Magnificently Awesome Schlock
Sir Charles Panther | Alexandria, Virginny, USandA | 04/12/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Careful, babies, don't confuse this with the classic 1981 cinematic powerhouse, "Death Ray 2000."
I just couldn't give this one five stars, even with its mind-shattering, off-the-scale cheez factor. It's so bad, it's truly good, with mega-cheezy violence, liberal nudity, over-the-top yet shallow characters, stupid costumes, wacky cars, and a barely credible story. But the continuity flaws--more correctly the lack of any real attention to continuity whatsoever--took this gem down from five to four stars.
Think The Cannonball Run meets Rollerball (the original, not that wretched remake) meets Westworld, with a little futuristic cynicism a la Logan's Run twinging the production design and interior set design.
The story: In a dystopian 2000 (which looks a lot like mid-70s California), Europe has bankrupted the US, we've got a President-dictator reigning from Japan like a Moonie, and somehow an annual transcontinental road race in which points are scored for killing pedestrians has become the be-all-end-all of televised entertainment.
What an incredible film, it's just so bad on so many levels. The sound doesn't match the action. The characters are paper-thin, ridiculous stereotypes. A great deal of the acting is truly horrendous. The story barely holds water, with a number of LA Coliseum-sized holes. The cars are cheesy, as are the costumes, but wait ten minutes and the costumes are off. And in 78 breathless, action-packed minutes, it's all over.
Hey, don't miss the masterfully understated yet passionate character of Herman the German, complete with a Wehrmacht helmet with a big swastika painted on it, played by lovable Gopher, yes, Fred Grandy, now a Republican--how perfect is that?--Congressman from Iowa. But wait, there's more: John Landis, the man who brought us Animal House, The Blues Brothers, Trading Places, the seminal Kentucky Fried Movie, and so much more, appears oh so briefly as "Mechanic."
The best part of this film all for me, other than the film's absolutely horrendous groaner of a punch line--one of the worst/best bad puns I've ever encountered--was the totally awesome/laughable fistfight between Carradine and Stallone. Poor Sly--literally on the verge of Rocky glory--gets his butt kicked in a ridiculously choreographed punch-up by a junkie-thin Carradine, who doesn't even bust a sweat, leaving Stallone flopping on the floor, dripping the badly off-color stage blood. The blond bimbo gets hot, and she and Carradine retire to their ultra-modern sleeping chamber for Carradine to strip down to his black leather undies. Whew!
The continuity is just so incredibly bad. You could play a "Death Race Continuity Error" drinking game, and if you drank every time you encountered a continuity flaw, you'd have alcohol poisoning within 30 minutes. I mean, the race starts in New York City, and in the opening minutes of the race you see the cars blasting down open desert roadways, with the flippin' Sierra Madres in the background. So marvelously bad.
Bottom line: The Great Race this ain't. But at the same time it's not in the cinematic road-race dumper with something like Smokey and the Bandit II. This gem, much like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, or even The Toxic Avenger, is one of those films that is low-budge, knows it's low-budge, but still delivers on action, an incongruous yet straightforward story, and a happy ending with bunnies and snowflakes and delicate little flowers in deepest romantical springtime blossom.