Death Racers (2008)

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This will be the last Asylum review I ever write. I’ve had problems with their business model for some time now – the use of unpaid interns to do most of their special effects, lack of health & safety on set – but a recent article cemented it all for me. They strung along scriptwriters for years, in some cases, getting them to send in spec ideas and write first acts of potential movies for no money, and you know that some of the ideas they got sent in were used, with no accreditation to the poor writer who came up with it. They just seem like a bad example of the bottom-feeding scum that populates the lower rungs of the movie industry. Sorry, everyone! You’ll have to look elsewhere for your “Sharknado 3” review in a month or so.

 

But one movie snuck in under the wire, and that was thanks to the starring role of the Insane Clown Posse. They’ve been doing their thing for over 20 years, and while I’ve never enjoyed a single one of their songs, in real life and on “Insane Clown Posse Theater” (a music-video version of “MST3K”), they seem like okay guys. Guys I’m glad I don’t know, but okay nonetheless. It’s their TV work on “ICP Theater” which got me interested in them again, so expect a few other reviews of their independently made “Big Money Hustlas” and “Big Money Rustlas” coming up soon.

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But enough of all that! This is the Asylum’s mockbuster for “Death Race”, the 2008 Jason Statham-starring sort-of-remake of 1975’s “Death Race 2000”, one of my favourite movies of all time. If you’ve seen either of those two, there’ll be few surprises here – we’re in a dystopian situation, where martial law has been declared; and to maintain order, the “Red Zone” is created, a prison which eventually houses 1,000,000 inmates. Inside the Red Zone, which is more a walled-off city than a prison, an evil mastermind called The Reaper (former pro wrestler Raven) has worked out a plan, although the exact endgame of his plan is frustratingly vague – he’s going to flood the water supply with sarin (a pipe supplying millions of people helpfully runs right underneath the zone).

 

The Governor of whatever state they’re in, already upset at having the world’s biggest prison on his land, decides to start and televise a Death Race! As well as keeping the masses happy, this race has a points system – 20 points per inmate death, and a big 500 for bringing the Reaper in alive (slightly less for dead). Get more than 1000, and you’re free! The 2-person teams picked for this are –

  • the Severed Head Gang (Hispanic, biggest gang in the US)
  • Homeland Security (two disgraced former soldiers)
  • Vaginamyte! (generic hot, evil women)
  • The Insane Clown Posse (playing themselves)

The ICP’s music was so hardcore ,it inspired every major crime, so it’s been banned and the ICP have been locked up. But no matter, as they all get the chance to kill a bunch of other criminals, quip and then, eventually, figure out what’s really going on. One of the SHG gets his head exploded before the race has even begun, to demonstrate the power of the kill-chip the Governor has installed inside them all (and to answer the question “why don’t they just drive away?”) Homeland Security don’t make it much past the first half-hour, and so on. You know the drill.

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This movie at least makes an effort to make things look post-apocalyptic. Throughout the movie, we get the TV hosts talking about the points system and commentating on the action, and it sort-of works, despite the slightly wooden delivery of the male host. The Governor’s office is half-empty and just randomly strewn with books; they manage to film in suitably grim-looking locations, and if they can’t at least use angles to hide the most obvious things; and best of all, there’s a weird colour filter over everything which does a lot for not much effort. All these things put it in the top echelon of Asylum movies, straight off the bat.

 

Unfortunately, everything else lets it down. The acting is truly mind-buggeringly terrible, with only Jennifer Keith (as “Double Dee Destruction”) and Violent J of the ICP as anything other than charisma vacuums. But they’re not helped by the editing, which goes beyond rotten into some netherworld of badness. To have a snappy conversation, it’s best to edit tightly round the spoken lines, so it can ping from one character to another – I’m sure you know the sort of thing I’m talking about. Now imagine one of those conversations, but with a second of awkward silence before and after every line is spoken, and see how good it’d be. I guess the unpaid intern they were using to edit the movie couldn’t use the software very well, and no-one bothered, when seeing the rough cut, to do a damn thing to make it better.

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You’ve got twists and cheap-looking explosions and body parts being hacked off and seemingly no-one paying attention to the scores, as they go down at one point (again, kudos to that editor). It rips the ending straight off from the 1975 original, and while I sort of grew to like the characters, everything they did was saturated in Insane Clown Posse music – one song is repeated at least 8 times, and the credits list a good dozen of their songs.

