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Death Race 2000

Death Racers

franchisebannerindex.jpgDid any else know that there was an Asylum rip-off of the Statham reboot of Corman’s Death Race 2000 and that said rip-off featured the Insane Clown Posse? I sure didn’t, but if I have to be burdened with this knowledge, so do you.

Over gritty and filtered stock footage, we get voice over that it’s 2033. The president declared martial law and criminals have all been exiled to a burnt out, slightly urban area in the middle of nowhere  called the red zone, ala “Escape from New York”.

It just so happens that inside the prison city, terrorists are making saran gas. Word leaks (there’s a kid in the red zone filming everything with an old camcorder somehow hooked up to wifi) and the governor has to find a solution. His solution is a death race inside the red zone, complete with a Secret mission – to kill the images2terrorist. He breaks it down to the racers – you get points for killing inmates, but you get the most points for killing the terrorist… Maybe even enough to win your freedom.

And also ICP is there.

The cars are largely uninspired, guns added to a sports car, a missiles added to a jeep, spikes on an average cars tires. ICP are really the only ones with a monster machine, an ice cream truck with a snowplow front, meatgrinder, guns and missiles. The cinematographer tries to make up for the cars images.jpglack of visual excitement by giving us tight frames of the more interesting areas; cockpits next to guns and details that are very visually interesting.

As the race begins, the other prisoners chase after the cars, attacking. Some get shot down, others get run over… But it’s usually a cut away with blood thrown onto the car from off screen. The budget doesn’t seem to have allowed for much in the way of stunt people and these cars are almost certainly all rented. Still, they manage some fairly ridiculous gore. Indeed, the gore level in this movie more horror film chunky as opposed to mere action movie blood. I assume that’s ICP’s images3.jpginfluence.

The Asylum attempts to mimic the media blitz aspect of the Statham films, with their own news commentators constantly giving updates on the race it’s self. It’s not quite as slick with all the computer graphics and statistics of a big budget production. Instead of extreme sorts commentators,  they come off looking more like your local evening news. As our racers fight their way through the red zone, these newscasters pop in periodically to explain a little bit of what’s going on – kind of a necessity considering the plot is a little bit more convoluted than strictly necessary (I’d have expected a little something more straightforward from this movie).

images5.jpgInterestingly enough, this is actually an ensemble piece. ICP gets a little more screen time than the others, much the way Captain Picard got a little more screen time then other characters when Star Trek was on TV, but there is actually something for everybody to do here. It’s a wise idea, because the clowns aren’t actors, and it shows. Then again, a lot of the people surrounding them aren’t much better, but instead of watching them struggle to carry a movie by themselves, all the actors together contribute to a pool of mediocrity. It’s a whole swirling bucket of suck where no one person stands out too much. If anything, the only reason ICP stands out at all is because they don’t quite belong in this world. The film leans far more heavily in the direction of being a Death Race movie rather than being a long ICP video and as a result, they kind of feel out of place. I realize they’re here for the star power, but it’s a strange match up. Their music is all over this film as well, and quite frankly it might of been better served with A heavier rock score.

All that said, it’s not as terrible as it sounds. Much to my surprise, it passes the watch test easily and is just loony enough to be fun instead of cringed worthy. Indeed, it’s still a better entry then Corman’s Death Race 2050 released around 2016, and is even superior to Death Race 3. If you’re a stickler for continuity like I am, I can actually fit this in, right before 2018’s Death Race : Beyond Anarchy, showing how the race got started up again and showcasing the increased governmental obsession with the “morality” of the prisons and the race. Death Racers is worth a look as a curiosity if nothing else.

For those keeping score BTW, the proper order for the Death Race films then is;

1. Death Race 2
2. Death Race 3
3. Death Race
4. Death Racers
5. Death Race : Beyond Anarchy
6. Death Race 2000
7. Death Race 2050

Death Race : Beyond Anarchy

franchisebannerindexAfter the disappointing outing DR3 was, DR4 opens to an encouraging back to basics approach. We’re back in a prison (albeit a different one – a city walled off) and Frankenstein is back to a brutal race. We get a quick recap with shots from the Statham film, to set the stage.Death Race still exists, but has been made illegal and gone underground, broadcast on the dark web from the walled off prison city (for a prison city though, they seem to be pretty well off with plenty of gas, bullets and booze. It’s not the wasteland Escape From New York was).

