I liked Death Race 3 about as much as I enjoyed Death Race 2, and I have two theories on why stuff like this happens to an intelligent person who can plainly recognize sloppy, low-budget filmmaking when he sees it:
A. When a genre movie is produced directly for the video market, a seasoned viewer cannot help but lower their expectations a little. This makes them a little happier because they spent less money, and it may make them a little more charitable towards low-budget components like wooden acting, cheap sets, or chintzy special effects.
B. When a group of filmmakers are given a limited budget, relatively free rein, and a goal to make a simplistically entertaining action sequel ... sometimes fun things can happen.
That's not to imply that Death Race 3 ever comes close to transcending its "made for DVD" lineage, but to say that, within the realm of what it's shooting for, Death Race 3 is as much of a success as its two predecessors. In other words: if you like this sort of junk, here's a fun piece of that sort of junk.
Continuity helps, even in goofy franchises like Death Race, so fans will be pleased to note that director Roel Reine is back, as is screenwriter Tony Giglio, producing partners Jeremy Bolt and Paul W.S. Anderson, and the whole dang cast of crazy car-crashin' caricatures. Death Race 3 is willfully mindless, frequently tasteless, and occasionally insipid, but there's little denying that it's another scrappy little "DTV" action flick that certainly delivers enough maniacal mayhem to warrant a three-dollar weekend rental.
Picking up right where Death Race 2 left off, we learn that the heroic Luke (Luke Goss) has now assumed the mantle of "Frankenstein," although his team of pals don't know the truth. Those pals are Lists (the nerd), Goldberg (the Trejo), and Katrina (the gorgeous, busty navigatress who accompanies "Frank" on all of his death races). But instead of just another series of carnage-laden death races on "Terminal Island" high security prison island (facility, inc.), the series is taking us to... Africa! What? A three-day mega-death race across the African plains? Complete with missiles and rockets and furious warlords? Oh my.
And I didn't even mention the all-babe battle royale super-brawl in which the aspiring navigatresses fight to the death for a chance to race to the death.
In between all the amusingly childish chases, scrapes, and explosions we're treated to a familiar yet juicy subplot about the new owner of Death Race (Dougray Scott) screwing over the old owner (Ving Rhames), but then it's back to more testosterone-y lunacy, with only a very slight gesture towards the scant-yet-still evident satirical barbs that ran throughout Anderson's first Death Race flick.
Basically we're a long way from Roger Corman's 1975 cult favorite Death Race 2000, but there's still a gleeful, perhaps infantile, affection for colorful carnage that somehow connects all four of these unapologetically broad and campy action flicks. On a technical level, several of the set pieces are enjoyably pulpy and impactful; the score adds a nice dash of grizzled attitude; and overall the tone feels like the unkempt offspring of Lock Up, Mad Max, and The Cannonball Run. Only not as good as those movies.
Cheap, choppy, and almost shamelessly by-the-numbers, Death Race 3 earns points for the same reason its predecessor did: it's quick, slick, enjoyably empty-headed, just energetic enough to smash through the finish line, and, as a bonus, offers a final plot contortion that has to be seen to be believed. Crazy stuff, but not lazy. There's a big difference.