Death Race 2 is not a sequel as the title would suggest but instead is a prequel to 2008 film. Having gone straight-to-DVD expectations are understandably lowered but the films brings in some credible actors with a concept that still works. Unfortunately it doesn’t rise above just being better than the typical non-theatrical release.
Carl Lucas is at the center of Death Race 2, as he is sent to “Terminal Island” after a botched bank robbery and ensuing car chase leads to his capture. Not only does he have to survive a prison system that has become a for-profit enterprise but his former boss, crime kingpin Markus Kane, has put a bounty on his head to prevent him from potentially turning state’s witness.
An ambitious TV producer has been running “Death Match”, a show pitting two inmates against each other in a fight to submission or death. Unfortunately for her ratings have been falling which forces her to come up with a new concept, that being the “Death Race”.
As a prequel the film ties into the original pretty well. Lucas becomes ‘Frankenstein’ who appears briefly in the original before meeting his demise. There are also a few callbacks to the first movie including the introduction of the warden.
The cast is surprisingly strong with names such as Sean Bean, Ving Rhames, and Danny Trejo involved. They all do a decent job and provide some necessary credibility. I also liked Lauren Cohan as the unabashedly promiscuous producer. Luke Goss fills the lead role and isn’t bad but he certainly is no Jason Statham. The one performance that really stood out negatively was Tanit Phoenix who looked great but was often cringe-worthy in her delivery as a love interest/racing partner for Lucas.
While Death Race 2 is still action-packed it was devoid of any emotion. I would put that largely on Goss, who displayed none of the charisma necessary to get the audience to buy into his fate. In general there wasn’t much reason to invest in any of the characters whether they be the good guys or bad guys. Without that rooting interest for someone to succeed or meet their end it is difficult to feel like the overall experience was ultimately worthwhile.
The original Death Race was not a ‘great’ movie but it was a damn entertaining one. Death Race 2 delivers far better production values than would be expected out of a straight-to-DVD film. It just isn’t as much fun as one would hope.