I’m not sure what Danny Glover is doing slumming in this film, but Danny Trejo makes a welcome appearance as Goldberg, now a bookie in Mexico and our real link to the outside world. He funnels supplies into the prison and takes bets on the race. We really get to see the race through his eyes. Frankenstein looks more terrifying than ever. The entire affair has more of a Mad Max feel to it, possibly stemming from the success of Fury road (released a year prior), and the opening treats us to gore at horror movie levels. Chainsaws, beheadings, this new Frankenstein is out of control, to the extent that the government is imag3es.jpgready to move in and take over. Our hero this time around is Conner, a ringer snuck in to take out Frank in the race. He’s also about as charismatic s a block of wood, with a somewhat bored expression perpetually plastered on his face.

Of course it’s a new director so it’s a new vision for the series. The more stylized violence is a departure from the series. The fights are far more martial arts based, not the brutal street brawling that Statham was directed to do in Death Race. Also a departure is that Frankenstein is brought in as the straight up villain. Finally, the running time is a big departure, clocking in at nearly two hours. I’m not sold on the longer run time, I tend to think these things should stick to 90 minuets. It dosen’t quite pass the watch test, but images4there’s enough blood and antics to keep me amused.

It’s interesting to look at the cars. They’re evolving; not just guns, but fins and more spikes – you can see how they are growing into the cars we will see in DR2000. It’s  ramshackle, something you can even see it in the tombstone on the back of Connor’s car. It feels welded and patched together, not the solid block of steel we’re used to. Still, it lends us a brilliant sequence where they are building the car and getting things ready. imag33esIt’s good stuff, bonding the characters without lengthy exposition. And it makes me absolutely fall in love with the sassy, punky navigator for this movie. She still gorgeous, but it’s  different kind of pretty. Not the glamorous street girls we’ve gotten used to in the past. Interestingly enough, she’s not the love interest for Connor, she’s really just there to help him with the car.

Of course, before you get a car, you have to fight. The gladiatorial bits are even more prevalent here, with both a dirt bike challenge and a hand to hand one, each streamed in all their bloody glory.

They get out of the cars a lot. Even though the race is really only the last half hour of the film, it seems like they are constantly finding reasons to get out of the cars and shoot at image2s.jpgeach other.

It’s not a bad film, certainly a step up from three and the twist at the end was actually well done. It’s worth a look, but be careful who you watch it with. There’s so much nudity in this thing that there’s characters who spend more time with their clothes off than on.

Death Race 3

franchisebannerindex.jpgDeath Race 2 ended with the creation of Frankenstein. DR3 opens with Frankenstein having won his fourth race. One more and he goes free. There’s just one small problem. The race has changed hands and the new owner isn’t as keen on keeping that bargain.

Between the films, it appears the pit crew never knew that Frankenstein was actually Lucas – their fallen comrade. His identity is revealed in the opening minuets of this entry though, along with the fact that he’s been getting some reconstructive surgery to fix his face (so Luke Goss doesn’t have to wear makeup or a mask for this whole film)

All of this feels very episodic. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear this was filmed back to back with DR2 because of how easily the characters slip back into their relationships. I suppose we can chalk that up to this film being made by Roel Reiné, the director of the previous film. We’re still following his vision, which is pretty close to what Anderson wanted when he made Death Race. The continuity makes this comfort food. Still, there’s some new faces with Dougray Scott taking over for Laurie Cohan as the imag3es.jpgvillain. After he wrests control of Ving Rhames’ company and acquires the Death Race, he takes a very hands on approach to administration, chewing the scenery  every chance he gets.

The Death Race has a new twist. The navigators have to fight for their positions, echoing the Death match of the previous film. It’s an interesting twist to let us know that all bets are off and the rules don’t matter anymore. The team is shipped off to Africa to race against new prisoners in a desert track. Its a different kind of race, that takes us through a village. The residents and the warlords are none to happy to see them and It gives us a glimpse of what the race will eventually becoming Death Race 2000.

image2sIt also presents us with a problem. At this point in the sequels, you have to do things that are new and innovative, things we’ve never seen before. This is just a step down from “Death Race in space!”. The problem is that we’re still in prequel mode, with this taking place before the Statham Death Race or the Corman DR2000.  Innovation feels out of place. The scriptwriters have just about given up too, simply content to drop Rob Zombie levels of f-bombs instead of crafting actual dialogue and cramming as much sex as they can into the halftime intermission. Moreover the bigger wrecks and explosions come at the cost of the racing action. The desert track not only completely changes the color palette, but it also slows things down.

