It's getting to the stage where The Asylum's films are just as worthwhile - or even more enjoyable - than the big-budgeted studio movies that they're blatantly copying. Case in point: DEATH RACERS, their take on Paul Anderson's DEATH RACE (2008), itself a remake of cult favourite DEATH RACE 2000 (1976). While Anderson is clearly a talented director, with a keen visual eye and the ability to craft decent action sequences, I find the majority of his films to be empty, mechanical and instantly forgettable. DEATH RACE was no exception.
Ironically, DEATH RACERS is more of a legitimate remake of the original DEATH RACE 2000 than Anderson's effort, with a large chunk of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK also thrown in. The film's premise is that in a few years time, extremist armed militias - disillusioned and angered by the actions of the U.S. government - will try to seize control of the country by force, resulting in a civil war. The military crack down hard and swiftly end the uprising, whereupon a vast wall is constructed around a large un-named city in mid-America, which is re-christened 'The Redzone', and hundreds of thousands of insurgents are deposited inside. The Redzone quickly becomes an open-air prison for the entire United States, with hundreds of normal criminals also being dumped within it's walls to fend for themselves. Fast forward to 2033. A terrorist mastermind known only as 'the Reaper', the unofficial ruler of the Redzone (played by professional wrestler Scott Levy), has manufactured large quantities of the extremely lethal toxin sarin and is planning to dump it into the crumbling & leaking sewers underneath the city, where it will seep into the bedrock, spread further, and subsequently poison the natural water supply of the state and eventually most of the country. Having the military deal with the situation isn't an option - they're fully occupied fighting numerous wars overseas - so the state Governor has the idea of using other Redzone inmates to neutralize the Reaper. Now, the logical thing to do would be to covertly contact the most formidable criminals in the city and secretly offer them their freedom in return for killing the Reaper. However, the Governor instead organises a 'Death Race' through the Redzone, with points gained by how many people the competitors kill, and the points system rigged so that the contenders have to kill the Reaper - who's worth 400 points by himself - in order to collect enough points to gain their freedom. The event is heavily publicised, even receiving live television coverage... which of course means that the Reaper knows what's happening and can prepare traps and ambushes for those taking part.
I'd like to think that such a contrived plot line is the scriptwriter satirizing modern-day politicians' constant use of publicity stunts and their need to be seen as doing something about society's problems, regardless of whether they're actually doing anything. But it's more likely that a Death Race only exists in this film because otherwise it can't cash in on Anderson's DEATH RACE. As for the title characters, the Death Racers themselves, they consist of a pair of gangbangers, two war criminals (one of them an Oliver North-type, who successfully convinced a Congressional committee that America should declare war on France), a female serial-killing duo with the team name 'Vaginamite', and lastly the rap metal group Insane Clown Posse, who - despite the fact that the movie's set almost a quarter of a century from now - play themselves, with no explanation for how they haven't aged (we're told that the ICP were imprisoned because their music - which forms the movie's soundtrack - incited people to commit murder, leading to them being dubbed 'the Charlie Mansons of the 21st Century').
Aside from it's nonsensical plot, DEATH RACERS has (barely) two dimensional characterisation, clumsy action scenes and two dollar special effects. The dialogue in particular is truly woeful, and consists of little more than lame puns, crude comebacks, unimaginative threats and unfunny wisecracks. The lines given to gang member Steve the Hammer are so dreadful that I actually felt sorry for the actor. The movie is also often over-lit or over-exposed, clearly deliberately, and it's a look that swiftly grows tiresome. Yet despite all these shortcomings, DEATH RACERS actually succeeds despite itself. The movie has been made with unapologetic glee, and contains moments of sly wit, such as Steve the Hammer admitting sheepishly that the severed head he's using as a hood ornament is a prop ("The warden won't let me use a real one" he explains), and another character suffering a serious & near-fatal axe wound that ultimately and unexpectedly saves their life.
Levy and the ICP are clearly seen as the star attractions and get quite a large amount of screen-time. Levy is barely adequate as the thuggish Reaper, and doesn't bring any villainous charisma to the role, while the ICP are so plastered in their stage make-up that it's impossible to see any facial expressions, and you can't tell if they're giving good performances or not. As a result, it's the girls of Vaginamite who steal the show by default.
In conclusion, DEATH RACERS isn't big and it's not clever. In fact it's silly, messy, juvenile, and as dumb as a bag of rocks. But it's still more entertaining than Paul Anderson's bloated and stagnant studio product.
Review by misbegotten from the Internet Movie Database.