Now available on DVD
Luke Goss as Lucas
Sean Bean as Kane
Ving Rhames as Weyland
Danny Trejo as Goldberg
Tanit Phoenix as Katrina
Directed by Roel Reine
Superior to Paul W. S. Anderson’s 2008 remake in just about every way, Death Race 2, is mindless fun, a pretension-free B movie featuring all the elements genre fans look for in fare like this: plentiful bloodshed, gratuitous nudity, cool character actors, a plethora of explosions, and a touch of misogyny for good measure.
A prequel explaining the race’s origin, Terminal Island Penitentiary is again the setting. When a riot garners record TV ratings for the Weyland Corporation, an aggressive and amoral producer (Lauren Cohan) decides to stage brutal death match fights ending in either death or submission. It turns out to be history’s most-watched show.
Ratings, however, begin to decline as more and more fights end with a submission rather than killing. The producer’s boss (Ving Rhames) is going to pull the plug on the death matches until she presents him with an idea: death races.
Meanwhile, Lucas (Luke Goss) is a getaway driver for gangster Kane (Sean Bean). Paired up with some younger guys he doesn’t know, he’s pulling one last job, a bank robbery. It ends with a shootout, a car chase, numerous explosions, and a dead cop.
Lucas’s new home is Terminal Island and he’s arrived just in time to participate in Death Race. Playing for their freedom, the race consists of 3 days and 9 tricked out cars. Last man alive wins.
Death Race 2 is all you could hope for in a direct-to-DVD follow up. It doesn’t take itself too seriously (Danny Trejo is around to, well, do exactly what we expect from him) and aims for nothing more than being a good time. The pace is quick and action is always right around the corner. The hand-to-hand combat and races are sufficiently brutal and well-staged. The carnage increases slowly but surely and the best is saved for late in the game.
The solid cast is a huge bonus. Goss is a serviceable anti-hero (with 22 arrests and a cop’s murder in his past, we don’t root for him so much as passively witness his introduction to this crazy prison) and Tanit Phoenix is nice eye candy (it’s not like much is asked of her).
Even better are the supporting players. Trejo gets all the best lines and appears to be having a blast and Bean is a great actor who could play a nasty bad guy in his sleep. Rhames, always a welcome and imposing presence, isn’t around much but makes the most of his screen time. They make it very easy to watch.
Simply put, with flamethrower battles and “virgin” participants and heads run over and more slow-motion explosions than all Van Damme movies combined, Death Race 2 is ridiculous in all the right ways. Sure it’s clichÃ©d and predictable, but it doesn’t try to be anything other than dumb fun, and dumb fun it is.