Death Race 2050 (2017) – Action
Directed by: G.J. Echternkamp
Starring: Manu Bennett and Malcom McDowell
How I Watched: Netflix
Review by: Eric Scot Lemons
Death Race 2000 is a campy political satire car racing film from 1975 directed by Paul Bartel and produced by Roger Corman. In 2008, Paul W.S. Anderson directed a gritty remake called Death Race starring Jason Statham, which spawned two sequels that were probably shit-sack city, but who knows because nobody fucking cares. In 2017, which is the year I am writing this and possibly you are reading this, G.J. Echternkamp directed the once-again-Corman-produced sequel/reboot Death Race 2050, which brings back the camp and dark humor of the original but in the dawn of the digital garbage heap of the Trump-era.
And despite being released three days before Trump’s inauguration, this film is a satire on the kind of dystopic/despotic vision associated with our benevolent mango-skinned leader. Malcolm McDowell, the Chairman of the United Corporations of America, has inexplicable hair and a complete disrespect for woman, often seen amidst nude women of color whom have no lines and seemingly received no direction other than to let their titties fly. He loves power and hates his constituents, feeding into their bloodlust in an almost condescending manner. But really, this is just a caricature of any dictator; unhinged and unrelatable. And frankly, doesn’t look or act much different than Mr. President as played by Sandy McCallum in the original. And that, like many other flaws, is what makes Death Race 2050 a poor follow-up to the 1975 cult classic.
Let’s fucking talk about style, because as a man with a drawer full of cargo shorts, I know style is everything. This was honestly one of the worst attributes, given that it has no cohesive look. The show within the movie looks like a proof of concept for Speed Racer, by the Wachowski Sisters. You know, that “everything in front of a green screen then pasted together like a moving collage” feel you get from faux-meta-camp films like Kung Fury. From a personal point, I fucking love this style. It is erratic and never complacent, bright colors and fast-moving images that could either give you a seizure or your sperm autism. If the entire film was like this, I’d give it 200 units of review, but alas, nope. No review units for you, you silly fucks. Many of the action scenes were mapped out like the worst episodes of Xena: Warrior Princess, feeling boringly staged and purposefully lazy. The car races looked like shit, but they felt like an homage to the cars (plastic atop go-kart frames) from the original, so that was fun. Scenes inside felt empty and poorly-lit. It was too the point that I actually checked the credits to see if this was some team-effort with direction, but fuck no.
The acting was the same kind of disconnect in quality. Manu Bennett plays the hero, and while he is handsome as a Gerard Butler knock-off that I was sure was a wrestler-turned-thespian, he doesn’t really hit the comedic points, although there are times he looks right into the camera and is a believable badass. The love interest is Marci Something, and she kinda looks like a girl I knew in high school who now works at a hardware store. She was actually pretty good when the scene gave her something to work on, however, a lot of the plotting had her visibly struggling with how to read the lines. The main rival is a character named Jed Perfectus, played by Burt Grinstead, and he, besides Malcolm McDowell, was the only actor to nail the tone in all his scenes. Being a strong man with severe insecurity, he eventually devolves into a zombie-looking display of desperation with killer abs and gold speedo. His mental breakdowns are equal parts hilarious and fucked.
It is so hard to call this film a sequel because the plot is almost exactly the same as the original film, yet it clearly takes place after the events of the original. The third act either caught me in a haze of marijuana smoke I had underestimated, or was just fucking stupid weird. There’s a rebellion but the leader of the rebellion, played by a haggard and creepy Yancy Butler, is in cahoots with The Chairman, which is only revealed in the most awkward and unerotic sex scene devoted to whatever iMovie computer module they had on set. The ending is strange and yet fascinating, and I don’t know if I gleaned the right message, but I saw it as “Kill each other instead of having the government do it.” Because after a speech by Manu Bennett, everyone just starts beating each other up and the two love interests kiss as the world combusts in the background. Roll credits, mofos.
Look, I get it, camp is hard to nail. There are moments in the film that are truly hilarious, like the only conversation between two females takes place in a hotel saloon called Bechdel’s Bar. But overall, the satire felt sophomoric and it lacked the main ingredient devoted to screen by Corman in the past; fun. Make a fun fucking movie, people.