The ending feels very contrived. It’s an attempt to  get things in line with the continuity established in the Statham Death Race while attempting to give us a satisfying conclusion with this crew. It’s certainly not what I expected, with a voice over recapping and images4.jpgexplaining how everything fits together (kind of like the end of Oceans 11 or a Sherlock Holmes story) but it doesn’t drag the film down too much.

I have to give this film a bit of a break, with each installment the budget has been slashed (I don’t get how that works anyhow. Seems like you should get more money for a sequel, not less) and the move overseas was likely budgetary rather than aesthetic. Still, it’s one of the weakest films in this run, and that watered down feeling from DR2 is even more keenly felt here. This one is a safe skip, and I would have bet it was the end of the road for this series. In fact, it was, but only for a little while.




Death Race 2

franchisebannerindexDeath Race 2, the sequel to Death Race,  is actually the prequel to Death Race which is the prequel to Death Race 2000. …Okay. I think I have that straight.

Opening this thing on Danny Trejo is a good sign. And is that Sean Bean in the credit listing? I didn’t realize he was in this!

The film begins with a riot – basically trying for that bit of deleted story Paul Anderson talked about in the commentary for one. I can’t help but notice that the prison’s owner, unnamed in the previous film is now being referred to as the Wayland corporation. It looks like someone is trying to place this in the Aliens universe.

Our driver for this film is Lucas, a Jason Statham lookalike who goes down for armed robbery and murder. Inside prison he discovers the Death Matches going on – televised gladiator fights between randomly selected prisoners. It’s interesting to see the elements in the death matches that carry over to the death race. Power ups exist here too. Hit the panel, grab the weapon. The matches have the same slick TV productions and sports imag3esannouncers. It’s easy to see how it evolved.

The mastermind of this is Laurie Cohen in her pre-Walking Dead days. Almost strange to see her glamored out with makeup and that full long hair. I didn’t even recognize her until I skimmed the credits. She sees Luke driving and hatches the idea of creating the Death Race.

We don’t get to the race (in it’s prototypical state) until nearly an hour in, but once we do, you’ll find the cars look familiar. There’s less explanation and they seem less personalized to the driver, but once we hit the track, we’re back on familiar territory, images4with racing that is just as frenetic as ever.

Don’t expect to see much of Frakenstien here. We get a bit at the very end when they show the origin of the character. It’s rushed, not quite what I expected, but it works.

In general, the film feels a tad watered down from the previous. The new cast feel like replacements, they’re fun, but lack the gravitas of Staham and Ian McShane. Nevertheless, it’s just as entertaining as it’s predecessor, and makes for a good sequel. It promises a good series.


Death Race

franchisebannerindexThe first thing you notice about Death Race is how desaturated and gritty it is, particularly compared to the bright colors of Death Race 2000. DR2k is a cartoon, where as this remake is a comic book.

We begin establishing that Death race is a competition that happens at an island prison in a dystopian future where the economy is depressed. Jason Statham’s character is framed for the murder of his wife and sent to the prison, then gets drafted to be the new star racer, Frankenstein (replacing the previous masked driver who died in the last race). Fans of Statham need not worry though, the mask isn’t on much. It comes off in the car, the prision yard and in the garage. It’s really there only to establish that he’s carrying on the legacy of the legendary racer.

In the navigator’s seat next to him is the ridiculously hot Natalie Martine. The skin tight hip hugger jeans and low cut belly shirt over a gravity defying push up bra seem out of place for prison wear. Looking at her perfect bouncy hair I think I’d be willing to go to images3jail just for her salon privileges.

The cars here however are not pretty. No lizard scale paint job or oversized Bowie knives here; these are down and dirty gun metal gray. All cannons and steel plating as they jockey for position and attempt to mow down their opponents with brakes and bullets. The racing action in this film sets the bar, above even more mainstream contemporaries like the Fast and the Furious. They put you in the middle of the action, a kinetic experience punctuated by violent attacks and burn outs.

Adding to the video game feel, the race way has power up panels (which look like sewer covers) that activate each car’s accessories. you can’t use that Gatling gun or your oil slick unless you’ve grabbed one of these power ups first. far from being just gimmicky, this device actually helps drive the story and ups the peril.

Death Race is one of those rare remakes that works, taking the basic concept then going it’s own direction with it. But is it a remake really? I got a nice two disc set that includes 2&3 on one disc and the first film on the other – along with a director’s commentary. image2.jpgAccording to director Paul Anderson, this is actually meant to be a prequel, showing  the origins of the Death Race before it became the colorful national pastime we see in Death Race 2000. In fact, he takes it a step further, describing a part of the story that had been cut – a riot at the prison was captured by security cameras and accidentally webcast. It garnered such attention that they started having regular organized fights there, broadcast world wide, and this is what eventually evolved into the Death Race.