 

Ultimately, it’s a standard Asylum mockbuster, with the bonus of some fun stunt casting. Cheap, with effort made in some areas but seemingly negative effort made in others, it’s really only worth checking out if you’ve watched the three modern “Death Race” movies, the original, and still need to see cars running people over while the drivers cackle with glee.

 

Rating: thumbs down

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Snakes On A Train (2006)

Those numbers are more like 12 and 50

Those numbers are more like 12 and 50

The response to our review of “War Of The Worlds” was so deafening – zero comments, about 5 page views – that we just had to carry on with our Asylum mockbuster-skewering. Weirdly, my wife was pretty excited about this one, being a fan of “Snakes On A Plane”, but did it live up to those expectations?

As you will learn later, the film revolves around a young Mexican couple, who are desperate to cross over the border and get to the guy’s Uncle in LA. Why? Because they’re running from an arranged marriage, so her family put the Snake Curse on her. This involves snakes coming out of her body regularly, and…well, the endgame of this curse is a little fuzzy, but there’s your plot. They get to El Paso, Texas, board a train for LA, and that’s where the magic happens.

The train is mostly empty, thanks to the Asylum not wanting to pay extras, so we’re left with a collection of stereotypes. The three stoner surfer dudes; the family where the husband appears to be the victim of domestic violence; two young women off to try and be actresses; a helpful guy who seems to know the main couple; and a group of hispanic villains, who’ve paid off the porter to give them an entire carriage to carry out their nefarious activities.

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It’s a pretty gross movie. The snakes emerging from the woman’s mouth do so in gallons of green goo; she definitely has real snakes in there a few times too, which can’t have been great for her or the snake. Snake-bites cause bits of flesh to start falling off, and overall it’s a much gorier movie than its mockbustee. These effects – actual, real effects – all look decent. Talking of gross, one of the villains uses this line as an insult – “your mother’s c**t smells like carpet cleaner”. Say what you mean, guys!

Before we get to the events on the poster above – yes, it really happens – it’s important to mention how this doesn’t let us down in the incompetence stakes. The two wannabe actresses are also smuggling drugs, and their entire subplot, with a former DEA guy and another, unidentified, guy who’s tracking them all, is never resolved or really explained – we do get a scene where the former cop blackmails the woman into stripping and then almost rapes her, which is both uncomfortable and out of place in this movie. Rather than dragging a snake-spewing woman across an international border, why didn’t the Uncle come to them? Why does there have to be a scene on the roof in every damn train movie?

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So, yes, the poor unfortunate cursed woman does eventually and inexplicably turn into an enormous snake and eat the train, but…ah, the ending is pretty OTT and funny. I’ll leave you to discover that for yourselves.

Wooden acting, confusing set (I can’t figure out what order the train carriages are in), unresolved plotlines, cheap, and dull. If the entire film were at the level of the last five minutes, I’d be shouting this film’s praises, but no, although there is something positive to say about this movie…

Award time! We’ve already got the Caroline Award, named for my wife, for films that have male, but no female, nudity. Now we have the Mark Award, for films where an annoying kid dies. Kids die so rarely in movies, almost always just plot devices that it’s refreshing to see a whining brat get eaten. Congratulations “Snakes On A Train”, the first recipient.

Rating: thumbs down

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American Warships (2012)

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Remember that film “Battleship” from a few years ago that was gigantic critical and commercial disaster, thinking Rihanna was the most exciting thing in the world and having perhaps one remotely clever moment – the alien bombs looking exactly like the little pegs in the board game? Well, the Asylum and the SyFy Channel were clearly banking on it being a bit of a success because they mockbustered it with “American Warships” (it was originally called “American Battleships”, but the Asylum were successfully sued).

The USS Iowa is an old ship, and it’s about to take its last trip, to become a floating museum. A bunch of implausibly hot, young museum employees are stripping out all the post-WW2 modifications and giving it a factory reset; it’s got a small crew who aren’t really prepared to fight; and just as they set off for home, all hell breaks loose. Planes are blown out of the sky, ships are sunk, all electronic devices at sea are fried.

The initial blame is laid on North Korea. I mean, come on! I know Fox News and its cohorts in the fear-mongering business will try and blame them for everything, but the Armed Forces should know that North Korea can’t feed its own people, let alone start a successful war with the USA. So, the Iowa goes back to using its pre-electricity stuff (which is never more than a nod to the ship used in the big budget movie) and moves towards North Korea to try and figure out what’s happening.

