The “Death Race” movies are what you would call forgettable. The franchise started with the Roger Corman-produced 1975 film “Death Race 2000”, then was rebooted in 2008 by Paul W.S. Anderson and starring Jason Statham. The remake was followed up in 2010 with “Death Race 2”, a prequel that explored the origins of Frankenstein, a character briefly seen in the early parts of Anderson’s movie. Roel Reine, who directed that movie, returns for the sequel to the prequel, 2012’s “Death Race 3: Inferno”, which picks up where the last film left off.
Or at least, I think it does. Like I said, the “Death Race” movies are nothing if not very forgettable genre affairs. You like them enough while you’re watching them, but once the credits roll, you’d be hardpressed to recall the plot. Having said that, I do believe that “Inferno” picks up where “Death Race 2” left off, with the deadly game show’s star race car driver Frankenstein (Luke Goss) one win away from the coveted five wins — a mark that would lead to his unconditional freedom. (The series supposedly takes place in the near future, where crime and punishment are, shall we say, flexible.) Of course, the bad guys can’t possibly have this, so winning that last, final race will take everything Frank’s got.
Fortunately for our hero con, his old crew from “Death Race 2” are back to lend a hand: mechanic ace Goldberg (Danny Trejo), idiot savant Lists (Fred Koehler), and smoking hot navigator Katrina (Tanit Phoenix). It is Katrina’s job to help Frankenstein negotiate the new race course, which apparently involves pretty much all of South Africa where the movie is set and shot. Frankly, the navigators really don’t seem all that necessary, but they do provide some lovely eye candy, so you’ll find no complaints there. The prison itself is one of those underground/cave/barely 21st century locations that betrays the film’s low-budget resources.
Taking over in the villain role this time around is Dougray Scott as a corporate raider looking to get into the Death Race business. Ving Rhames, who menaced Frankenstein in the last movie, appears briefly before losing the company to Scott. There is also a local African woman who runs the show, but she’s no September Jones, the Ice Queen from the last movie played by “The Walking Dead’s” Lauren Cohan. In case you’re wondering, the “Death Race” movies always supply at least one vicious female authority figure, with Joan Allen doing the honors in the first movie. Also, early in the film there’s a very funny bit about one of the drivers, a woman, being a really bad driver. (I’m sure you can read something into these woman-centric plot points if you’re so inclined.)
Original director Paul W.S. Anderson is credited alongside Tony Giglio with the story for “Inferno”, and they certainly go out of their way to try to tie the two prequels with Anderson’s own 2008 movie. In case, you know, you were wondering. Mind you, I’m not saying that it makes any sense, but hey, they at least give it the ol college try, so there’s that. Since this is a “Death Race” movie, there are of course plenty of death racing to be had, and if you’re in the mood for some vehicular mayhem, Roel Reine and his stunt drivers certainly have a lot for you to chew on. The film is working with a limited budget here, so it’s nothing too spectacular, though Reine makes great use of the South African locales throughout.
If you’re a fan of the franchise, I don’t think there’s anything here that would make you stop being a fan, though if you found the whole prisoners-race-to-the-death angle to not be your thing back in 2008, you’re probably not going to change your mind now. The series has clearly run its course as far as I can tell, with Luke Goss’ Frankenstein coming full circle. The film’s action comes mostly from the car battles, though there is a melee early on among the prisoners where Goss shows off some impressive martial arts. There’s also a totally gratuitous bloodbath involving the female navigators, including hot-to-trot Katrina, as they are forced into a melee to the death. It’s like mud wrestling between strippers — except with sharp objects and a flamethrower.
Roel Reine (director) / Paul W.S. Anderson, Tony Giglio (screenplay)
CAST: Tanit Phoenix … Katrina Banks
Danny Trejo … Goldberg
Luke Goss … Carl ‘Luke’ Lucas
Ving Rhames … Weyland
Tanya van Graan … Amber
Dougray Scott … Niles York
Roxane Hayward … Prudence
Robin Shou … 14K
Fred Koehler … Lists
Jeremy Crutchley … Psycho