It’s midnight. You can’t or don’t want to go to bed but your mind isn’t working at anything close to full capacity so reading a good book or watching a movie that will provoke thought holds little or no interest for you. What do you do? You end up watching something that is stupid or funny or violent or sexy or all of the above in moderation. The kind of movies that Roger Corman became rich making. The movies that now dominate the “direct to dvd” market. You know, the schlock. These are the movies that are in many ways the perfect object lesson for my movie rating system. Expectation matters, when you see a movie matters, what you want out of a movie matters. On an even playing surface these are films that aren’t even trying to compete with big budget hollywood or small budget festival circuit independents. But at midnight, when the world has slowed and your expectations have dropped, nothing can compare… sometimes, sometimes these movies just stink, but that is the risk you take at midnight.
In this corner we have Death Race 2, the prequel to the remake of Death Race 2000, which had basically nothing in common with Death Race 2000 except the title Death Race.
And in this corner we have Centurion, a Roman’s fighting against the savages of Britain tale with a cast full of people you know and a director who seems to be an up and comer.
Read on to see to see who the winner will be and which one should help you pass the time ’til 2 a.m.
Death Race 2 (2010)
Available on Netflix Instant Streaming
Why Did I Choose To Watch It: The original Roger Corman classic Death Race 2000 was one of my favorite late night schlockfests when I was a kid and Jason Stathom’s female wasn’t as awful as it might have been and this movie featured Machete himself, Danny Trejo.
Rating: Level VI
So this is how you make a movie worth watching while in a state of diminished mental capacity. First, pick a semi-well known franchise. Second, fill it with a lot of supporting actors who we are mildly familiar thus giving it the ere of a real movie (Sean Bean, Ving Rhames, Danny Trejo). Throw in some level of violence, explosions, gun play and racing that will make the movie feel like you are watching someone who is playing Grand Theft Auto. Add a handful of scenes with reasonably attractive young actresses whose hair is really well done given the fact that they are in prison, but not too many because you know something nearing 50% of your audience will be teen boys and you don’t want them too get in too much trouble if they are caught watching something with actual sex. And finally add a good looking lead who has shaved his head and is really too slight to be winning all the fights he seems to win, but who cares because the female prisoners seems to think he is a hot dude. Boom, you have Death Race 2, a prequel named as though it is a sequel. And I didn’t even mention the evil TV producer who they want you to think is much better looking than she actually is. And even though anyone who saw the box cover knew that all of those things were going to be there, this movie still mildly surprised because it never felt cheep (a big problem for these kinds of movies) and truthfully was better than the Jason Statham Death Race it followed (neither are as good as the original, not even close). Obviously, if you don’t like all the things I listed above this movie isn’t for you, but you would never have watched it to begin with. If, however, the title Death Race 2 gets you a little excited, this is a movie that will not disappoint.
Available on Netflix Instant Streaming
Why did I Choose To Watch It: I am one of the few people on the planet that really like King Arthur starring Clive Owen and Keira Knightly and this seemed like it was going for a similar thing.
Rating: Level IV
You know those movies that are always kind of starring at you? Everytime you walk through a video store (dating myself there) or see it on Netflix or On Demand or Starz or The SyFy Channel and you almost get it time after time, but the time never feels quite right and the movie just seems to look up at you as if to ask “why not me?” Your subconscious is telling you something. It knows, even if you do not, that there is something amiss, something that doesn’t quite make sense, and you would do better to stay away. If you are me eventually you can’t stay away. You ignore the signs and dive in and soon after the movie starts you think “I should have known better”. That is Centurion.
The draw was powerful. I love a good epic, costume, war drama. As I mentioned above, I like King Arthur, that dealt with the same historical time (roughly, history being abused as it is in these kinds of movies). I like Michael Fasbender (300, Magneto in X-Men: First Class). I like Dominic West (McNulty on the Wire, also in 300 as the slimy Senator). I don’t mind looking at Olga Kurylenko (the female lead in the last bond movie, Quantum of Solice and she was also in Hitman and Max Payne). I liked the two Neil Marshall movies I had seen very much (Doomsday, a post apocalyptic movie and The Descent a truly inventive and scary horror movie with a little Deliverence mixed in) and I kind of thought he was becoming a british John Carpenter (I cannot give much higher praise when it comes to this kind of a movie). So what went wrong? The movie looked good, was reasonably well acted, never felt cheap or short changed, but it had one huge problem, the movie was rooting for the wrong people!
A very brief plotting recap. The Romans come to Britain to expand their empire (basically take over and enslave the locals, for those who are unclear what the Romans meant by expanding their empire). They find the going extremely difficult because the locals won’t fight them in an open field, where apparently honorable wars are fought. Instead these savages resort to guerrilla warfare, sneak attacks and the like, while trying to defend their homes. In one last ditch effort to overtake the lands the Romans send a huge force up into the country to try to find and kill the leader of the local tribes and end the war once and for all (again, so they can enslave and command the local people). They use a local guide who turns out to be working as a double agent and sets the Romans up to die, which they all do except 7 soldiers and their General who is captured. The 7 soldiers are duty bound to go after their General which they do, and in the process fail to rescue him but do succeed in killing a young boy who happens to be the son of the chief. The rest of the movie follows the 7 soldiers attempt to runaway as an understandably upset hunting party chases them to make them pay for their murder of an innocent. And the Romans are the heroes of the movie. Yeah, you heard me. How dare they not lay over and allow themselves to be ruled! It is an outrage! You know what the funniest thing to me about this was, this was a movie made by Brits. Their ancestors are the ones who heroically held off the Romans and fought for freedom. It would be like me making The Patriot (you know, that Mel Gibson classic) and making Mel Gibson out to be the bad guy.
A no contest. While both have higher than expected production values Death Race 2 delivers on its promises of action-violence while Centurion keeps you confused as to why we are supposed to think the Romans are anything less than villains.
But, hey, what do I know, I’m fat.