The year is 2050. The United Corporations of America has beaten Europe, Asia, and cancer, victories to take solace from, as radioactivity and insane unemployment abounds. But that’s okay, because with Virtual Reality goggles, everyone can see, hear, and even smell their favorite drivers in the Death Race! For the first time, it’s like one is riding shotgun as you race coast to coast while gathering points by killing pedestrians and just plain surviving to the finish line!
Veteran racer Frankenstein (Manu Bennett) is the clear favorite, much to the chagrin of Jed Perfectus (Burt Grinstead), who views Frankenstein as a rival in need of replacement by him. Joining Frankenstein is Annie (Marci Miller), copilot, navigator, and interviewer. During the race, we see Frankenstein not giving a damn about his image, taking off his mask much to the surprise of everyone tuned in. Annie was even able to coax some answers out of him, even some that mock The Chairman of The United Corporations of America, who already has been working on substituting Frankenstein with Jed Perfectus as the future of not only the Death Race, but also other bloodsports as well. In the background, a group of rebels move to the end of the Death Race, going after the autonomous and drone-laden ABE (voiced by D.C. Douglas) and attempting a worldwide broadcast. They expect that Annie would yield more fruitful results.
After the first bloody leg of race ended, we see that the only thing that Frankenstein cares for is the race, skewering Annie’s attempts to kill him through seduction. By the second leg, the racers have to focus on surviving the onslaught of targets shooting back, as well as suicide bombers; one of the copilots didn’t make it. With the car momentarily stuck, Frankenstein kicks resistance ninja butt and confronts Annie who was conveniently absent through the assault. Despite Frankenstein’s leader-like properties, he lets her know loud and clear about how little he cares for her rebel cause.
After the second rest, Annie and Frankenstein finally consolidate as a race team; helping defeat a berserk Perfectus does wonders to a relationship. Annie helps Frankenstein drive, as his robotic right arm is on the fritz. The last leg of the race we see most of the racers fall. The rebels were used as puppets by The Chairman to take out Frankenstein and traitor-labeled Annie, who in turn took care of them. After finally doing away with Perfectus, Frankenstein and Annie are set to cross the finish line to where The Chairman is, but before they do, Frankenstein gives a little broadcast that convinces everyone that The Chairman is worth 1000 points. The crowd happily gives Frankenstein a free pass to finish off The Chairman. Frankenstein gave another message as well: to get out and participate in their own Death Race. The people took this symbolic-ish message quite literally, and progressed to kick the ever living crap out of each other. Meanwhile, Annie and Frankenstein calmly watched as the country worked its troubles out.
When I first heard about Death Race 2050 some months ago, I was surprised. It was only a couple of years ago that the last straight-to-DVD of the current Death Race series was released. But hey, if Spiderman (and, sadly, Fantastic 4) can, why not this franchise? Add to the fact that not only was it going to be far more faithful to the original Death Race 2000, but also it was going to be spearheaded by the original producer Roger Corman, I had to see it… after I watched the original, as I only heard of it, but never watched it.
This movie is said to be a sequel to the original Death Race 2000. It felt like a reboot, and that’s what I’m calling it. Usually anything with the tag ‘reboot’ is labeled as bad, but in this case not so. I mean, it already recycles some of the names (okay, just Frankenstein and Annie), script material and concepts. Also, it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth to think that DR2K’s Frankenstein and Annie’s efforts were for naught. While the original leaves you figuring out some things, Death Race 2050 clears things up a bit more, like justifying the killing of pedestrians as an accepted measure of population control.
Overpopulation wasn’t the only new theme appearing in Roger Corman‘s Death Race 20XX series. Jabs at environmental issues, religious extremism, racial tensions, ethics of genetic engineering, over-dependence in technology and even gun control (maybe) were taken, issues that would’ve been right at home in the 1970s now accompany other themes that did appear in DR2K, like the use of entertainment as a smokescreen to bigger issues, or the influence of corporations in everything in our lives (‘Jesus Chrysler’ on DR2K, anyone?).
There’s an extra heaping of violence and black humor (it must be said that the dialogue takes away much of the seriousness, if any. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I enjoyed it). Nudity levels are about the same, though double-entendre and sexual content are through the roof in relation to DR2K. Just sayin’. Like DR2K, all of these ingredients wrapped up in a tight budget delivers a movie that’s much more enjoyable than what has any right to be, mixing guts, flying body parts and ripped torsos that are clearly props with relatively cheap CGI. Initially, I was disappointed that this movie didn’t get a theatrical release, but given its nature and what inspired it, a straight-to-DVD release is more fitting. Straight-to-DVD is, IMO, the modern equivalent of Drive-In movie-directed releases of yore.
My pet peeves would be that the movie doesn’t quite flow as well as DR2K. Annie was really annoying in the beginning; I was half expecting that she’d be written off and then another female protagonist would take her place (it has happened before in movies, like Ben Affleck in Smokin’ Aces). I also kinda felt bad for ABE, the AI participant, and expected more from him after all his suffering. I also felt for Jed Perfectus, who was his own worst enemy, with his own internal struggles far outshadowing his with Frankenstein. This is just one of a couple of examples of character development sprinkled in the movie, perhaps with the biggest one being Minerva Jefferson (Folake Olowofoyeku), going from a Nicki Minaj tribute/parody to someone that’s actually likeable. DR2K did this too with cowgirl Calamity Jane, but not as deep.
Other minor quibbles would be that Frankenstein’s car awesome design was completely let down by horrid wheel and tire choice pulled straight out of a Ford Econoline. The movie also over-used the same mid-90s techno-servo activation sound bite over and over again. And that Sylvester Stallone didn’t make a cameo appearance (then again, he’s making decent movies again, no longer doing stuff like Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over).
The best thing about this movie is that it wasn’t a full copy-paste. Given that the non-Roger Corman Death Race series took plot chunks of DR2K, DR2050 takes its essence and gives it a fresh spin, particularly the ending, which while clearly over the top, it was actually rather thought out and perfectly befitting the vibe of this movie. Because of this, I believe Death Race 2050 will be a cult movie, just like its predecessor before it. There are many more differences, but you’re going to have to watch both movies to find ‘em.
Opening pic: YouTube