Texas, New Year’s Eve, 1999. Construction worker Jack Darcy (Robert Nolan), a middle-aged drunk with a military background and a stockpile of weapons in his bomb shelter, is mildly concerned about the millennium bug … but his real problem turns out to be a glitch in his cable TV. When he complains of an outage, assuming no one will be out to fix it on a big holiday, the suspiciously helpful dispatcher sends a tech who quickly hooks him up – while installing micro-cameras in and around his isolated house. Then, obnoxiously cheery Bud Carson (Terry McDonald) talks to him directly from the TV, telling him that he’s a new contestant in Race the Clock, which is presumably on one of those subscription-only channels for rich sickos that used to feature in paranoia gameshow movies before the internet took off, and will win one million dollars if he stays alive for the next hour, when wave after wave of well-tooled hit men will launch assaults on his home. And every other contestant on the show, which has been running for ten years, has died.
Given the set-up – which evokes a range of pictures including The Prize of Peril, My Little Eye, The Running Man, The Game, Series 7: The Contenders, etc – it’s a given that the grizzled Darcy will last longer than the security guard who gets plugged on camera in the prologue. Director Neil Mackay (Battleground) and writer Terry McDonald establish that the leading man is a dead-end loser, but under pressure he reveals improvisational defence skills on a par with Rambo – turning killers’ weapons against them, improvising booby traps, and generally barreling through the undercharacterised goons on sheer rage. It might be construed as a critique of American complacent consumption of cruel, violent reality TV – but it’s also a gun-nut’s wet dream, with the hero finally digging up a virtual arsenal from his private bunker.
Nolan has a lot of presence, but Darcy is rather thinly written – even being the target of a private army doesn’t seem to stir him to reveal much – and the haranguing Bud is a shrill caricature who makes the gameshow host of Death Race 2000 look subtle. There are nice little bits – like an array of irresponsible commercials which air during the contest, the stars-and-stripes bikini cheerleader on the cheap-looking set, and a pre-prepared soft-focus eulogy for pistol champ Ace Calhoun (Hugh Lambe), who is the only killer given a build up and consequently gets the most gruesome send-off. The eve-of-the-millennium setting now has an odd retro feel – with CRT TV sets and a Bill Clinton speech – which differentiates it from killer gameshow movies that take place in the near future. It’s a home invasion action film rather than a satire, but does catch a certain American crassness – which may well be part of the plan, since this is a snarky Canadian production.