going down narrow streets with bad CGI greenscreen effects substituting for a lot of the other terrain. The CGI gore also looks a bit cheap, but some of the practical intestines, guts, and severed heads look pretty cool.

The good news is that there are plenty of laughs here. There are New Jersey jokes, as well as jokes about Baltimore (which has now been christened “Upper Shitsville”), and some of the futuristic name dropping is really funny. In one scene, someone swears to “Saint Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson”. Some of the gags are recycled from the original, but there’s enough of a twist on them to make it all work.

Bennett is a gruff hero set in the Frank Grillo/Gerard Butler mold. Although he’s probably the fourth best Frankenstein of the Death Race franchise, he’s not bad. The real surprise here is Marci Miller. She captures the same sexy appeal that made Simone Griffeth so wonderful in the original. She also gets the best line of the movie when she tells Frankenstein, “I’m transmitting your smell to millions of people”