I like this reading. I like the idea that Death Race is part of the whole narrative, because it makes me feel less guilty about the fact that given the choice between watching Death Race and Death Race 2000….I’m going to choose this Statham film every time.


Death Race 2000

franchisebannerindex2Long considered a classic, the thing about Death Race 2000 is that it’s the kind of movie that could only be made in the 70’s. And of course if you can remember the 70’s, you weren’t there. Well, I was there. But I was five as the seventies rolled into the 80’s so I don’t have the nostalgia for it that some do.

Still, there’s something about Corman in the Seventies that allows you to get away with David Carradine in a mask and cape, or Sylvester Stallone driving a car with a giant knife on the hood. Visually, this thing is a comic book. Yet it’s easy to see how the violence in this movie would have been a little out there for 70’s audiences. Today, in the era of Saw, index.jpgrunning down civilians and tossing a smidge of blood here and there is mild. In that era where transgressive cinema was really finding itself, senseless violence was a little more shocking.

In this story about a much hyped annual race between lethal contestants Carradine (the black cloaked champion dubbed “Frankenstien because he’s been put together so many times after too many wrecks) chews the scenery as he is want to do,  even as Stallone (in a role his agent probably should have run screaming to the hills from) grumps through the competition in a stylized 30’s gangster pimp suit. It’s not just  race to the finish, it’s a competition to murder your images4.jpgopponents and as many innocent bystanders as possible in order to achieve a higher score.

The thing is I don’t hate it. I appreciate it on a classic film level and of course I revere Corman. But being raised on Splatter and being a fan of racing games like Carmegeddon (much the same premise, but with more wrecks and blood) this feels a little slow and tame for me. I’m glad to have seen it and I wouldn’t necessarily change the channel if it came up on TV one night.

Not until the commercials anyhow.

Death Race 2050

franchisebannerindex.jpgRemember when I said Death Race 2000 was the kind of film that could only be made in the 70’s? I stand by that statement. That’s why it was such a bad idea to try and remake it in 2016-17.

Death Race 2050 is a soft reboot that acts as a kind of sequel to the original Death Race and retreads the same plot more or less exactly. Of course, this film uses no name actors and brighter colors to achieve a hyper reality that directly conflicts with the supposed dire nature of the race.

When Death Race 2000 was made, it was ridiculous and campy, but to their credit, all  the actors played it straight. There were hams of course, but they never played it off as comedy or parody. The same can’t be said in DR2050. This film isn’t even trying. It’s unintentional parody of itself. There’s the occasional heavy handed index1.jpgpolitical message (It’s no longer the USA, it’s the United Corporation of America, with the “C” done up similar to a dollar sign) but it’s so cliche you can’t really even believe it’s earnest about it.

The cars themselves are quite cool to look at, but they don’t seem real. They feel like toys or models, a little too convoluted sci-fi – the sort of thing you’d find in “Total Recall” or “Demolition Man”. The featured ones don’t fit with the rest of this world. That dosen’t stop me from wanting a Hot Wheels of them  though….

images4.jpgI don’t want to call this film garbage, because I like garbage films. This sullies the good name of garbage. Rather I’d just call it a waste of time. if you’re new to the Death Race franchise, this film will put you right off it. If You’re a fan of the Death Race films, this movie will make you angry as Frankenstein in an ill-fitting mask. Either way, it ends up being just a waste of time.

According to IMDB: “Captions are written in Comic Sans “.

I think that nicely sums it up.

Death Race Franchise

franchisebannerindex2I was well into my thirties, pushing forty really, before I saw Death Race 2000. I have no idea what took so long either. Some films just fall behind the bookshelf – you know, the stuff you always mean to watch but never actually get around too? Death Race was like that for me.

Doing up my reviews, I realized something else. It may be a generational thing. I missed Death Race by at least half a decade. There were no commercials or advertising blitz for it to pique my interest, and it wasn’t one of the movies that constantly played on late night UHF like the indexDeath Wish films and the Eastwood westerns. I think it more went by unnoticed, never germinating the nostalgia in me that it might have if I were about five years older.

Still, I’m a Corman fan and I remember being vaguely aware of the Statham reboot, understanding that yes, they were indeed connected. Seems like it’s time to hit all of these at once, especially with #4 being released just a couple years ago.

So let’s kick off this years franchise focus with the Death Race films. Come along as we look at the good, the bad, and the REALLY bad.