You know, I don’t want to be a dick about this, but if you’re going to make a prequel to Death Race, don’t call it Death Race 2. Numbers have meanings, folks, and two comes after one. I know we covered this way back in preschool but seriously you can look it up on Wikipedia or something if you’re having problems.
Death Race 2 is the straight-to-video origin story of Paul W.S. Anderson’s lame remake of Paul Bartel’s Death Race 2000. The original was a smart, funny and very awesome low-budget action comedy about a cross-country “death race” in which pedestrians are run over for bonus points. The new movies are more like The Running Man, with prison inmates killing each other on television in the hopes of earning their freedom. If I’m being honest, Death Race 2 is an improvement on Death Race, but that’s a lot like saying skin cancer is an improvement on lung cancer. You probably don’t want either of them.
Death Race 2 stars Luke Goss of Blade II and Hellboy II: The Golden Army as Carl Lucas, the man who would be Frankenstein. After a botched bank heist Carl is sent to a maximum-security prison run by a private corporation that pits its inmates against each other in mortal combat on television. Carl’s got a price on his head (placed by The Fellowship of the Ring’s Sean Bean), so he’s got to fight off ruthless killers in and out of the makeshift coliseum. Eventually an evil but hot studio executive played by Supernatural’s Lauren Cohan gets the idea to switch from death matches to death races and Luke swiftly takes center stage thanks to his history as a getaway driver. Rounding out the supporting cast are badasses like Danny Trejo, Robin Shou and Ving Rhames, who at least appear to be having fun (even if Danny Trejo does sound like he’s being dubbed a lot of the time).
The concept behind the film is that Luke will eventually become the famed Death Race driver “Frankenstein,” a living legend who at the beginning of the original film died a swift, ignoble death… so the drama is limited. The death races themselves are a significant improvement on the original, however, since you can actually tell what the hell is going on. There are lots of memorable bits of action, like when ‘Apache’ – oh yeah, almost all the racers have racist nicknames – climbs out of his car at top speed, jumps on his opponents’ hood and shivs him in the neck before returning to his own vehicle. If you’re a diehard action fan and/or loved the last Death Race (it takes all kinds), then you’ll have something to work with here.
But really, Death Race 2 isn’t much of a film. There’s plot holes galore – every prison fighter just happens to be an excellent racecar driver with a natural talent for Gatling guns? – and it all amounts to a whole lot of nothing, since again, we know the hero doesn’t go anywhere from here. Straight-To-Video action guru Roel Reiné does a pretty good job of keeping the action entertaining and the flimsy plot moving at a brisk pace, but it doesn’t compare well to other memorable Straight-To-Video releases like the recent Undisputed III: Redemption or Universal Soldier: Regeneration.
The Blu-Ray itself looks pretty decent, although nothing in the film is spectacular visually and image stability problems sometimes hover around Ving Rhames for no discernible reason. There are also plenty of special features including a director’s commentary, deleted scenes and some documentaries on the stunts and cars. I can’t imagine anyone getting too passionate about learning how they made Death Race 2, but you can’t say the producers of this disc didn’t take good care of anyone who might.
Death Race 2 is a pretty unmemorable prequel to a pretty bad movie. If you’ve seen every other action movie that’s out on DVD/Blu-Ray this week you could do a lot worse, but really it’s not like you need to race to your local videostore to pick this one up.
CRAVE Online Rating: 5 out of 10