DEATH RACE 2: Is That Supposed to Be Deep?

Death Race 2 (2010) – Directed by Roel Reine – Starring Luke Goss, Lauren Cohan, Ving Rhames, Danny Trejo, Sean Bean, Deobia Oparei, Tanit Phoenix, Fred Koehler, and Robin Shou.

So this was a bit weird.

If you’ve read my reviews of DEATH RACE 2000 and DEATH RACE, you know I like car movies and the DEATH RACE films. I was vaguely aware there was a DEATH RACE 2 that was a prequel, but I never bothered to watch it. The idea of a sequel that’s actually a prequel isn’t my preferred mode of storytelling (why they can’t move the DEATH RACE story forward is beyond me – if anyone can wear the mask, it’s easy enough to just keep the ruse going) but with the release of DEATH RACE 3 (which is a sequel to the prequel but still a prequel to the original) and both 2 and 3 being available, now was the time to finally watch it.

I’m glad I did, as DEATH RACE 2 is a very satisfying better-than-B, less-than-A movie, but that’s not the weird part.

The weird part is that this film has, as one of its antagonists, an actress named Lauren Cohan. She plays September Jones, and fills the uber-bitch role that Joan Allen played in the first film. Jones is the television executive/personality that comes up with the idea of Death Race after the public grows bored with Death Match, a gladiatorial event that pitted prisoners against one another. Jones is tough, driven, lacking in morals, willing to do whatever it is she has to do to get ahead, and totally hot.

I couldn’t ever remember seeing Ms. Cohan in anything before and (barring some insignificant role) I kinda figured I’d remember it if I did.

After watching DR2, I didn’t want to watch anything else I might review until after writing this review, or watch anything that I really wanted to, you know, actually watch, so I figured it was time to give The Walking Dead another try. I was halfway through episode 1 of season 2, as I wasn’t a huge fan of season 1 and couldn’t even make it through the first full episode of season 2 without stopping it and doing something else. A show that didn’t move me and an episode that didn’t move me made for the perfect choice, I finished that episode off and the cliffhanger was good enough I let episode 2 play and wouldn’t you know who showed up before that episode was up?

Yup, Lauren Cohan.

She’s just as good as Southern farm girl there as she is as bitchy amoralist here, but I think I’d like Walking Dead a hundred times better if September Jones was walking around in that post-apocalyptic world, making TV shows about criminals fighting zombies. (Did I just make a movie? Darn straight, I did. You’re welcome, Hollywood.)

I shouldn’t like DEATH RACE 2, but I really like it quite a bit. It’s the sequel as prequel, there’s not nearly enough car racing, and the ending gives you the feeling they run out of money so they just decided to stop it wherever they were in the script, but it’s actually a really violently fun film.

The premise is that we get the story of the first Frankenstein, the guy that dies (or allegedly dies) at the beginning of DEATH RACE. Carl “Luke” Lucas (Luke “Luke” Goss) is a driver for Markus Kane (Sean Bean), a criminal kingpin who you know will die before the end of the film because people don’t hire Sean Bean if the role doesn’t call for the character getting offed. The set-up is one of those typically dumb movie set ups: Kane wants to rob a bank (because bank robberies always go off so well) and gives Luke, his right hand man, a crew of young screw-ups.

And a bright yellow Mustang.

That’s right – a criminal mastermind gives his right hand man a highly difficult mission with a highly sketchy crew and a highly improbably getaway car. They go rob the bank but the young crew shoots up the place and Luke ends up getting caught and sent to Terminal Island, where Kane puts a hit out on him, even though they’re best mates and even though Luke hasn’t talked to the Feds. Luke, for some reason, doesn’t think Kane would ever put a hit out on him because he believes in bromance over business, while Kane believes in business over bromance.

At Terminal Island, Luke falls in with Goldberg (Danny Trejo) and Rocco (Joe Vaz), as he’s been assigned to Goldberg’s work detail. (I pointed out in my review of DEATH RACE how that film borrowed quite a bit from Shawshank Redemption, and I like to think they named Danny Trejo’s character Goldberg and had him say he was the last Mexican Jew as another playful nod to Frank Darabont’s film.) They’re eventually joined by Lists (Fred Koehler), a nerdy inmate that befriends Luke.

The opening hour of the film is devoted to the bank robbery and Death Match and even though I was here for the cars more than a prison drama, it was actually pretty entertaining. DR2 moves fast and doesn’t go cheap on the action. The racing finally arrives when Jones convinces Weyland (Ving Rhames) that-

Wait. Weyland? Head of Weyland International? Is this an attempt to tie DEATH RACE into the Alien/Predator universe? Is Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender going to spend Prometheus 2 driving race cars in the LV-500?

Because that would be awesome.

There’s plenty of drivers and/or cars from the first movie here and 14K (Robin Shou) actually has more to do this time around than last time. The driving stuff is good, and DR2 adequately provides the right balance between action and story. The ending is a bit daft – after Luke gets burned real bad and everyone thinks he’s dead, Jones creates the Frankenstein persona for him. The final race starts, Luke uses his car to kill Jones, and-

That’s it.

We don’t actually see the third race, which is a curious decision. Most people, one would imagine, are watching a movie called DEATH RACE to see the Death Race, but the filmmakers decided that it was a better choice to give us an hour of prison drama and 30 minutes of racing, and that there was no better climax than watching the alive-for-five minutes Frankenstein crush a woman to death with his Mustang. Watching it, I was like, “Yeah! Now the race!” and the movie was like, “Yeah! Now roll the credits.”

Curious.

Despite all of the shortcomings and issues, DEATH RACE 2 undeniably works.

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