Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Well… that was a pleasant surprise. I had mentioned a couple years back that Paul W.S. Anderson’s ‘Death Race’ remake wasn’t a very good movie, but it moved so fast and was so action filled that it was very difficult, if not completely impossible to stop and contemplate how totally ridiculous that movie actually was. Now we have a Straight to DVD sequel, which is actually a prequel, and if it’s going Straight to DVD this means that the budget is going to be stripped down, the action will have to be scaled back, the actors will be of a lesser magnitude, the director will be lesser known and since there is less action there will have to be more dialog. Usually not promising. Now after watching this prequel, all of those Straight to DVD limitations following a theatrical original are quite true. Stripped budget, less action, a director that isn’t as well known, less expensive actors and more dialog. But yet this sequel is actually the better movie and we will tell you why we think this in a little bit.

Carl Lucas (Luke Goss) is the wheelman, but not just any old kind of wheelman but one of the best ever. His good friend, super mean mobster Markus Kane (Sean Bean) has a simple bank job for him that only requires Lucas to escort Kane’s hotwire nephew and his crew to the bank, in a bright yellow souped up Ford Mustang, and bring back the loot. Not something we would call inconspicuous. Naturally the job goes all to hell and after a set of gloriously explosive car chases and a bunch of dead cops, Lucas finds himself on that prison island fortress, locked away for the rest of his days.

Since this is a prequel the actual Death Race hasn’t been invented yet. Instead what we have at this prison, thanks to the unsavory dealings of smarmy TV reporter September Jones (Lauren Cohan), are death-row inmates engaging in nationally televised UFC-style fights to the finish. Lucas just wants to do his time, which is the rest of life, in peace but September isn’t having that and in no time flat Lucas is deathmatching. The downside of this development is that Markus Kane now knows where Lucas is being held, and while Markus claims to love Lucas like a brother you might notice his last name is Kane and I think we all know how Cain showed love to his brother. Of course the honorable Carl Lucas would never drop the dime but better safe than sorry.

Eventually the actual Death Racing gets started, the brain child of the deliciously slutty September Jones yet again, dreamed up after the ratings of the prison Death Matches start to slip. Now we are in full deathrace mode filled with sizzling navigators (Tanit Phoenix), hardened pit crew bosses (Danny Trejo), crazed combatants (Deobia Oparei, Robin Shou) and oppressive overseers (Ving Rhames). With assassins attempting to take him out on and off the track Carl Lucas races for his life… with some surprising results.

I gotta hand it to Paul W.S. Anderson who served as producer for this film as it looks like Anderson and crew actually sat around and thought about this movie a little before they went into production. I think we’ve seen enough of these movies to know that this doesn’t always seem to be the case. True enough this prequel doesn’t possess near the amount of crazed bloodletting violent action as the first film but I don’t know if there’s any movie ever that has as much crazy action as ‘Death Race’, but the story that replaces the action in this movie, story elements which were almost completely absent in the first film, work surprisingly well. This could be due to lowered expectations but exploring the birth of Death Race and the origins of the character Frankenstein was a clever concept. There are other things that help move this movie along in relation to the first one. Yeah, Luke Goss isn’t as popular an actor as Jason Stratham but it’s not like Stratham is a better actor than Luke Goss, and Team Anderson did well in hiring director Roele Rinne to head up this film considering the man has extensive experience directing halfway decent Straight to DVD movies. ‘Pistol Whipped’ and ‘The Marine 2’ come to mind. He’s directed some awful ones too, but we are all about the positive here at the FCU.

As we pointed out the action isn’t as plentiful or as over-the-top as it was in ‘Death Race’ but it’s not like we’re watching Jane Austen over here. There are still plenty of car chases and explosions and fist fights and shootouts and everything else anyone should expect in an action flick and sometimes some of the action is pretty good and sometimes some of this action is not so good but it is there in abundance, so rest easy. It was mighty enjoyable watching Tanit Phoenix bounce and while Danny Trejo, Ving Rhames and Sean Bean can at times be… how do you say… not so discriminating when it comes to the movies they choose to show up in on occasion, yet all three actors are undeniable screen presences and all three can give their respective agents a pat on the back for this one.

Of course none of this is to say that ‘Death Race 2’ is the second arrival of ‘The Godfather’ but it is more than we expected it be. The most we were hoping for was to see some action filled entertainment that made a little bit of sense and we got some action filled entertainment that made a little bit of sense, plus one.

Real Time Web