Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Death Race 2050

Roger Corman remakes DEATH RACE 2000, a black comic action classic he produced for director Paul Bartel in 1975. Unlike the recent “remakes” (titled DEATH RACE, DEATH RACE 2, and DEATH RACE 3), DEATH RACE 2050 brings back the one thing everybody remembers about Bartel’s film, which is the conceit of earning points for every pedestrian who is run over and killed. Playing Frankenstein, the David Carradine role, for director G.J. Echternkamp (FRANK AND CINDY) and his co-writer Matt Yamashita (SHARKTOPUS VS. PTERACUDA) is the charmless Manu Bennett (THE HOBBIT).

There is also a touch of HUNGER GAMES in the picture, which is to be expected considering Corman’s fast-buck reputation. The most prominent evidence is Malcolm McDowell’s...shall we say, flamboyant?...turn as The Chairman, whom the actor plays as a combination of Caesar Flickerman and Donald Trump. He’s having more fun than anyone watching this movie. The only other actor whose performance rises above “competent” is soap star Marci Miller, who projects humor and sex appeal as Frankenstein’s partner without pressing it.

Though DEATH RACE 2050 goes so far as to repeat specific gags from the original film, everything about it is worse: acting, script, costumes, even the cars are less individualistic. Remarkably, the visual effects are worse. It’s unclear if the actors spent more than a day outside, since the whole race is created by technicians with mice. Exciting car stunts? Not here. CGI explosions and phony green-screen scenery outside the drivers’ windows? Plenty.

Occasionally, a joke will land, most of them as captions identifying the locations (learning the new Washington, D.C. was formerly called Dubai is a good one). The humor in Bartel’s film wasn’t subtle, but it was witty. Echternkamp abandons any pretense of wit in favor of broad jabs at easy targets, often culminating in a bloody body part falling from the sky. And Corman’s star falling along with it.

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