Notable Cast: Luke Goss, Sean Bean, Ving Rhames, Danny Trejo
Review: Damn my love for Statham. If it wasn’t for him I never would have watched Death Race, and if it wasn’t for Death Race I never would have watched its straight to DVD sequel Death Race 2: Electric Boogaloo. Actually being a prequel, the only returning faces to the cast are Lists, played by Frederick Koehler, and 14K, played by Robin Shou, because it’s supposed to tell the story of the creation of Frankenstein. The racer, not the monster. Ok, I can deal with that. But when there were blatant inconsistencies and vanishing characters, how can you have a proper origin? Characters are introduced in the prequel that are nowhere to be found after. This only bothers me because it feels like lazy cinema. Death Race 2 ends during the worst possible scene possible, and just expects you to accept the introduced characters go away in place of the instituted characters in the original Death Race. I don’t want to use my imagination. I want the writer to show they actually took all parts of the prequel into consideration so they tie into the original story. But I guess that’s asking too much from a straight to DVD film about a race where people die. Just throw some neat looking cars on-screen, kill some people, make things explode, and voila! Death Race 2.
Well, as I already stated, this is an origin for Frankenstein, the racer Jason Statham’s character takes over as. Carl Lucas (Goss) plays right hand to local crime mogul Markus Kane (Bean). While managing a bank robbery, Lucas encounters complications and long story short ends up getting arrested. In jail at Terminal Island, he learns the inmates are forced to compete in a program called Death Match, thanks to the privatization of jails and the commercialization of violence. September Jones (Lauren Cohan) is the cut throat promoter for the Weyland corporation and creator of the show. When market shares drop as people become bored with the lack of action a 1 vs. 1 match gives, she conceives another money-making idea: a three-day race where prisoners are given heavily armed cars and five wins grants you freedom. Thus, Death Race is born. Lucas is caught in the middle of all this when Jones takes an interest in his skills while at the same time he learns Kane has put a $1 million bounty on his head. With options dwindling, he competes in the race and strikes a relationship with his navigator Katrina (Tanit Pheonix). Little does Lucas know, he is destined to be one of the most infamous racers of all time under the guise of Frankenstein that is eventually bestowed upon him.
Well, if you’re reading this review I assume you saw Death Race and are interested about if the sequel lives up to the high standards of the original *sarcasm* so I’m just going to assume you know all the characters and such I’m about to mention. We know that Ian McShane played Frankenstein’s pit boss in the original, along with List. In Death Race 2, Danny Trejo plays Frankenstein’s pit boss. In neither movie is there mention of the other character, and we’re just supposed to assume Danny Trejo’s character either dies, quits, or is released from jail. Just some passing of the torch, “I’m done with this job,” no biggie. In Death Race 2, Ving Rhames plays company owner Weyland himself, the big wig funding the race. There is never a mention of him in the original and again he is just to be forgotten. Frankenstein’s love interest Katrina? Yup, nowhere in the original so again we can just assume she dies off like the rest of her unlucky navigation sisters. Seeing a pattern here? Everything the prequel is trying to establish doesn’t even matter because they don’t exist in the future timeline of the films. They become unimportant when you think about the original Death Race, and all fluidity is lost.
A race to the death should also have been a lot more epic than depicted here. To simplify the action, that was done rather well in the original, it’s basically just a bunch of cars crashing into walls and exploding. That’s it. In the original, Anderson at least gave us the car demolishing Juggernaut, some pretty fancy out of car kills, and a much longer and more brutal race. Not to spoil it, but we only get to see two of the three days in Death Race 2, all which zoom by much too fast and cluster their kills up with no pacing. The only badass kill came from a character named Apache, when he does some out of car acrobatics that end up in him shanking another driver. Too bad he also suffers the only creative death. Besides that, just a bunch of driving and shooting leading nowhere. Riveting.
Worst of all though, was the cop-out ending. All the tension built up between Lucas and Big Bill, all the anticipation of Frankenstein winning his first race, all the want for an epic finale; all cut off by the credits. My mouth was left wide open when those credits started rolling. *SPOILER* The movie ends with Frankenstein backing over September Jones, yes vanquishing the evil money monger with no moral fibers just as we expected, but nothing more. The entire culmination of the very first Death Race isn’t even touched! An entire day of violent racing left out, I guess not being deemed important enough by the director. Oh, but working in a pointless sex scene between Lucas and Katrina was? Good choice. What a friggin’ gyp.
In the end, Death Race 2 becomes a boring carbon copy of the first. Both have a heartless female villain, both insert shots of the main character working out, both include a scene where the navigator can’t use a weapon because the car was tampered with; except it was all new and interesting in the original. The creation of Frankenstein could have been told with the last 15 minutes of the film, minus all the garbage in the beginning that ended up meaning nothing. This will be the reaction of every viewer who has seen the original Death Race: “Hey, there’s List! Hey, there’s 14K! Hey, that’s Frankenstein! Wait, that’s it??” This was a crock of a prequel trying to do nothing but cash in on what little credibility the Death Race name has, showing us nothing interesting about the creation of one of the most brutal races of all time. Well, most brutal fake races of all time.
Final Rating: 4.5 exploding cars out of 10