Thursday, March 05, 2015

Death Race 2000 (1975)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Have you ever been in a car when someone said that hitting a pedestrian would be worth a certain number of points?  It's gotten to the point where it's ubiquitous.  Most people probably don't even know where that came from.  My brother told me that it came from a movie called Death Race 2000.  He recommended that I watch it.

The movie was released in 1975, but takes place in 2000.  The ‘future' is dystopian, not unlike Mad Max or The Running Man.  Society has degenerated to the point where the big sport is racing.  These are no ordinary races.  Yes, speed counts, but if you hit and kill people along the way, you get points.  A woman might be worth 30.  A child might be worth 40.  Elderly are worth 100 points.  (Early in the movie, there's a newscaster going over the scoring system.)

Death Race 2000 chronicles a cross-country race that serves as the big event.  Five teams (one driver and one navigator) are trying to make their way from the East Coast to the West Coast over the course of three days.  Frankenstein, played by David Carradine, is the big name in this sport.  He's survived a lot of crashes and is said to be more machine than man, now.  He has a rivalry with Machine Gun Joe Viterbo, played by Sylvester Stallone.  (Frankenstein is faster, but Machine Gun Joe is better at scoring.)

As you might expect with a dystopian future, there's a resistance that wants to go back to the way things were.  They don't like the senseless killing.  The resistance is led by Thomasina Paine, a direct descendant of Thomas Paine.  (I've never liked it when a movie feminizes a male name that doesn't normally have a feminine counterpart.  In this case, it seemed like it was done just to reference Thomas Paine.)

The plan is to kidnap Frankenstein and have an impersonator deliver a message on national TV.  (It's not hard to get an impersonator since Frankenstein wears a mask in public.)  To facilitate this, the resistance has put an agent in as Frankenstein's navigator.  When the time comes, Frankenstein gets out of the trap and continues with the race.

Much of the violence was ridiculous and gratuitous.  A hospital has a Mercy Killing Day in which they line up several patients that are apparently beyond hope for the contestants to kill.  Since many are elderly, contestants can score several hundred points easily.  (Frankenstein instead chooses to kill some of the hospital staff.)  In another scene, a group of Frankenstein fans has selected one of its members to be killed by their favorite racer.

The special effects aren't that great.  To say that you can't see the strings is being kind.  There are some backdrops that are fairly obvious if you actually look at them.  (Take the scene where the race is starting.)  Also, the cars apparently couldn't go that fast, so there were several scenes where the footage had to be sped up.  In a few cases, it's fairly obvious.

I think most of what makes it so campy is the writing.  There were a lot of cases where it seemed that the writers weren't trying that hard, as in naming the president Mr. President.   Mr. President, being the not-so-nice guy that he is, likes to blame Europeans for everything.  He blames the French for destroying our economy and our telephone system.  Telephone system?  They couldn't say telecommunications system?

The acting wasn't so bad.  Given the rest of the movie, it fit right in.  Carradine and Stallone were the only two names that I recognized.  (For those that are wondering, I was born in 1976, shortly after the movie was released.)  Overall, the movie deserves three stars.  It's not a great movie, but it's worth watching.  If you can rent it, go for it.  I would almost recommend buying it, as it might be the kind of movie you'd want to watch with your friends. 

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