Title: Death Race 2Director: Roel Reine
Starring: Luke Goss, Fred Koehler, Taint Phoenix, Robin Shou, Lauren Cohan, Danny Trejo, Ving Rhames, Sean Bean
Plot: Set before the events of the original film as getaway driver Carl “Luke” Lucas (Goss) is sent to Terminal Island after a failed bank robbery. Here the Weyland Corporation currently run their televised gladiatorial fights known as “Death Match”. However with the audience waning a new event is needed and that event is “Death Race”
Review: A direct to DVD prequel to the surprisingly good Paul W.S. Anderson remake, who this time returns only to take on producing and scripting duties, while the directing reigns are handed over to Direct to DVD regular and favourite of WWE Studios Roel Reine.
With Jason Statham clearly not interested in returning here instead we get a prequel with direct to DVD regular Luke Goss taking over the leading man duties as he once more wheels out his bargain bin Statham act. At the same time its films like this which only serve to make me question what exactly Guillermo del Toro did to get such a great performance out of him in “Blade 2” and “Hellboy 2: The Golden Army” two films which are continually used to hock these lesser films and give the illusion of someone of some star power being involved. Here though it is a pretty charm free experience as we get a lot of gruff machismo as he essentially plays the same character that Statham did in the first film. Just one of the many moments of déjà vu which run through this film to say the least.
Joining Goss we see fellow Direct to DVD regular Danny Trejo who shows up as Luke’s mechanic Goldberg the only Mexican Jew. Tanit Phoenix meanwhile gets to provide the titillation as Luke’s navigator / love intrest and who like her character like all the female characters here has been drafted in solely for the purpose of providing sex appeal, more so when she shares zero chemistry with Goss. Ving Rhames and Sean Bean meanwhile continue their journey to direct to DVD fame with Bean putting in a fun villainous turn as Luke’s former crime boss employer. Only two member of cast return from the first film being Fred Koehler who appears once more as Lists the compulsive data collector while Robin Shou also returns as the Triad gangster 14K though sadly is once more given far too little to do.
Clearly aiming to fill in the gaps in the franchise history as we return to Terminal Island where currently they run gladiatorial battles to the death between the prisoners. The battles taking place in an arena filled with the same kind of pressure pads that we have in the races to release weapons. This in itself isn’t a bad idea to provide a gateway into the creation of the races, what is a bad idea is to spend half the film focused on these fights scenes especially when you’re selling the film under the “Death Race” header in a move that left me kind of confused to say the least. This wouldn’t have been a major problem if the fights had been shot with any kind of style or featured capable fighters both of which the film is lacking and further hindered by these scenes being largely shot with quick cuts and shaky camerawork which makes them hard to follow and this is before we watch Luke and the films main villain Big Bill (Oparei) engage in a flame thrower fight which might sound awesome but when you see the weedy flames these things produce, there is never any sense that either of them is in any kind of danger.
Once the film finally remembers that it’s supposed to be about you know a “Death Race” we get even more fighting as there are too many inmates for the vehicles they have. When it comes to the race segments for some reason they choose to just recycle the same vehicles from the first film only with different drivers and considering that all but two of these vehicles are destroyed by the end of the film, you have to question why they rolled out the same vehicles for the race in the first film especially when they are supposed to be using vehicles being broken down by the prison.
Unlike the first film the race scenes here pale in comparison thanks largely due to some clumsy direction and the shots of the drivers frequently appearing like they sitting in stationary cars. This however is not to say that the film is without its own standout moments, as the races manage to pull out a few surprises but when they are shot with such rapid cuts with none of the lingering shots or fancy car work of the first film you can’t help but assume that your just watching race footage cut out of the first film rather than anything specifically shot for the film. Why these scenes are so poor is something of mystery especially when we have the scenes of Luke’s getaway driving during the bank heist which are enjoyable enough, even if Reine has a strange obsession with shooting things in slow motion even if they don’t need to be perhaps in an attempt to raise the film about its budget limitations.
Hampered by questionable action scenes and a plodding script let alone one of the most boring and pointless sex scenes ever which does little for the audience unless they wanted to see the bare ass of Luke Goss which is put on full display here. The film does atleast try to fill in some of the blanks left by the first film, such as why all the navigators are female and how the races were created while the ending clearly has been done to set up the events of the first film, something which is essentially undone by the third film which is something of a shame when it perfectly explains how Frankenstein came to be.
Essentially the sequel you’d expect it to be especially considering the release type, its only the made the more frustrating when the film constantly hints at a better film lurking underneath that could have made this a more memorable sequel had the direction been tighter and the action scenes more traditionally shot as such this is really worth giving a miss or for the completists only.