Starring Manu Bennett, Malcolm McDowell, Marci Miller
Directed by G.J. Echternkamp
Distributed by Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Full disclosure: I love Roger Corman movies. The original Death Race 2000 (based on Ib Melchior’s short story “The Racer”) is no exception. It zoomed into drive-ins and grindhouse theaters in 1975, and has only gotten better with age as we see how its savvy and amazingly perceptive potshots at politicians and the mindless masses hungry for entertainment have come to pass in more ways than one. Produced by Corman and helmed by dark-comedy mastermind Paul Bartel, the revved up sci-fi satire’s cast was led to the finish line by David Carradine as Frankenstein, Mary Woronov, Roberta Collins, and a pre-fame Sylvester Stallone.
In 2008 a remake of sorts came out “in association with Roger Corman.” It was produced, written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, who said that he thought of his film as something of a prequel. It didn’t have the same sense of goofy fun as the classic. In Death Race, the vehicles were made for manslaughter, each one outfitted with machine guns, missile launchers, napalm sprayers, and even hubcaps that killed. Drivers in the internet-aired death race — oh, yeah. Plot: Jason Statham played a wrongly-accused convict in the not-too-distant future, who was forced to drive in the potentially fatal car race in order to clear his name — went through windshields, got run over, burnt to cinders, were shot full of holes, or otherwise eviscerated, slammed, crushed, spindled and mutilated. They was plenty of bloody action, but it was joyless.
Corman has taken the wheel of the franchise once again. It’s fun to see him revisit such a cool premise after spending so many years churning out Syfy Channel monster mashes like Piranhaconda, Sharktopus Vs. Pteracuda, and Dinocroc Vs. Supergator, to name a few. Death Race 2050 is at least a partial return to form. Death Race 2050 stars the always-magnetic Malcolm McDowell as The Chairman – an eerily Trump-like character – and manly Manu Bennett from “Spartacus” as superstar speedster Frankenstein. Marci Miller is excellent as his beautiful and mysterious copilot Annie Sullivan. The other racers competing run the gamut from so-so to super, but the standout is Folake Olowofoyeku as Minerva – looking at her credits, I see that she’s played mostly bit-parts in network TV series and I’m doubly impressed. She practically steals the show.
No, you cannot keep lightning in a bottle and nobody can recapture the sleazy fun of the mid-1970s cinematic tongue-in-cheek chutzpah, but I am happy to report that Death Race 2050’s writer-director G.J. Echternkamp makes a great stand. I’ve been a fan of Echternkamp’s work ever since the incredible documentary about his parents Frank and Cindy came out in 2007, so I was glad to see him teaming up with a cult-classic champ like Corman and doing so well with something that’s so different from his previous work. He also edited Death Race 2050, which is no simple feat – not only are there thousands of cuts but there’s also awesome use of old-school split-screening and other vintage visual techniques.
The gore is courtesy of computer – there’s a lot of CG, which is apropos considering the fact there’s a major VR subplot in the film. The result is dodgy at best, but you can’t expect Weta Digital quality on a Corman budget. It just adds to the cheese-factor, and so for me it’s fine. Some viewers may think there’s not enough blood and guts, while others might find the constant barrage of beheadings and body bisections a bit much. It’s a matter of personal taste.
Overall I think if you’re a fan of the original 1975 movie, you will appreciate the gung-ho spirit with which Death Race 2050 is presented.
- The Making of 2050 – This featurette goes behind the scenes of Roger Corman’s Death Race 2050 to explore why, over four decades later, the original Death Race 2000 has been remade, including what made this project appealing to cast and crew, what changes have been made, and what fans of the original will still love. Discover the movie magic behind the deaths, stunts and of course — the cars! Includes interviews with stars, director G.J. Echternkamp and Corman himself.
- Cars! Cars! Cars! – Go on the set with the drivers of Death Race 2050 as they introduce their one-of-a-kind killing machines: Frankenstein and his Monster, Perfectus and his Piece of Art, Tammy and the Tank, Minerva and her Sound Box and ABE.
- The Look of 2050 – An insider look at how the film’s visual style came together, including how shooting in Peru helped set the tone of the picture and how the costumes became stars in and of themselves.