There can be no denying that whatever the merits or otherwise of the finished product, Roger Corman gets the job done, whether as director of over fifty feature films or producer on almost four hundred across from 1954’s Monster from the Ocean Floor to his latest, Death Race 2050, directed by G J Echternkamp, another multi-disciplinary artist with credits as director, producer, actor, writer, cinematographer, editor…
Corman’s original Death Race 2000 was released in 1975, a political satire disguised as an action film, the same year which saw the dominance of the world by rival corporations expressed through the extreme sports of Rollerball, but being a Corman production it had considerably lower budget and commensurately less subtlety than Norman Jewison’s controlled dystopia.
Inspired by the short story The Racer by Robinson Crusoe on Mars‘ Ib Melchior, its influence was seen Corman’s own Deathsport, in Mad Max, The Running Man, in the Carmageddon game series and more recently in Tráiganme la cabeza de la mujer metralleta; remade in 2008 by Paul W S Anderson with Jason Statham, it is only right that it should come full circle to Death Race 2050 in the year when the car-crash of American politics catches up with the original.
The race starting at the National Coliseum of Nueva York in the United Corporations of America, beneath his towering combover the Chairman (31‘s Malcolm McDowell) introduces the competitors, among them Tammy the terrorist (Southbound‘s Anessa Ramsey), whose extreme faith accepts no challengers, Minerva Jefferson (Folake Olowofoyeku), gentically engineered Jed Perfectus (Burt Grinstead) and reigning champion Frankenstein (The Shannara Chronicles‘ Manu Bennett).
Across three days the competitors must make their way to Los Angeles, judged on total time and combined pedestrian fatalities, but new to the game is that each car must carry a proxy whose headset camera beams the virtual reality experience of the race back to the viewers at home, a particular bugbear for Frankenstein who regards Annie Sullivan (Marci Miller) as superfluous weight, a pointless cheerleader.
Unsurprisingly, the film is not sophisticated, with graphics and dialogue out of a nineties videogame, and nor is the satire subtle as “the single greatest sporting event known to man” passes through the Eastern Fall Out Zone (formerly New Jersey), Upper Shitville (formerly Baltimore) and Meatpackistan (formerly Kansas), the Chairman and his board monitoring from Washington D.C. (formerly Dubai).
Wacky Races with a gleefully ludicrous bodycount and rudimentary production values, each racer has a different strategy and the rules are flexible, but while the automated ABE will even sacrifice its own proxy for points, Annie can see that despite his denials Frankenstein is beginning to develop a conscience.
With mindless violence, a wanton disregard for life and less loyalty than a corner coffee shop stamp card, the targets are indiscriminate, the young, the old, the disabled, consumerism, race relations, class divide, climate change, automation, endangered species, but with former network executive turned rebel Alexis Hamilton (Kick-Ass 2‘s Yancy Butler) trying to undermine the race, Annie is equally honest with Frankenstein as to her motivations.
Faced with a global unemployment rate of 99.993% the main purpose of the media is to distract the population, prevent them from thinking, from questioning, from rebelling. Failing to interview the teutonic race favourite, Frankenstein turns the tables on Annie, asking why she became a proxy: “It’s hard to turn global famine into clickbait.”
The plot is minimal, but Death Race 2050 is energetic, entertaining and self-aware, although no expectation should be made that it is ever to be taken seriously. With Annie and Minerva bonding in the Bechdel Bar while Frankenstein and Jed have a pillowfight upstairs, it’s a film where no performance is too over the top, and fitting perfectly into the Corman oeuvre it is only to be hoped this latest vision is not prescient.