The word “dystopia” is described in my dictionary as “a society characterised by human misery, squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding.”
Death Race 2000, a dystopian vision of the future, looks way more fun than the definition above. Well, at least for the people who take part in the Death Race. They get to wear cool gear, have funny nicknames, and at certain points along the race’s journey, they’re allowed some R ’n’ R where they guzzle down banquets of posh grub, get a massage, and shag each other.
Nazis, cowgirls, and Sylvester Stallone...
The drivers are an odd bunch. A nazi, a cowgirl, and a machine gun-toting Sylvester Stallone, to name just three. An early role for Stallone, it’s probably the most animated I’ve ever seen him. No thousand yard stares, and no heroics. He’s a bad guy in this, even turning a machine gun on the baying crowds before the race starts. He never shuts up, and gets some of the funniest scenes.
The drivers race across country where they score points for hit ’n’ runs. The more shocking the kill, the more points they score. For instance, babies, old people and women score the most points.
This is supposedly designed to appease the oppressed masses. It all seems a bit flawed though. I don’t know about you, but if I try to project into the future, and think about how things might be, I can’t imagine any futuristic society would get to a point where the Death Race would even get off the starting grid.
But if the racers ran over politicians instead of the public, I think we might have a winner on our hands. For example, George Osborne’s budget might not be up to scratch, or maybe we’re just fed up of his big smug face. The solution? Turf him into the streets where he has to run like a terrified rabbit from cars with big spikes on them. Pinching money off disabled people doesn’t seem so clever now does it, Mr Osborne, not with a three-foot spike jammed so far up your intestine, you’ll be drinking your swans eggs through a straw.
Murder, fog machines, and the French...
However, Death Race 2000 is a product of legendary B-movie producer, Roger Corman. The film never asks that you take seriously hit ’n’ run as a sport. In fact, even though the film takes great glee in trying to shock, much of that shock never materialises. Sure, pedestrians do get run over and snapped in two across spike wielding cars, but it remains — thankfully — shy of going too far, and swerves around the more depraved high scores in an often amusing fashion.
Basically, take your tongue and wedge it deep in that cheek. The movie is more a poke at the establishment, albeit as subtle as a story can be when it’s about tooled up cars being used for a murder spree.
In league with compliant TV stations, the so-called Mr President — a product, it seems, of a global financial meltdown blamed on the French (they get blamed for a lot of stuff in this), runs the Death Race. He addresses the world’s nations by periodically removing himself from whichever opulent abode he’s currently residing in. He’s a guy who knows how to make an entrance, often emerging from behind the swirling mist being pumped out by an overworked fog machine.
Cucumbers, shit eating grins, and karate chops...
Style will only get you so far, and there’s dissent in the ranks. The Death Race comes in for some stiff opposition. David Carradine, as the part man, part machine Frankenstein — and the race’s champion — may or may not be involved. It doesn’t really matter. It’s just David Carradine playing David Carradine. Cool as a cucumber, quick with a shit eating grin, and pretty handy with a karate chop. That’s all you need to know. That’s all David Carradine cares to know, as he’s too busy hopping into bed with the rather beautiful Simone Griffeth to give a shit what you think.
Other stuff doesn’t seem to matter either: much is made of how it’s a televised race, but there’s little evidence of cameras on the route, and Carradine is happy to show his true identity at every turn. How this never ends up on a TV screen is never made clear. What’s important is that Stallone gets angry at a guy who’s popped out for a spot of fishing. I was with Stallone on this one. It’s the middle of a violent Death Race, and you thought it’d be a good idea to go fishing? You deserve everything you get.
Mind you, most of the film’s flaws can be happily put to one side. It’s production values aren’t too bad for a B-movie, and the actors are all game, some of them taking it seriously, but most of them taking the high camp approach. A hell of a lot better than the Paul WS Anderson remake/prequel which was stripped of all humour and satire (and turned into a kind of violent Mario Kart), Death Race 2000 is probably the most enjoyable, least offensive movie about killing pedestrians for fun in the world today.