Death Race

Posted on July 2, 2009

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I must confess something to those of you who are new to the world of Me: I am a big fan of bad movies. It started when I was a kid, and the only sign of maturity is that now a bad movie has to have soul, or heart if you prefer, for it to burrow into my heart.

Death Race 2000 (1975) starred David Carridine, Sylvester Stallone, and Martin Kove (best known to people of a certain age for his appearance in the Karate Kid movies). It was produced by Roger Corman, and it spent time developing its characters and showing not only how horrible the Death Race was, but how callous the government had become. By the climax, you’re ready to go out in the streets and start a revolution. Roger Corman remains a master of getting the most out of his minuscule budgets, and it shows in Death Race 2000.

Many of you are aware that Paul W.S. Anderson remade the movie in 2008 with Jason Statham, Joan Allen (a classic beauty of modern American cinema, and who still needs a really meaty role to cement her status as an icon), Ian McShane, Tyrese Gibson, and a host of recognizable character actors.

The wife and I watched it a few nights ago, and I didn’t enjoy it. After some thinking, I realized why. In the first movie, it’s clear that the entire system, across the nation and potentially around the globe, is broken, corrupt, self-serving, and well-deserving of a swift kick in the constitution. The racers kill innocent people. They assist with suicides. Mordant fans throw themselves in front of specific racers cars. It is truly a horrible situation, and the film never lets you forget how horrible it is. As a result, the racers’ actions matter. When Frankenstein joins the rebellion, you care.

In Paul Anderson’s movie, the racers are all convicted murderers. Even though our hero is wrongly convicted, he’s only a danger to other convicts. We don’t care. The race happens in a prison, not on our streets and highways, so it doesn’t matter. People voluntarily subscribe to webfeeds to watch the race, rather than have racers crashing through their lives, so we don’t care. The prison itself, run by Joan Allen’s character, is corrupt, but there’s no rebellion movement that we see, so we don’t know if the world is aware of how corrupt the system is. There’s no sign that the entire government is withering and turning in on itself.

In fact, the only people I cared about were our hero’s crew – and they got left in prison when he escaped!

What made the first movie good was that it had a political conscience that was in tune with its time. The remake has car crashes. Those two things don’t have the same value.

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Posted in: Movies