Here’s an interesting situation. If you compare the Rotten Tomatoes average score with the IMDB user rating you get two very different stories. Now I’m not one to wholly subscribe to either metric as a bulletproof way to gauge a film’s worth, but here’s what’s interesting: RT has Death Race 2050 at 100% fresh (out of six reviews) and and the IMDB user scale clocks in at a paltry 3.6 out of 10 stars. That’s quite the discrepancy. And, honestly, I’m square on the IMDB user side–why anyone finds this film compelling is beyond me.
The latest installment in the Death Race franchise attempts to return the series to its outlandish, campy, black-comedy roots that appears to have largely evaporated with the most recent remakes. The year is 2050 and Earth has become overpopulated. To thin out the people herd, the Death Race unleashes mayhem on the elderly, as drivers rack up points by mowing down geriatric bystanders.
This year, each driver is paired with a sidekick who totes VR headsets to give home viewers the chance to live vicariously through their terrible deeds. As usual, the main stud behind the wheel is Frankenstein (Manu Bennett, Arrow), the enigmatic, leather-clad sociopath who routinely leads the wold in Death Race points.
But there’s something off with this year’s Race. There’s a resistance afoot, an underground movement to topple the corporation that controls the Race and controls the people. As the carnage piles up and the big, fat, greedy fanbase devours the destruction, he ground-level combat turns into a fight for something that maybe, kind of, sort of looks like liberty.
Look, Death Race 2050 tries real hard. Real hard. And that’s the problem. In its efforts to achieve full-on cult status, the strains of contrivance show throughout its runtime. The satire is about as on the nose as it gets (corporations own the country!) and the humor is broader than Lake Huron (look at that fat person eat a giant hot dog!). Add to that the assumed-necessary ingredients for schlock, like random, anonymous breasts and gore effects. Though I will say much of the gore was practical, so a tip of the hat to the special effects crew. On the other hand virtually all of the car action was CGI so, poop.
In the end, Death Race 2050 just ended up being a cacophonous mess, a desperate attempt to take the excesses of the original and pump them full of silicone and red food coloring. I say this with no joy in my heart; we can always use more schlock in our lives and I’m always pulling for Manu Bennett. But this one’s running on fumes.