‘Death Race’ reboot offensive, cheap, hilarious


“Death Race 2050” is a single hopeful flower blossoming on the nuclear wasteland that is American satire.

In the year 2050 the United Corporations of America, headed by a flamboyant Chairman (Malcolm McDowell at his scenery-chewing finest), hosts a yearly cross-country race in which drivers score points by killing pedestrians along the way.

Overpopulation, global warming, corporate espionage, virtual-reality headsets, underemployment and a slew of other modern concerns and issues are touched on during this ridiculous romp across America. Or, at least the four or five shooting locations in Southern California we’re pretending are all of America.

We as a country lost the ability to make a good piece of satirical comedy when someone paid actual money to see “Meet the Spartans” in 2008.

Even the “Death Race” franchise has suffered since then, losing all bite and humor in this post-Spartans world we condemned ourselves to live in with three sequels so lame I can’t remember their names without Googling them.

Then with seemingly no advertising besides podcast interviews, this modern remake of Roger Corman’s classic appears on Netflix.

The social commentary is as deftly handled as a blunt hammer, the effects are cheaply done and the majority of the cast and crew barely have a Wikipedia page per person.

In a world where film crews purposefully employ cheap special effects as a marketing technique (e.g. every film attempting to be “so bad it’s good” in the past decade), it’s hard to accept a movie that looks cheap because it actually is cheap.

Some of the graphics are impressive, but all one has to do is look at the cheap plastic pieces threatening to fall off these supposedly bulletproof race cars, or notice that all of the high speed shots are just sped up footage, to notice there isn’t a lot of money behind the camera.

In a way, this makes the film all the more loveable. A friend and I made a game out of how many times we’d see the same length of intestine used whenever a person was chopped in half or disemboweled.

Underneath the veneer of duct tape sets and porn-y acting beats the heart of a snarky writer attempting to be as funny as possible.

One scene that typifies the subtle but not at all subtle wit of “Death Race” comes at the end of the second act when two female characters walk into a bar and have a conversation that doesn’t center around a man. The fact that they don’t discuss a man is important only because the sign above the bar labels it “Bechdel’s Bar” in obvious reference to the infamous Bechdel test, and a direct middle finger to anyone taking the movie seriously.

There’s something to be said for a film that in one scene features Malcolm McDowell surrounded by topless women for no reason, then knowingly passes a feminist test just to be a smartass.

This movie requires an open mind, a sense a humor, some friends and possibly a few adult beverages. If you can fulfill at least two of those, you’ll have one hell of a viewing experience.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)