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When you see a teleporting space-submarine, I was like “okay, it’s aliens, just like I suspected”, but the film takes another 20 minutes before the cast find this out. To call it slow is almost an insult to slow things – I checked the time, expecting to see about 20 minutes to go, only to discover we’d barely passed the half-hour mark. Come on, movie! So, blah blah blah, will our brave boys and girls (there’s also a surprisingly good female Navy Intelligence Officer on board, who only gets her ass ogled by the cast or the camera three times) fight off the alien menace, hurrah for the USA, etc.

The cast isn’t really that bad – Mario Van Peebles is a steady hand, and Carl Weathers, despite me thinking of his amazing guest appearances in “Arrested Development” every time I saw him, is decent too. There are women on board who are there because they’re good at their jobs, which is good, but treated as sex objects anyway, which is not so good. It’s so ponderously slow, though, that having decent actors on board (if only that was a pun, it would be the most entertaining thing associated with either the blockbuster, the mockbuster or this review) means little.

So, if I was being honest I’d say avoid this one. The Asylum will make many, many better films than this, which the me of a year ago would have considered a surprising statement. I think me and the Asylum need some time apart, to think about what we want as a film company and a film review site. See you in the autumn, terrible movies.

Rating: thumbs down

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Android Cop (2014)

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This is a classic Asylum mockbuster. Their rules:
1. Find out when the big blockbuster sci-fi and action movies are going to be released
2. Think of a name which is close enough to remind everyone of that film, but not too close that you get sued (unless it’s a legend or public domain character)
3. Hire one or two B-list stars
4. Rip the plot off other, previously released, sci-fi and action movies
5. Make your film quickly enough to be released around the time of the blockbuster
6. Keep your fingers crossed that the blockbuster is a hit, and you can sweep up 0.01% of their profits

Michael Jai White is Hammond, a cop in 2037 Los Angeles. Large sections of the city are walled-off, apparently due to radioactive meltdowns, and the only people who go there are the unfortunate folk with radiation poisoning, criminals and cops. While Hammond and pals are in a bind, they call in backup and get this guy:

Trailbiking goes extreme in the future

Trailbiking goes extreme in the future

Of course, they become partners, and are sent into the forbidden zone, or whatever the hell it’s called, to rescue the Mayor’s daughter, who’s actually in a hospital bed in a coma but “inhabits” an android body. There’s police double-crossing, questions of LA real estate, a secret plan to take out every crime boss in the forbidden zone which is just a red herring, and (of course) major twists and turns.

While they’re after some of that sweet “Robocop” money, the thing this most resembles is an extended episode of TV show “Almost Human”. A human cop and his “wacky” android cop sidekick, in the future, try to save the day…there’s a taste of “Avatar” in there too, with people controlling, well, avatars. Throw in a bit of “Escape From New York”, then some of whatever movie it is where people can’t shoot for shit, and you’ve got yourself an Asylum feature.

Before I get on to whether the film was any good or not, I want to vent about a personal bugbear. Androids in films, almost without exception, make that annoying servo-motor sound whenever they walk, turn their heads or do pretty much anything. Firstly, movies, WE GET IT! We aren’t going to forget halfway through that the guy who can throw people through walls is more than human. Secondly, wouldn’t they have invented something silent by “the future”? Also, there are two androids in this film who don’t know they’re androids, and they can move without making an annoying noise constantly, so what’s up with that? Is it an affectation?

For a mockbuster, this film is alright. It’s good to see a film with a primarily black cast where it’s just not an issue – as well as Michael Jai White, Kadeem Hardison is the obviously-a-baddie cop, and Charles S Dutton is the Mayor (with a heavily accented Hispanic daughter). They’re steady hands, even if the rest of the acting isn’t up to much. Special effects are absolutely fine, they’ve found some suitably broken-up scenery, and it looks like it cost more than it probably did.

It’s just a bit pointless. Like I said, watch any two episodes of “Almost Human” and you’ll have a better time than with this film. The stakes are fairly low, the cheapness of the film shows through in the almost complete absence of supporting characters (and the police station is pretty much one room) and the Asylum format of knocking em out, never mind the quality tends to result in flatness like this. So, in other words, the perfect mockbuster. Very slightly entertaining and entirely forgettable.

Rating: thumbs down

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