In 1975 Roger Corman saw the America’s obsession with cars and its ultimate future in an adaption of Ib Melchior’s story DEATH RACE 2000 (1975). Essentially about a cross country Gumball Rally/Cannonball Run, except that it is a massively popular, televised bloodsport where the divers score points for killing pedestrians. Flash-forward six years and a single boarder later and Canadian director Martyn Burke gives us an adaptation of the only screenplay written by C.R. O'Christopher, who’s only other credits include single episodes of "B.J. and the Bear" and "Airwolf". Are you buckling up? This is going to be a bumpy ride!
Set in the super-futuristic year of 2000-ish, 20 years after a plague has wiped out most of humanity, the world is being rebuilt though liberal utopian ideals mixed with the conservative ideal of subjugating the masses to the will of an elite few. It’s almost like Jerry Brown got elected to public office again. Ha! Like that would happen. Somehow this still mysterious epidemic has translated to a governmental ban on fossil-fuels and the machines that run on them. Never mind that the police have electric golf-carts to carry out their raids on uncooperative members of society, nobody gets to own a car, regardless of fuel source. Because of this, our downtrodden masses are forced to do the unthinkable – use public transportation! (cue gasp from audience)
|The government is watching you...|
walk to work!
In this vision of a world gone to heck, former racecar driver Franklyn Hart (Lee Majors) has lost his family and his pollution-prone profession and has been given the job as a spokesperson for the government run public transportation agency. He lectures on the evils of oil barons and provides rote rational as to why the public cannot be allowed to own their own vehicles. Of course he thinks this is all hogwash being pushed by the government and in the wee hours of the night breaks into “Confiscation Yards”, stealing parts from cars to help repair his fire engine red 1972 Porsche 917/10 race car. At the same time a hacker is hijacking government computers and television with videos for “Radio Free California”, promising a life free from government persecution. Hmmmm… where could this be headed?
After having a Glenn Beck-esque breakdown in the middle of a lecture on a college campus and ranting about how the government is depriving them of the awesomeness of German engineered reciprocating oil burning machinery, he lands smack on the government radar as a radical who is going to need a hearing and subsequent rehabilitation. Meanwhile, a bullied boarding school kid, Ring (Chris Makepeace essentially continuing his role from the previous year’s MY BODYGUARD), is on the lam from the cops (as he is our subversive hacker), hunting down Hart to hook up with him since they are both rebelling against The System. Hart has invented a special pump that can get the last bit of gas out of any gas station reservoirs in the country, so conceivably he can never run out of gas. With the cops beating down the door, this leaves them no option but to jump in Hart’s Porche and make a bee-line to California, land of the free! But wait, it’s not as easy as that. A specialist from Washington (George Touliatos) has the master plan to fix Hart’s little red wagon; recruit ace veteran Vietnam and Korean war fighter pilot Captain J.G. Williams (Burgess Meredith and whiskey bottle) out of retirement to chase him down! Of course this means pulling his old Korean war fighter out of mothballs, fixing her all up and giving her a spiffy new paintjob in a matter of mere hours. Rick Dale would be green with envy. While the plane is being fixed up, Williams stomps around shouting things like “Let’s go! Whaddaya think this is, a chicken party?!” Ummmm... is it too late to reconsider the options?
Half of the film is the set-up for the chase sequence and by the time we finally get to it, it ends up being rather unexciting due to the fact that the filmmakers are more interested in telling the stories of these quirky, but genuinely uninteresting characters. The amiable competitiveness and eventual camaraderie between Hart and the loony Cap’n Williams is a poor substitute for a proper villain. If this were made a few years later by American filmmakers, the government would have recruited an ace Russian pilot (then you would really know that the government was evil!) with a super-mega-high-tech plane and it would be non-stop explosions and one-liners. I’m not really saying it would be totally better, since you’d probably lose all that contemplative anti-establishment stuff, but then again, we probably wouldn’t have the creepy NAMBLA sub-plot either.