You ready for some more “Death Race”? Hopefully the answer is yes, or this prequel to the Paul W.S. Anderson remake of the Roger Corman original is going to sit very lonely on that local video store shelf. “Death Race 2” is officially a prequel, and its big hook is that it explores the origins of Death Race, though you’ll have to wait about 50 minutes before anyone hops into a souped up car and tries to blow each other to smithereens.
The film is directed by Roel Reine, who seems to have become the go-to guy for direct-to-DVD sequels, with “The Marine 2” to his credit and “The Scorpion King: Rise of the Dead” on his plate. The kinda futuristic sequel stars Luke Goss (“Blade 2”) as Carl Lucas, a getaway driver whose latest job goes predictably awry. Lucas gets sent to Terminal Island, a privately run prison that belongs to businessman Weyland (Ving Rhames), who is apparently still in touch with his gangsta side because he’s not above uttering lines like, “You make my motherfucking money, you understand me?”
“Death Race 2” is set in the near future, where life is so cheap that the State will simply sell them off to a corporation to do with as they wish. The result is a “death match” between cons for a TV audience, the brainchild of the improbably named September Jones (Lauren Cohan). A former beauty queen turned reporter turned blood prison game show hostess/mastermind, Jones isn’t opposed to sleeping her way up the ladder. Hell, she probably prefers it. After shacking up with Weyland, she gets control of Terminal Island in her quest for the almighty ratings. When cons killing each other in a cage start to lose its luster with viewers, Jones come up with the idea for a death race, and thus, “Death Race” is born.
You were dying to know how it all happened, right? No? Well tough luck, because there’s not a whole lot else about “Death Race 2” to really find all that stimulating. Luke Goss certainly gives a game effort as the rightfully imprisoned con (unlike Statham’s character in the first movie, this “hero” very much deserves to be imprisoned), who nevertheless shows he has his good side, such as loyalty. Alas, Lucas’ loyalty to crimelord Markus Kane (Sean Bean), the man who gave him the job that got Lucas pinched in the first place, isn’t exactly reciprocated. Which is to say, as soon as Kane finds out where Lucas is being held, the dastardly bastard immediately orders a hit on our luckless hero. No honor among thieves and all that jazz, it would appear.
By the time the Death Race kicks in, Lucas has a pit crew that includes “Mexican Jew” Goldberg (Danny Trejo) and idiot savant Lists (Frederick Koehler). Lucas also gets the comely Katrina (Tanit Phoenix, last seen in “Lost Boys: The Thirst”, here trying out an atrocious accent) as his navigator, essentially a hot girl in his car who tells him to turn left, turn right, among other assorted “navigating” duties. The rules of the race are the same here as in the Anderson movie – win a certain number of races, and win your freedom. Yes, the future is such a steaming pile that Weyland can simply release, say, a serial killer back into the populace if he just happens to have won a certain number of death races. The future, needless to say, sucks balls.
If you’re having a hard time remembering the villains from the Paul W.S. Anderson movie aside from Joan Allen as the icy but strangely alluring prison warden (what, it’s not just me, right?), you probably won’t have an easier time with the prequel. Aside from Robin Shou’s Chinese con 14K and Koehler’s Lists, both reprising their roles from the Anderson remake, the rest of the bad guys are not the least bit memorable. There’s a really pissed off black guy, some white Aryan dude, a foreign guy with a funky accent, and a bunch of other racing fodder that have cute nicknames, but are only around long enough to get killed off during the races. Sean Bean is amusing as the volatile, dangerous Markus Kane, and Ving Rhames is playing Ving Rhames. Lauren Cohan, last seen on TV’s “Supernatural”, has the sequel’s juiciest role, as her September Jones seductively slithers her way through the movie. Cohan has a ball, and is achingly sexy to boot.
Fans of the Corman original or even the Anderson remake may find something to like here, but honestly, it’s just more of the same. The prequel’s big draw is that, besides showing you how the death races came to be, it is also an origins story for the franchise’s Frankenstein character, who had a first act cameo in the Anderson remake before being reprise later in the flick. The prequel also happens to suffer terribly from bad action choreography, especially in the movie’s many hand-to-hand fighting scenes. None of it looks very good, and it’s saying something when even a martial artist like Robin Shou can’t sell his fights. Mind you, I’m not blaming Shou or Goss or any of the other actors, because it’s more the fault of bad fight choreography and Roel Reine either not noticing that they are Godawful, or just not caring. The races fare a bit better, in that you sort of expect a lot of quick-cutting and stunt driving, both of which you get plenty here.
If you were dying to find out how the death races began, or how Frankenstein came to be, “Death Race 2” answers all your questions. I never really cared all that much about either question, which unfortunately means there’s not a whole lot here to get too excited about. The film’s one big bright spot Is Lauren Cohan, who really is a pleasure to watch as her character sleazes her way through the movie. There is a great payoff at the end involving September Jones and a bar full of people, so if you stuck with the movie to the very end, there is a decent reward to look forward to.
“Death Race 2” arrives on DVD and Blu-ray January 18, 2011 from Universal Studios Home Entertainment. Special features include deleted scenes and deleted shot montages with commentary by director Roel Reine, who also provides a feature-length audio commentary on the film. Featurettes include “Cheating Death: The Stunts of Death Race 2” and “Fast Cars and Firearms: The Cars of Death Race 2”.
Roel Reine (director) / Tony Giglio (screenplay)
CAST: Danny Trejo … Goldberg
Sean Bean … Markus Kane
Ving Rhames … Weyland
Lauren Cohan … September Jones
Luke Goss … Carl ‘Luke’ Lucas
Robin Shou … 14K
Tanit Phoenix … Katrina Banks
Frederick Koehler … Lists