Paul W.S. Anderson’s Death Race was a bad movie, but it was a fun bad movie which ultimately redeemed it. Death Race 2, which is a prequel to Death Race and directed by Roel Raine, moves past so bad it is good territory to simply being a mess. It is a great looking and sounding mess, but still terrible enough to be painful at times.
Death Race 2 is not a sequel, which would have made sense; instead it is a prequel that sets up how and why the Death Race concept on Terminal Island came to be. The issue is nobody really cares why it started. The appeal of Death Race is that crazy people are driving crazy cars and killing each other, Death Race 2 doesn’t even show that aspect until the final third of the film.
Let’s step back a bit, the main character is Carl Lucas (Luke Goss from Hellboy II) an accomplished bank robber that is involved in a botched robbery that involved him killing a police officer. Lucas is sent to Terminal Island prison which recently began filming prisoners fighting each other after a bloody riot garnered huge ratings as they filmed it. Lucas is a bad ass (of course) so he is quickly pegged as a contender in the fights, plus he squints a lot which means he is tormented by the violence he partakes in.
The prisoner battles quickly become stale and the scheming producer, September Jones (Lauren Cohan), is under pressure from the corporation honcho Welaynd (Ving Rhames) to improve ratings. Jones begins staging fights and teetering odds in order garner better ratings but ultimately the future of Death Match looks bleak. Meanwhile Lucas’ boss on the outside, Markus Kane (Sean Bean), is convinced Lucas will turn on him and offers a million dollar bounty for his death; making Lucas a marked man, cue more grimaces and squints from Luke Goss.
Realizing that Death Match is not exciting enough Jones creates the concept of a race with armored and weaponized cars around the island will be brutal, visceral and something the world would watch. The top ranked Death Match fighters race for and take 10 cars and begin battling it out. I forgot to mention that in this prison Lucas somehow has a love interest in a female prisoner named Katrina (Tanit Phoenix) shipped in weekly as eye candy for Death Match. Somehow Tanit happens to be in the car Lucas chooses and his good buddies Goldberg (Danny Trejo), Rocco (Joe Vaz) and Lists (Frederick Koehler) become his ‘pit crew’ and while they know about the million dollar bounty do not care at all about claiming it.
The movie was made on a shoestring budget but somehow looks and sounds great. Unfortunately everything else about the movie falls flat. The ‘story’ is inconsistent and weak. The guilt Lucas has over killing a cop was well demonstrated but then forgotten as he kills many, many people. The characters do not fit the film at all, the rivalries amount to nothing, the characters are bland and any depth even hinted at is lost completely.
The action sequences are even weaker, the fight scenes are a complete joke looking worse than a WWE broadcast with hits noticeably missing their targets. Car chases look slow and any situations where the cars are destroyed are so noticeably staged that they lose all believability.
Performances are so hit and miss as to be laughable, Sean Bean alternates between chewing scenery and looking embarrassed as does Ving Rhames. The rest of the cast is mostly passable with the standout being Danny Trejo, but again he is wasted as the agreeable and forgettable Goldberg. Plus the director seemed to really want to have some titillating scenes yet barely shows anything of note in the unrated version I watched. If you are going to be gratuitous, be gratuitous, don’t pretend to be and then seemingly chicken out. This film is anything but high art and buckets of blood and sex could have actually helped, see Trejo’s Machete for inspiration.
Ultimately Death Race 2 is a mess and a movie that should never have happened in the form it did. Yes it is a direct to video release, but one with big names attached should have and could have been better.
Surprisingly this 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer looks quite good with crisp textures, bright colors and surprisingly deep black levels at times. The dark setting of terminal Island is nicely off-set by the bright and vivid explosions, well defined colors and competent lighting levels. It is not perfect with the deep blacks sometimes getting muddled and the digital video format results in shiny or layered looking scenes.
Despite these qualms it is actually quite an accomplishment that the transfer looks this good. In the opening scenes of the movie we are treated to great looking chase sequences, bright screen filling explosions and textures that pop. Danny Trejo looks especially craggy in this film and that is thanks to the great video transfer.
Like the video transfer the audio is very well handled and this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is quite punchy and actually made me enjoy scattered parts of the movie. The dialogue is well handled and crisp and the bass is well handled with loud deep throoms shaking the floor.
The rear channel mix is the most, err, verbose one I have heard and very ambitious. The rear mix is very active and unbelievably at times more active then the front channels. The audio sounded great but at times it was distracting hearing much more from the rear speakers then the front ones. The soundtrack does get overdone at times, but overall it is well implemented and like the video transfer far better quality then the movie itself.
Unsurprisingly the extras are nothing, err, special on this Blu-ray release. Included in the package is the now almost standard digital copy as well as a DVD copy of the film. The extras, while vanilla, are actually not too bad, it is just a shame that they focus on a truly bad film.
- Feature Commentary: Director Roel Reine discusses how he entered the project and shares insight on many aspects of the films development. It is interesting to hear him discuss budget constraints, casting choices and how to get the most of a film with little resources. It is not the most interesting commentary you will hear, but does add some depth to the film.
- The Race Begins: The Evolution of Death Race (HD, 7 minutes): A fairly dry and marketing driven look at how the race started with the cast and crew.
- Cheating Death: The Stunts of Death Race 2 (HD, 10 minutes): I found this featurette actually quite funny because the stunts and fight scenes are actually quite terrible.
- Fast Cars and Firearms: The Cars of Death Race 2 (HD, 7 minutes): A glossy look at the car designs and details.
- Deleted Scenes (HD, 6 minutes): Normally deleted scenes are deleted for a reason, but these were not bad and could have been in the film proper.
- Deleted Shots Montage with Director’s Introduction (HD, 6 minutes): A glossy look at some other shots that were not used in the film.
- BD-Live Functionality and News Ticker
- My Scenes Bookmarking
The Final Word
Death Race 2 is a bad film, its decision to show the evolution of the Death Race was clumsily put together, the characters make no sense and the acting is hit and miss. It should have been a ‘so bad it is good’ film but even misses the mark there. It is a shame because the movie actually looks and sounds great and with some tweaking and a bit larger budget this could have been another cult favorite. As it stands Death Race 2 is simply a pretty mess.