It’s been way to long since we’ve had a review up on Everything Action but it’s a new year and reviews are hopefully going to be back on a frequent basis. We’re kicking off the return of Reviews with a look at the recently released prequel, Death Race 2.
The original Death Race was completely ridiculous but in all the best ways possible. You had Jason Statham doing his thing, Ian McShane, well staged and over the top violent car action sequences and Joan Allen swearing like a sailor. Death Race 2 is more of the same, at least in the car action department but bizarrely dedicates a large chunk of it’s plot to exploring the “mythology” of the Death Race universe.
Substituting for Jason Statham is Luke Goss, who you may have most recently seen in Hellboy II as the evil Prince Nuada. Sans crazy make up, Goss is doing his best action tough guy performance as Carl “Luke” Lucas, a getaway driver in the employ of crime boss Markus Kane (Sean Bean). After a bank robbery goes horribly awry, Luke leads to cops on a chase that eventually leads to a under construction section of freeway and his arrest. Luke is sent to Terminal Island, the prison from the first film, that is currently home to “Death Match”, a gladiator style fighting show. If you thought that the power ups on the track from the first Death Race were stupid, wait until you see them being used in a street fight between two cons. Luke eventually makes friends with fellow inmate Goldberg (Danny Trejo filling in for Ian McShane) and Lists (Frederick Koehler reprising his role from the first movie). Eventually “Death Match” begins to bore the audience so sleazy produce September Jones (Lauren Cohan) and head of Weyland Corp., the corporation that owns the prison, Mr. Weyland (Ving Rhames), decide to take things to the next level with Death Race. From then on it’s the typical Death Race you expect.
The driving sequences, while not as crazy as the first film, are still pretty well done and features some original touches such as one driver named Apache jumping from his car to an opponent’s car and shanking him in the neck and another sequence involves Luke’s navigator Katrina having to jump onto the top of the car to manually fire one of the mini-guns. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of urgency however for this being a race. Drivers are constantly pausing to go back and kill each other and during the second stage it seems like everyone but 14K from the original are killed. This leads to some confusion at the end of the movie when you’re unclear whether it’s the third stage of the first Death Race or a new Death Race tournament. There ultimately isn’t a third race so that is probably the bigger issue. The movie is also strangely obsessed with slow motion with tons of unnecessary slow motion shots scattered throughout the movie. One thing I still enjoy though is Death Race’s awesomely terrible TV show trappings, from the intros of the races to the racers posing for their profiles. They even do it for Death Match, which is probably the best thing about that part of the movie.
Like I mentioned in the intro, there’s a ridiculous amount of “mythology” going on in this movie. While some of it is pretty clever and ties in nicely to the first film, like Joan Allen’s character being recommended as the new warden of Terminal Island (although it’s you just see her personnel file) and the birth of Frankenstein (which the movie seems is an event equal in importance to say the creation of Jason or Darth Vader with ridiculous slow motion and the building of the mask), the whole pre-Death Race event of Death Match takes up almost the first third of the film and it’s incredibly stupid. The whole power up thing during the Death Races is fun because it’s like hyper violent Mario Kart but when guys are jumping on pads to get a big wrench the stupidity is more in the open. It’s also kind of cool to see recurring characters like Lists and 14K in the movie to help bridge this to the first Death Race.
As far as acting goes, Luke Goss is fine as the typical gruff talking, bald headed, action hero. Ving Rhames seems to be having fun as the cigar chomping Weyland and Danny Trejo is great as usual, although he’s surprisingly nicer than usual. Lauren Cohan does a pretty good job as the sleazy rating whore and, in typical action movie fashion, gets her comeuppance in a pretty satisfying way. Sean Bean is suitably threatening as Scottish crime lord Kane. Overall, the acting is much better than your typical Direct to DVD fare but it’s definitely not going to win any Oscars.
Overall I would say if you’re a fan of the original Death Race than you’ll probably enjoy this one as well, especially if you’re interested in seeing how Death Race was created and where Frankenstein came from. Personally I could have had more car carnage and less backstory but it’s definitely on the upper levels of Direct to DVD offerings. Worth a rent or a buy if you can get the combo pack with the original.
3.5 out of 5