Death Race 2

Distributed By: Universal Studios Paramount Pictures

Reviewed by Melissa Minners

            I like action flicks as much as the next gal, but I do pass up on some that I feel are more action, less plot.  Thatís why I never ventured out to see Death Race starring Jason Statham.  I didnít see the point to the film about a man forced to compete in a race to the death to survive in prison.  So, when a friend suggested I watch Death Race 2...actually, he said I was going to love itÖI hesitated to check the film out.  After all, Death Race 2 was one of those straight-to-DVD releases and the first film received mixed reviews.  Who knew how bad the sequel might be?

            Well, first of all, Death Race 2 is not a sequel after all, but a prequel.  You see, the first film begins at the end of a rather bloody race in which a masked driver known as Frankenstein wins the race, but eventually succumbs to his injuries.  Death Race 2 explains how Frankenstein came to be. 

            It all begins in 2012 when getaway driver Carl Lucas (Luke Goss) is arrested after a botched robbery for crime boss Markus Kane (Sean Bean).  Refusing to turn stateís witness against Kane, Lucas is sent to complete his prison sentence on Terminal Island.  In 2012, prisons are run by private corporations and this particular prison is run by The Weyland Corporation.  Upon his arrival on the island, the corporation has been making money by televising death matches between prisoners.  Death Match is a pay-per-view television series hosted by ousted former Miss Universe, September Jones (Lauren Cohan).  The most dangerous prisoners are supposedly selected randomly to fight matches that will either end in one prisonerís death or submission.

            Lucas is approached to fight in the match after a scuffle with another prisoner named Big Bill (Deobia Oparei), but he refuses until September selects fellow inmate Lists (Fred Koehler) to fight Big Bill in a Death Match.  Lists is a meek prisoner whose biggest fault is that he overanalyzes everything.  Heís not a fighter and would be easily killed against Big Bill.  Lucas climbs over the razor-wired fences surrounding the match and saves Listsí life, taking on Big Bill himself and eventually inspiring a riot amongst the other prisoners.  The warden of the prison is incensed and refuses to allow another Death Match to take place at the prison. 

            Ousting the warden, Mr. Weyland (Ving Rhames) and September decide to up the stakes.  They create a Death Race in which the prisoners race in a multi-race competition.  Each day, the prisoners race each other in souped up vehicles that contain the best racing engines, armor and some rather impressive weaponry.  Itís a race to the death.  The first prisoner to win five such races wins his freedom from incarceration.  Lucas decides this is a competition right up his alley, especially after his former boss, Kane, puts a million dollar bounty on his head.  But can Lucas survive five Death Races and if he can, will The Weyland Corporation actually make good on their promise?

            I canít believe I am saying this, but I absolutely loved this film!  Where just the previews of Death Race turned me off, about ten minutes into Death Race 2, I was totally hooked.  The action starts right away with the botched robbery and doesnít quit until the final race of the film.  The fight scenes are very well-choreographed as are designed to heighten the viewerís adrenaline.  The race scenes do that and more.  Death Race 2 had me on the edge of my seat through every fight and race in the film.

            Luke Goss is terrific as Carl Lucas.  His character is written and portrayed in such a way that you forget this guy is a criminal.  Youíre sympathetic to his plight, especially when you take in the botched robbery that landed him in prison in the first place.  Okay, so how can you be sympathetic with a getaway driver that works for a well-known crime boss?  Well, first off, Lucas was all about getting in and out without hurting anyone.  Of course, it was still a criminal offense worth punishment, but the kinds of punishments handed out by The Weyland Corporation are pretty much off the charts.  You canít help with sympathize with this guy - he may be a criminal, but heís a criminal that has a very strict moral code.  It doesnít hurt that Lucas is incredibly sexy and totally cool doing just about anything in this film.

            Also appearing in this movie is Danny Trejo, a former Death Match participant who becomes fast friends with Lucas, eventually becoming a part of his pit crew for the Death Race.  Iíve been keeping an eye on this actor since having seen him in Desperado.  I always knew he had more to offer in the action genre if only someone would offer him a decent role.  He has more than proven himself.  Robin Shou, of Mortal Kombat fame, appears as 14K, a well-educated tenth-generation Triad, and a Death Match and Death Race participant.  Thereís more to this character than there seems and Shou is excellent as always in his fight scenes.  Tanit Phoenix is Katrina Banks, a female convict who is a ring girl for the Death Match and eventually becomes Lucasí love interest and Death Race navigator.  The chemistry between Luke Goss and Tanit Phoenix is definitely there and the love scene between them is wholly believable.

            The soundtrack for Death Race 2 features an intense musical score and original songs from the rap and heavy metal genres.  The soundtrack serves to enhance each action scene, hiking the adrenaline up to the next level.  The cinematography is also intense, the camera darting around throughout the fights and chase scenes.

            In my opinion, the storyline which offers a much more in depth look at the way Death Race came about and the origin of Frankenstein, gives Death Race 2 an edge over the original film.  Death Race 2 does what most movie sequels fail to do - top the original movie with a better storyline, better action sequences and a much more likable main character.  Iím so glad my friend got me to watch Death Race 2 - now I have to go out and purchase a copy of my own for my collection!


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