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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Death Race 2

February 2nd, 2011

Death Race 2 - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray / DVD / Digital Copy Combo Pack

Death Race 2000 is one of my favorite movies. The remake, Death Race, was not so good, reducing the cool of the original to merely mindless action. Death Race 2 is a prequel to a remake of a really good movie. But each step like this tends to dilute the cool, and there's a chance that by the time we get to this stage, there's nothing left of the original's essence. Is that the case with this franchise? Or were they able to squeeze a little more life out of the idea?

The Movie

Luke Goss stars as Carl "Luke" Lucas, a getaway driver for Markus Kane. At the beginning of the movie, the bank heist he's driving for goes wrong, killing one of his crew and a cop. After ditching the other two members, so they won't get caught by the cops, Luke himself is captured and sentenced to life in at the Terminal Island Prison. The prison system of 2012 is not the same as it is today. It is run for a profit by the Weyland Corporation, which recently instituted gladiatorial games to be aired on their TV network to boost revenue. These games are run by September Jones. She gets in trouble when the ratings plummet, but after seeing Luke drive around Terminal Island, she gets the idea to change from gladiatorial fights to a lethal race. And thus Death Race is born.

There's more to the plot than that, but that's all you really need to know.

So how is the movie? Well, it is a direct-to-DVD sequel, so you have to take that into account. It is low expectations cinema, but in that regard it is passable entertainment. There are plenty of fights, lots of car chases, an abundance of explosions, etc. It did take a while to get to the actual Death Race, so if you are only interested in seeing the race cars again, consider yourself warned. And can we please stop it with the slow motion? The stunt work would have looked a lot better at full speed.

On the downside, outside of the action pieces, there's little to recommend. The acting is spotty at times and the two best actors are underutilized. Character development is nonexistent, plot holes are rampant, etc.

On a side note, what's the point of the navigators? In Death Race 2000, the race was cross-country, so you would need to know what routes to take, but here they are just eye candy that get killed right along with the drivers. (Of course they don't show them getting killed, but it happens.) They are almost as useless as the pit crew. (It's not like they change tires or refuel part way through the race.)

The Extras

The main extra on the DVD is an audio commentary track with the director, Roel Reiné. As he mentions off the bat, he had less than 10% of the original budget, meaning this movie cost $6 million, or less, to film. Given that, I'm more impressed than before, because it doesn't look that low budget. There are also a couple deleted scenes, a "directors montage" of trimmed shots, and a trio of making of featurettes. (There's an overall making of, one on the stunts, and another on the cars).

The Blu-ray is BD-Live enabled, but there's nothing exclusive there. It does look and sound a lot better than its budget would suggest. Granted, it's not up to the level of the first movie, but it is certainly better than most direct-to-DVD releases. Meanwhile, the audio will put your surround sound speakers, and you bass, through a workout. It does cost $10 more, but also includes the DVD and the Digital copy.

The Verdict

I really want another Carmageddon game. There have been rumors of a fourth title in the franchise for years, but so far nothing. That's what I thought about the most while watching Death Race 2. Granted, the video game was inspired by Death Race 2000, so it's not completely off base to be reminded of that game, but it still doesn't speak well of this movie. For a direct-to-DVD sequel, it's pretty good, and if you liked the first movie, give this one a rental. If you weren't a fan of Death Race, this one won't win you over. Meanwhile, there are enough extras on the DVD and the Blu-ray / DVD / Digital Copy Combo Pack to be worth picking up, if you liked it enough to watch it more than once.

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Filed under: Video Review, Death Race 2