It's important to walk into (or sit down with) a fair assumption of what you're getting from a movie. For example, if you buy a ticket to a remake of Roger Corman's Death Race 2000 that was directed by the guy who did Mortal Kombat, Event Horizon,Resident Evil, and Alien vs. Predator, you're probably not expecting Gone With the Wind. (Or even Die Hard.) But just like a person who walks into Burger King with "fast food" on his mind, a genre fan will settle in with Death Race hoping for fights, races, broad characters, mayhem, sexy ladies, and nothing even remotely brain-taxing. On those fronts, Death Race delivered.
Now imagine it's a few years later and you're greeted by the made-for-video sequel to Death Race. Once again you should readjust your wants and expectations -- which is not to say you should forgive a bad B-movie just because it's a B-movie -- and approach the flick for what it is: a low-budget knock-off commissioned by Universal Home Video to keep the revenue stream flowing. But sometimes something funny happens on the way to the eject button: despite costing less than 1/10th of its predecessor, despite a broad and fairly predictable premise, and despite the fact that the flick was tossed together quickly in anticipation of (yep) Death Race 3 ... there's absolutely some fun to be had here. True, some of the fun comes in the variety of "Oh jeez, that's some really fake-looking fighting in the prison riot scene," but much of it also comes from pure intent. And by that I mean this: this is actually an amusing little action flick. Familiar, obvious, and downright goofy in a few places, still more than diverting enough to a person on the hunt for mindless action.
Replacing Jason Statham as "a prisoner who can drive really well and is therefore enlisted to participate in a violent death race" is Luke Goss, who impressed as a villain in Hellboy 2 and seems to do a workmanlike job of picking up the sequels that Statham has no interest in. (Plus they kinda look alike.) A pair of completely peripheral characters return from the first movie, as do the plot, the execution, and a delicious insistence on casting only beautiful women as the evil villains. (Even if the playful Lauren Cohen isn't exactly a Joan Allen type.)
To its credit, the Tony Giglio screenplay manages to infuse just enough freshness to keep this stuff interesting, and regarding the script's few unexpected plot contortions, well, I enjoyed 'em. (Doesn't cost anything to make your screenplay at least a little bit clever.) Like all video action flicks, Death Race 2 boasts new colorful names to get your interest piqued: this time around we have Ving Rhames as a scheming billionaire, Danny Trejo as a prison inmate called Goldberg, and Sean Bean as a slimy crime boss. Because when your plot is warmed up from a remake of a Roger Corman flick, you really need a few splashes of color to make the stuff juicy. None of these mega-prolific actors manage to transcend the material, but they certainly do make it a bit more entertaining.
So while I have no doubt that Death Race 2 was green-lit for entirely financial reasons, I also have no doubt that the filmmakers on Death Race 2 tried to deliver something of quality to the action fans who love mindless stuff once in a while. Plus the flick takes advantage of its home video lineage and delivers an unapologetically "hard R" action-fest. It's disposable, forgettable, and silly -- but Death Race 2 is also quite a bit better than what normally passes for a "DTV sequel."
Hey, action films like Inception only come around every once in a while. We have to watch something!
DVD notes: A handful of featurettes on various aspects of the flick (casting, effects, etc.), several deleted scenes, and a solo commentary track from director Roel Reine, who seems a bit preoccupied with where stuff was shot and which lenses he used -- but he also divulges some clever tricks for the aspiring "low-budget" filmmakers out there. Lastly, the flick offers a choice between R rated and unrated; guess which one I chose.