Tag Archives: Racing


This review first appeared in a slightly different form at Film Forager.

DIRECTED BY: Takeshi Koike

FEATURING: Takuya Kamura, Yû Aoi,

PLOT: Set in a distant future and moving between multiple planets, this is a fairly simple tale of a major road race taking place on a militaristic planet that doesn’t want it there.  Racers “Sweet” JP, the big-haired underdog, and Sonoshee, a single-minded gearhead, are the main focus of the story.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Armed with an eclectic cast of alien characters and a host of over-the-top shenanigans, Redline might come off as “weird” to someone unfamiliar with anime, but I’d say the stranger humor and visuals fit in pretty squarely with other properties of the genre.  It’s an imaginative and enormously entertaining film, just not especially Weird.

COMMENTS:  The future laid out in Redline is certainly an intriguing one, if completely ludicrous.  Hot shot reckless racer JP makes it to the titular big interstellar race, held on a militaristic planet that hasn’t consented to be the host.  He cozies up to Sonoshee, a cute green-haired lady who is one of the most serious and intimidating drivers there, and together the two attempt to navigate a strange obstacle course against alien competitors (some with inexplicable magic powers) and large-scale weaponry.  Squeezing in ESPN-like profiles of various racers—from an experienced cyborg who’s fused himself with his machine to a pair of scantily clad pop stars hailing from a magical princess planet—there’s some room for satire, too.

This movie is essentially all spectacle and adrenaline, with very little comprehensible or meaningful plot holding it together, but it’s not like the filmmakers are operating under any pretense of depth.  They’ve created a gorgeously animated, pumped-up sci-fi thriller, and that’s all that’s needed!  The characters are slick, and the vehicle designs slicker, with plenty of exaggerated personalities and colorful attachments for an engaging race line-up.  Sure, there’s a silly romantic/secret-past subplot thrown in there, but it’s never taken very seriously.  Various secondary stories are introduced, such as the military planet’s worker resistance and JP’s involvement in race-fixing, but the race itself remains the focus and it’s easy to forget that anything else is going on (the script certainly seems to by the end).  The set-up can be confusing at times due to an influx of minor characters and limited explanation of the obviously complex political and environmental structures.

The strengths of Redline lie almost completely in its visuals and fast pacing.  The dark shading and bright color schemes, the over-the-top hair styles and imaginative alien creatures, the quick-cut-editing and crazy landscapes: it’s all fantastically sweet eye-candy, set to an ecstatic musical score.  It’s violent but fun, and there’s probably political commentary thrown in there somewhere.  The script is cheesy at points, but vaguely self-aware.  It’s just a very cool movie all around, rarely letting up for a moment in its quest to assault the senses with psychedelic imagery and revving engines.


“One of the most visually spectacular toons in recent years, pic is a thumping ride for fanboys, but the script’s underdeveloped central romance and the fizzling out of intriguing plot threads will impede wider acceptance… [Plays] like a twisted combo of “Death Race 2000,” “Speed Racer” and a ’50s hot-rod movie on steroids…”–Variety (contemporaneous)


DIRECTED BY: Paul Bartel

FEATURING: , Simone Griffeth, Sylvester Stallone,

PLOT: In the year 2000, five racers competing in the annual Transcontinental Road Race must reckon with terrorists, government cover-ups, and each other in their rush to New Los Angeles.

Still from Death Race 2000 (1975)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Although it has some moments of intense weirdness, they’re too few and far between; most of the film is just clever futuristic sci-fi whose bizarreness is restrained by its light sense of humor.

COMMENTS: Although, on the surface, Death Race 2000 may look like another dumb ’70s B-movie, trust me: it’s not.  It is pretty schlocky, and occasionally raunchy, but it’s also imbued with the satirical humor and the eye for low-budget artistry that has been a hallmark of Roger Corman productions since the days of The Little Shop of Horror.  Director Paul Bartel (he of the cult classic Eating Raoul) foregrounds the film’s funny streak, so that it plays more like a series of double entendres and anti-authoritarian jokes set against a futuristic backdrop than any kind of straightforward action movie.

The film’s pleasantly dark sense of humor is clear from its absurd central conflict: a band of anti-Death Race terrorists called the Army of the Resistance is sabotaging the racers, but the propaganda-spewing media-industrial complex blames it on the French.  Amidst coverage of the ongoing race (where hitting pedestrians scores points), the film occasionally cuts to the overzealous newscaster Junior Bruce, who’s basically a mouthpiece for Mr. President’s totalitarian government, and to Grace Pander, a proto-Oprah talk show host who describes every racer as “a dear friend of mine.”  Every twist and turn of the race is mythologized by these TV personalities, especially when it regards the film’s hero, Frankenstein (David Carradine).

In Death Race‘s vision of America, Frankenstein is the object of unending hero worship; he’s literally “bigger than Jesus.”  This is the source of extensive satire, as when Junior Bruce enthuses about Frankenstein’s “half a face and half a chest and all the guts in the world,” but it also leads to a surprisingly poignant scene when a girl named Laurie, a member of the St. Louis Frankenstein fan club, sacrifices her life to give him some extra points.  Tucked inside this cheap little dystopian sci-fi-comedy, we’ve got an eerily dead-on allegory about the nature of fandom and celebrity.  Similar treats await the patient viewer, especially in the film’s ideologically over-the-top finale.

Death Race 2000 is what happens when very smart, talented people set out to make a ridiculous movie.  It’s got a hammy Sylvester Stallone as Frankenstein’s arch-nemesis, Machine Gun Joe, but it also has expansive vistas shot by Badlands cinematographer Tak Fujimoto.  It has plenty of bad puns and topless women, but it also comments on the role of violence American society.  Complete with hand-illustrated backdrops and opening credits, this is 1970s cult cinema at its trashy, funny best.


“The action setpieces work well, the blood smears look great in high definition, and most of the jokes land. It’s not like the news suddenly stopped caring about sexy, sexy violence in the 35 years since this first hit theaters. What really makes Race such a classic, though, is that Bartel manages to mix ruthless satire, absurdism, and sincerity without ever softening or compromising any of them.”–Zack Handlen, The A.V. Club

This is a condensed version of a longer review entitled “Satire, Americana and the Death Race.” The complete text can be found at Pussy Goes Grrr.