Can a man drive faster than a heat-seeking missile?
That particular question has already been answered in the pre-credits sequence to the 2008 Jason Statham vehicle and franchise-reboot Death Race, where, lest we forget, metal-masked anti-hero Frankenstein (or at least, his original incarnation) crossed the line in a fiery ball of doom before the opening credits had even finished.
‘What’s that loser’s story?’ was the thought that was at no point crossing anyone’s mind. The mistake Roel Reiné’s film makes is that it assumes you care enough about who that bloke was to watch what is essentially his shrugtastic origin story, taking place a few years prior to its predecessor.
The back-story about how Terminal Island went from a regular high-security prison to a high-security prison that doubles as a post-apocalyptic Nascar facility is tediously unravelled in a film that mindlessly repeats every beat of the first one, and with less flamboyance.
Filling the formidable boots of The Stath, whose absence is keenly felt, is boyband exdrummer Luke ‘Bros’ Goss as Carl ‘Luke’ Lucas (“Even his name gives me a hard-on,” blathers someone at one point), a crack Transporter-style getaway driver banged up after a bank job goes horribly wrong, then manipulated into racing for his freedom against a dystopian-US backdrop.
Death Race 2 is so bone-brained, it even manages to make Paul ‘What Script?’ Anderson’s original remake look like an overlooked cult classic by comparison.
Despite his laminated, manicured features, Goss does have a skin-crawling, Walken-esque screen presence – he carries the film through its more face-palm moments and its videogame cut-scene narrative.
But Reiné has otherwise assembled a piece of cinematic anti-matter that, though it has its guiltily enjoyable moments – particularly the Beyond Thunderdome-style gladiatorial Death Matches, which the Death Races evolved into – is inferior to the original movie in every respect.
Gone is Ian McShane’s grizzled grease monkey, replaced by Danny Trejo’s wisecracking, spanner-wielding idiot. The film’s anti-climactic racing scenes are akin to watching someone else’s drunken game of Mario Kart.
The acting is (even more) awful. The dialogue is stupid. Even the girls aren’t as hot. So it’s left to Sean ‘See Wot Yow Can Dow’ Bean to chew scenery for Yorkshire as scowly mob boss Markus Kane – whether he’s berating minions or smashing up TVs in fits of pique like some apoplectic, Sheffield-born Nicolas Cage, he provides welcome respites from all the prison-based dullness.
But that still doesn’t answer the core question here: how can a film whose nuts-and-bolts premise is badass villains driving armed cars really fast end up being so pedestrian?
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