I'm usually against remakes, but sometimes the remake is better than the first film. Cronenberg's The Fly is far superior to the 50's film. The 1988 version of The Blob is scarier than Steve McQueen's. And the 2008 version of Death Race starring Jason Statham is, in my opinion, leagues ahead of the Sylvester Stallone and David Carradine Death Race 2000 from 1975. It was faster, more violent and just more fun overall - and closer to The Running Man than the original, which is a good thing in my book. So when a sequel - actually a prequel - for the remake was hitting the shores of direct-to-DVD, I was excited.
This prequel sets up the events that take place in the Statham film and establishes the Frankenstein mythology. Ving Rhames is the owner of Weyland Corporation (not related, presumably, to Weyland Industries from Alien), a corporation that among other things privately runs the prison systems. As they own the prison and the prisoners therein they can do whatever they like with them; Death Match is a televised fight-to-the-death between randomly selected prisoners. It begins unarmed but combatants can unlock weapons by triggering plates on the ground. This is all well and good, but ratings are starting to plummet. What can the producers do to spice things up?
Enter: Death Race! Nine cars, armed and armour plated driving a course around the prison facility. And just in time to join in the fun is Carl "Luke" Lucas (Luke Goss, Blood Out, Blade II), a convicted bank robber and cop killer. After doing the dirty work of crime lord Markus Kane (Sean Bean, Lord of the Rings trilogy), Lucas is sent to Weyland's penitentiary. It's not long before he's suckered in with hopes of freedom to race for Weyland's TV entertainment manager September Jones (played ruthlessly by TV actress Lauren Cohan). With the gorgeous Katrina (Taint Phoenix) as his co-driver, things hot up on and off the race track!
Grab your friends, get some beer and strap yourselves in because this is a fantastic ride. If you just want to be entertained by brutal fights, hot cheerleaders and plenty of CAR-nage, then this is the film for you. Director Roel Reiné (Marine 2, Steven Seagal's Pistol Whipped) gives the DTV-action fans and fans of the first film exactly what they want. Luke Goss is a good actor and certainly fills the Frankenstein mythology that would be continued by Statham - the two are even vaguely similar in appearance and build. He's a beefcake when it comes to fist-fighting and looks like he knows how to handle a car (and later on in the film, a woman too).
Some of the characters and actors from the Statham film are in this film too; the somewhat savant Lists (Fred Koehler) in the role of the helper-monkey in Luke's pitt crew. Robin Shou returns as rival driver and Korean triad member, 14K. And new to this film is the ever-awesome Danny Trejo (Machete), who isn't used to the full extent he could be in the pitt crew but still provides a foreboding presence. All the other drivers have their interesting quirks; I especially loved the brief appearance of a driver called Hill Billy who, you guess it, is a big, fat cliched redneck hillbilly. Yee-haw!
With a budget of 7 million (pretty high in the DTV world), the special effects and size of the play field are very decent. Obvious CG is minimal, with plenty of realistic blood splatters and car mashing resulting in real explosions. There is a bit of MTV-style editing, but thankfully it's mostly slow-mo's and not much shaky-cam. The cameras do zoom in close to the drivers from time to time to save on exterior shots, but there's still plenty of outside driving (and crashing) to see. There's a few little niggling script continuity errors but.. WHO CARES, crash those cars! Recommended.
The CAR-nage (okay, I'll stop doing that now) is absolute throughout the film! THAT is the highlight - the film never bores!
A sweet deal in a local release Blu-ray double-pack featuring the first film and this sequel.