DEATH RACE 2000(director: Paul Bartel; screenwriters: Robert Thom/Charles Griffith/from the novel by Ib Melchior; cinematographer: Tak Fujimoto; editor: Tina Hirsch; music: Paul Chihara; cast: David Carradine (Frankenstein), Simone Griffeth (Annie Smith), Sylvester Stallone (Machine Gun Joe Viterbo), Louisa Moritz (Myra), Mary Woronov (Calamity Jane), Roberta Collins (Matilda the Hun), Martin Kove (Nero the Hero), Joyce Jameson (Grace Pander), Sandy McCallum (Mr. President), Harriet Medin (Thomasina Paine), Don Steele (Junior Bruce, TV announcer); Runtime: 78; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Roger Corman/Jim Weatherill; New World Pictures; 1975)
“Unwatchable car wreck of an exploitation film.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A vulgar no holds barred Roger Corman fantasy parody film about America’s love affair with violence through its sporting events. It’s filled with cartoonish violence, campy action scenes, sleazy nudity, explosions galore and dumb sight gags. Paul Bartel (“Eating Raoul”/”Private Parts”/”Scenes From The Class Struggle In Beverly Hills) grossly directs this unwatchable car wreck of an exploitation film. It’s based on a story by Ib Melchior and written by Robert Thom and Charles Griffith. It was intended as a low-budget B-film challenge to the big-budgeted Hollywood spectacle of Rollerball, but its problem is that it’s never really funny (loaded with juvenile gags), its car wrecks lack imagination and the car rivalry between David Carradine and a pre-Rocky Sylvester Stallone never amounts to anything.
It’s set in the future, in the year 2000, and plays on national TV with a smarmy unreal over enthusiastic Howard Cosell-like announcer (Don Steele) calling the race; but it recalls the ancient past, where the Christians were thrown to the lions in the Roman’s Circus Maximus. The evil President of the United States, who resides in his summer palace in Peking, endorses the 20th annual Trans-Continental Road Race as one that his fellow Americans cherish as their national sport because of its brutality. It begins in Manhattan and ends in New Los Angeles, as there are I think five racers who compete not just to be first across the finish line, but to earn points by killing pedestrians in their path. The racers include three-time legendary champion Frankenstein (David Carradine), rebuilt after yet another crash and garbed in black leather, a cape, and a mask, and his attractive navigator Annie Smith (Simone Griffeth), a spy from a revolutionary group sabotaging the race so it can be abolished; a meathead Chicago gangster named Machine Gun Joe Viterbo (Sylvester Stallone) and his sexy navigator Myra (Louisa Moritz); Warhol’s Chelsea girl Mary Woronov as Calamity Jane, the cowgirl driver of a car with bull horns protruding; Matilda the Hun (Roberta Collins) as a Nazi representing the Master Race; and Nero the Hero (Martin Kove), a gay Roman gladiator driver who is an early victim of the sabotaging rebels as he tries to run over a baby but is lured into going over an IED.
Besides all the inane Roadrunner gags, there’s a note of political prophesy that surprisingly rings through today that has the rebels being falsely called French. Which brings about this slice of tangy dialogue. Myra: “Hey, didja hear the news? Mr. President says it was the French who knocked off Nero and Matilda.” Frankenstein: “Watch out for the Crepe Suzettes.” The TV announcer Junior comments on the air: “Well America, there you have it, Frankenstein has just been attacked by the French Air Force and he’s whipped their derrieres!” It was that kind of a movie.
REVIEWED ON 1/17/2008 GRADE: C-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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