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  Death Race 2000 Road Rage
Year: 1975
Director: Paul Bartel
Stars: David Carradine, Simone Griffeth, Sylvester Stallone, Mary Woronov, Roberta Collins, Martin Kove, Louisa Moritz, Don Steele, Joyce Jameson, Carle Bensen, Sandy McCallum, Paul Laurence, Harriet Medin, Vince Trankina, Bill Morey, Fred Grandy, Leslie McRae
Genre: Comedy, Action, Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: The year 2000 in the United States of America sees the 20th Annual Transcontinental Race held, with returning champion Frankenstein (David Carradine) the big favourite with the fans. He has recently been rebuilt after yet another crash, with his limbs replaced, which may well be why he wears a leather suit, helmet and mask. One of his four rivals include Machine Gun Joe Viterbo (Sylvester Stallone), a muscleheaded thug who is determined to win this year no matter what the cost. But there will be an added element of danger to the event this time around: a group of terrorists hellbent on taking down the fascist rulers and destroying the race, all part of their campaign to stop the violence...

Remember when the year 2000 was a science fiction year? Now it's ancient history, but you can transport yourself back to those days when the future was exciting with films like this one, which was rushed into production, so the story goes, to cash in on the anticipated success of Rollerball. As it turned out, more people enjoyed the devil may care attitude of Death Race 2000, which had been loosely adapted from an Ib Melchior short story by regular associates of producer Roger Corman Robert Thom and Charles B. Griffith, for this amped up the comedy.

But not at the expense of the action, of which there is plenty, with the idiosyncratically souped-up cars driven along the Californian highways and looking as camp as the rest of the film, yet with a real oomph as it may be all a joke, but Corman and company knew what their audiences wanted to see. Frankenstein's vehicle, for example, is designed to resemble a lizard, complete with sharp teeth, and Machine Gun Joe has actual machine guns affixed to the front of his, along with a large dagger. Why is this car so designed? Because the competitors are awarded points not only for fast speeds, but killing pedestrians as well.

The other three racers are Calamity Jane (Mary Woronov), who drives a bull-styled car, Matilda the Hun (Roberta Collins), a self-proclaimed Nazi, and Nero the Hero (Martin Kove), a would-be Roman gladiator whose navigator even thinks he's a hasbeen. But Nero has the right idea, because the Death Race is really harking back to the days of old Rome, sating the populace's bloodlust to distract from the totalitarian government that controls them. This film has something to say about the way sport (and the media, for that matter) is used as a channel for aggression in the masses, but thankfully it never beats you over the head with a message.

In fact, you could simply watch Death Race 2000 on the level of a slapstick cartoon, and there is a definite impression that this is what director Paul Bartel (who also appears as Frankenstein's doctor) is aiming for. The rebels are all earnest types who are sent up as much as everyone else, and they have infiltrated Frankenstein's orbit with his new navigator Annie (Simone Griffeth), but whose side is he really on? When given the chance to run over terminal patients he opts to charge into the "smug" doctors instead, and there are signals that he is not entirely the puppet of the President (Sandy McCallum). Add to this Stallone providing many of the laughs in a typical performance, only one that's supposed to be funny, along with gratuitous nudity, exploding heads and roaring engines and you have a daft but enthusiastic satire that operates just as well as an action B-movie - in a way this was the Robocop of the seventies. Music by Paul Chihara.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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