The year is, er, 2050. America has conquered the world, fighting off other nations and cancer. The downside of this is the resultant over-population problem. To combat this, the state has introduced an annual tournament known as the "death race".
Each year, the world tunes in to watch the treacherous contest, which involves contest tearing across America - which now encompasses the entire globe - in their souped-up cars, from "Old New York" to "New Los Angeles", killing as many pedestrians as possible en route. A points system exists for those who make it to the finishing line: 10 points for killing an adult, 20 points for slaying a child, and a whopping 50 points for wiping out a senior citizen.
The action kicks off in a huge New York stadium, where excitable TV hosts JB (Charlie Farrell) and Grace (Shanna Olson) salivate as they introduce us to this year's contestants:
Minerva (Folake Olowofoyeku) is a black superstar, as famous for her celebrity sex tape as she is her pop career. She's in the race to promote her latest single, which contains the lyrics "drive, drive, kill, kill, kill the white people in your car".
Tammy (Anessa Ramsey) is a feisty blonde with bloodletting and kinky sex on her mind.
ABE is a super-smart computer (voiced by D C Douglas) which self-drives a car, determines who is friend or foe, works out the best race routes etc.
Jed (Burt Grinstead) is a newcomer, a muscle-bound guy whose vanity is only matched by his desire to become this year's champion.
And then there's returning champ Frankenstein (Manu Bennett). Dressed all in black leather and hidden at all times behind a black mask, he's an enigmatic figure with a low raspy voice and an aura of cool that the crowds lap up - much to Jed's chagrin.
Each contestant this year is saddled with a passenger - a "proxy" fitted with a special helmet which allows viewers at home to enjoy their "in-the-moment" experiences via the wonders of virtual reality. Of particular relevance to the plot is Frankenstein's pretty passenger, Annie (Marci Miller).
As the race gets underway, we watch over the ensuing madness along with race organiser and head of state The Chairman (Malcolm McDowell), and a secret group of resistance fighters lead by hard-nosed Alexis (Yancy Butler).
Who will win the race? How much blood will be shed along the way? Will the resistance manage to put a halt to proceedings? Will Frankenstein's feelings towards Annie ever thaw?
These are the burning issues in this otherwise pretty plotless 90-minute endeavour, a remake-of-sorts of Roger Corman's 1975 cult classic DEATH RACE 2000.
Corman's name is attached to the film as producer, whereas the director's credit goes to the relatively unknown G J Echternkamp. The latter also co-wrote the screenplay with Matt Yamashita. In both respects, Echternkamp does a fair job.
The direction is slick and stylish at all times - visually, the film is clearly fashioned on recent hits such as THE HUNGER GAMES and MAD MAX FURY ROAD and manages to hold its own due to inventive use of an apparent low budget. The action is unfalteringly brisk and edited with finesse.
The screenplay, meanwhile, is loaded with political satire. The notion that America has conquered all, and is now in a position where it's cannibalising itself, is shrewdly addressed; greed, fame, wealth, racism, fascism, state control, free speech ... these are just are a few topics covered by the fast-moving, sarcastic script.
Performances are largely agreeable, everyone delivering their snappy lines with noisy, cartoonish exuberance. Each character is played as a gross caricature: resultantly there are lots to giggle at, but no-one believable enough to root for. This is all briskly-staged action, with little drama to draw us on anything other than a superficial level.
When the film's second half does finally slow down briefly to reveal a little more about its central characters, suggesting the vacuous nature of celebrity and the notion that we all wear masks in our everyday lives, it feels like such commentary has arrived a little too late in the day to carry any weight. But fret not, these musings are fleeting and before long the carnage resumes.
As mentioned earlier, the action comes thick and fast. It's usually met with some snide one-liner and serves up plenty of grisly detail - prepare for an even mix of cheap-looking CGI and practical gore FX as torsos are torn in half, faces are ripped off skulls, victims are decapitated and so on. The soundtrack accentuates the high speed delivery of such mayhem, proffering loud fast rock songs by the likes of Bad Mary.
DEATH RACE 2050 looks great in HD: colourful, bright and incredibly sharp in detail. Production values are convincing in the main. Even the bits that don't work so well, like the moments of risible CGI, are tolerable due to the comic-strip style of all that's going on. The audio mix is satisfyingly bombastic too. Action fans will not be disappointed.
This screener was viewed online. Universal have just released the film on blu-ray and DVD in America, with releases on both formats due for the UK in March.
It looks and sounds great via the online screening link, so I imagine it'll be similarly fantastic on disc. If you like your satire pitched somewhere between Troma irreverence and MAD MAX-esque violent action, this should sate your tastes.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Universal Pictures|