By Gabe Toro | The Playlist June 14, 2014 at 10:09AM
Ah, what would we have to give to bring back “Mystery Science Theater 3000”? They would have a field day with the completely embarrassing “The Human Race,” an inept sci-fi film that seems like a throwback to incompetent straight-to-video cheapies of the 80's, the kind of time-wasters that would employ Robert Z'Dar and maybe an Estevez.
The intro to this slab of tacky genre garbage is foggy, muddy, nearly monochrome, as the victims of the title event are forced to follow a single path to victory. Without warning, we see these strangers look to the sky, as an unseen voice transmits the rules of this “game” straight into their heads – you must get to the end of the path, or you will die. And if you're lapped twice, you are dead. Also, try not to walk onto the grass that surrounds this complex of an arbitrarily-chosen jail, school and home, because your head will explode. It's not clear what's funnier – the fact that aliens invent games with the imagination of a five year old, or that as soon as they are told not to venture onto the grass, we see a couple of curious people immediately walk into the forbidden zone, followed by a head burst.
One of these decapitations belongs to a young woman whom we meet at the beginning, first caring for her dying sister, then defeating the same genetic disease. She has a real life until abruptly being ported to this other world, so it's something of a surprise that she's the first one to die, literally ten minutes into the movie. It's also cheap storytelling and a twist for the sake of a twist, burning ten useless minutes of screentime that could have been spent explaining why these aliens have invented such a transparently idiotic game that ultimately proves nothing. The end credits features a Special Thanks given to Damon Lindelof, which explains plenty.
The job of hero falls onto the shoulders of real-life amputee Eddie McGee as war vet Eddie. The character walks on crutches during the entirety of the film, though at one point he displays his easy athleticism and physical skill during a fist-fight. The concept of giving a real-life amputee a lead role – McGee is missing his left leg – is lost in the novelty of a movie about a foot race starring an amputee. Another gimmick? Your movie is about a race and you called it “The Human Race.” You were drunk. We know. That's always how that sort of thing happens.
Even with a limited but colorful location, “The Human Race” bizarrely limits itself to indoor skulking. This allows for cheap character dynamics to play out among a colorful, international group of victims. When one man, a Muslim, responds to the bloodshed by kneeling and praying, a white woman shows her aggravation and begins berating him for being part of the problem, not the solution, a real and literal “you people” moment. As if racism in 2014 involved people falsely ascribing omnipotent superpowers on oppressed minorities.
In the film's third act, we end up spending a considerable amount of time with two deaf characters played by Trista Robinson and T. Arthur Cottam, who are apparently deaf in real life. It's a unique idea, with their dialogue conveyed by subtitles, but they have such generic things to say about their disabilities that the subplot ends up being insulting in spite of itself. McGee has the lead role, but the digression involving this two deaf couple, which segues into an attempt at guilt sex, is almost avant-guarde in its flagrant disregard for common sense and good taste. Even more upsetting is the brazen cruelty that sneaks into the picture halfway through, as a small kill cult forms within the eighty participants, gleefully working together to toss people onto that deadly grass. Have you ever wanted to see a very pregnant woman's stomach completely explode across the room? You will!
Hilariously, “The Human Race” ends with not only the skimpiest explanation as to what it all meant, but also the threat of a sequel. Not to say the core idea is empty; the possibility that aliens would want to pit us against each other in a scenario that rewards teamwork but tempts our cruelty and selfishness is a decent one. As a metaphor, economic or otherwise, it never makes any really biting observations. At one point, there is a dialogue about the innate, and hypothetical, evil of man, and you think that the movie's going to reveal there's a monster inside us all. Then a couple more heads explode, and if you were wise enough to sneak alcohol in the movie, take a big swig, and plan for the future: this is a laughably bad movie, but an amazing drinking game waiting to happen. [F]