Buena Vista // 1975 // 78 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // March 2nd, 2007
In the year 2000, hit and run driving is no longer a felony. It's the national sport!
The greatest futuristic vehicular manslaughter black comedy starring Sylvester Stallone of all time barrels onto DVD in a special edition. This is like a quadruple dip for the movie, by the way.
In 1975, Roger Corman, David Carradine (Kill Bill) and Sylvester Stallone (Rocky) teamed up to deliver a cinematic experience like no other: Death Race 2000 would set the bar for action and sci-fi for, at least, 12 minutes after it came out. Custom cars with alligator teeth and steer horns on the bumpers, nude group massages, clam sauce assaults, men in full-body leather jumpsuits and capes, explosions, subterfuge, betrayal, prosthetic hands, shag carpets and perhaps a smidgen of social commentary await.
There's been plenty written about this legendary B-movie, and, frankly, I'm not sure if I can bring anything new to the table. It's cheesy. It's overwrought. The effects are ridiculous. The plot is idiotic. And it's great. Death Race 2000, simply put, lives up (down) to its righteous title and reputation.
You have to start with Sly. Stallone lodges a ludicrous performance as the flamboyant Dick Tracy castaway Machine Gun Joe Viterbo. I don't think there's a single frame where Stallone isn't bellowing his lines out as if his marinara had been laced with PCP. And what's with all the pink? On the opposite end, you've got Joe's arch-enemy, and the film's protagonist, Frankenstein, played by David Carradine and his tall, skinny, leather-clad frame. Where Sly delivers his dialogue like a 6-year-old on a Trix high, Carradine's Frankenstein is an anorexic Darth Vader. He mumbles and grumbles, spouts out cryptic musings and wears a cape. Don't get me wrong -- the guy is a fantastically weird character, but seeing Carradine unveil the built-in grenade in his prosthetic hand does little to lend the film any kind of seriousness.
Bah, who am I kidding? Despite the presence of some ham-fisted moralizing about violence in American culture, Death Race 2000 is not a serious movie. People get run over and skulls get crushed and doctors wheel the elderly out in the middle of the road for "Euthanasia Day" but it's all black humor. Corman and company flirt with pushing the envelope in some aspects (the point run-down is touch-and-go, particularly when we learn that toddlers and women score big), though once the camera shifts to Calamity Jane (Mary Woronov) driving her steer-mobile, all legitimacy flies out the passenger-side window.
The best thing I can say about Death Race 2000 is that it's short and fun. There's plenty of cartoonish action, and the racing scenes are actually filmed quite deftly. Even when the racing breaks, you'll have gratuitous nudity and spacious, orange-décor hotel suites to keep you entertained. The goofy storyline concludes satisfactorily, too.
So Death Race 2000, I welcome you with open arms into my B-movie collection. Heck, an argument can be made that the space you deserve is at the top, lording over even the mighty Gymkata.
This is a nice-looking transfer. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen does this bright, active film justice; the colors are strong and the details sharp (check out that sweet futuristic city matte background!). The original 2.0 mono audio is adequate, though the overall mix lacks depth and the godforsaken soundtrack is unbearable at times. Just two extras of note here, but they're both good: a 10-minute retrospective with cast and crew interviews and a great commentary track by Roger Corman and Mary Woronov.
A fun action comedy that's become sacred among B-movie enthusiasts gets a solid DVD treatment for the 12,456th time.
The accused is cleared for the checkered flag!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Buena Vista
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 78 Minutes
Release Year: 1975
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Commentary with Roger Corman and Mary Woronov
* "Playing the Game: Looking Back at Death Race 2000"