Death Race 2000 review

Banana Rating: 4 out of 5

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.