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Death Race 2(2010)
Newly arrived at Terminal Island, a prison for the convicted criminals who are beyond rehabilitation, Carl "Luke" Lucas must prove his mettle in a race to the death.
For more about Death Race 2 and the Death Race 2 Blu-ray release, see Death Race 2 Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on December 30, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Director: Roel Reiné
Writers: Paul W.S. Anderson, Tony Giglio (I)
Starring: Luke Goss, Lauren Cohan, Sean Bean, Ving Rhames, Danny Trejo, Frederick Koehler
» See full cast & crew
Death Race 2 Blu-ray Review
It could be better, sure. But it could be a whole lot worse...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, December 30, 2010
Did anyone really need to know who Frankenstein was before he donned an iron mask, before he helped put triple-max prison Terminal Island on the television map, before he died in the early minutes of Death Race? No, but with Jason Statham politely declining to star in Death Race 2, producer Paul W.S. Anderson and his annointed sequel filmmakers were left with little choice but to give fans a prequel. But wait... without Joan Allen, how could a prequel work? Didn't her character create and nurture Death Race from its inception? Eh, a clever line of dialogue here, some plot hole-patching historical revisionism there, and voilà! A viable prequel with new stars, a new storyline and even a few returning bit players from Anderson's original. Not too shabby.
So who was Frankenstein before he became a crispy corpse? Apparently, Carl Lucas (Hellboy II baddie Luke Goss), a skilled getaway driver with a penchant for planning successful large-scale bank heists. But when a botched robbery lands him in the slammer -- a development that doesn't sit well with his boss, temperamental crime lord Markus Kane (Sean Bean) -- Lucas finds himself battling for his life on Death Match, a popular pay-per-view gladiator television show broadcast from the prison. Death Match? What about Death Race? Patience, dear readers. Once ratings for Death Match begin to fall, former Miss Universe and sadistic TV producer September Jones (Lauren Cohan) concocts Death Race, a surefire hit that wins over a network CEO (Ving Rhames). With wealth and riches flashing in her eyes, Jones makes Lucas one of her first racers and gives him his pick of crew members. He chooses frontman Goldberg (Danny Trejo), mechanic Rocco (Joe Vaz) and compulsive analyst Lists (Frederick Koehler) and, in true Death Race fashion, earns himself a female navigator named Katrina (South African supermodel Tanit Phoenix).
Working with a tenth of Anderson's Death Race budget, Reine does a fine job making Death Race 2 look like a far more expensive film than it is. Unfortunately, his accomplishments are often overshadowed by a number of related issues. Promising as its cast may be, Goss is decent, but comes across as a bit of a Statham stand-in; Phoenix is serviceable, but isn't a very convincing track partner, female inmate or love interest; Bean and Rhames elevate the film, but are wasted in a handful of ham-fisted scenes; Trejo phones in a strangely neutered performance (made all the more glaring by his work in Machete); and Cohan nearly wrecks the entire film with a clumsy, wince-inducing turn as the film's chief antagonist. Intriguing as Death Race's origins are, a gladiator arena with an old school bus and a pile of axes isn't the most memorable set piece. And as thrilling as the story could be, screenwriter Tony Giglio's gristly dialogue will raise more than a few eyebrows, his characters' arcs are practically non-existent (Lucas's guilt over killing a bank guard is introduced early on and then inexplicably neglected for the remainder of the film), contrivances and conveniences abound, and plot holes are... wait for it... big enough to drive a Dreadnaught through. (Sorry, couldn't resist.) Even the races lack a bit of speed and soul on occasion. Chalk it up to Reine's budgetary constraints, but when the main draw of an uber-violent flick like Death Race 2 fails to put you on the edge of your seat at every turn, everything else tends to come screeching to a halt.
All that being said, there's a certain B-movie charm bubbling just beneath the surface of Reine's prequel; a drive and momentum that suggests the Dutch filmmaker gets the appeal of Anderson's Death Race and has the creative and technical know-how to replicate it, even on a shoestring and a dime. (If nothing else, his Terminal Island followup honors its predecessor far more than his maligned Lost Boys: The Tribe honored the original Lost Boys.) His enthusiasm seeps into every scrap of metal in Death Race 2's engine and his love of the material keeps the fun front and center in what amounts to a Big Dumb Fun actioner. He blankets the screen with countless slow-motion splosions -- not explosions, mind you, but splosions, those unnecessary and unintentionally hilarious balls of exaggerated flame that adorn every B-level actioner worth its salt -- tosses in some martial arts artistry for no reason, manages to throw a fresh-out-of-the-factory Shelby in the same film as a rough-n-battle-ready, dual minigunned doppelgänger, slops gallons of blood across the track, flips dozens of cars, stages a variety of prison riots, bathes the whole shebang in f-bombs and gore, and has an absolute blast doing it, regardless of whether each decision adheres to rhyme or reason. And while his cast isn't brimming with A-listers (or many B-listers for that matter), most of the actors he's assembled at least have some degree of talent; enough to ensure Death Race 2 isn't the direct-to-video nightmare it could have been.
Long story short, if you have yet to get your fill of Death Race, are capable of shrugging off a few hit-or-miss performances, and don't mind overlooking the usual shortcuts directors are forced to make with direct-to-video sequels, Death Race 2 is worth a spin. A properly budgeted, full throttle sequel would have been more ideal, but I suppose this'll have to do for now.
Death Race 2 Blu-ray, Video Quality
Just as Reine managed to mask many of his film's budgetary constraints, Universal manages to mask many of the prequel's direct-to-video limitations, granting Death Race 2 a fast and furious 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that almost, almost looks as good as its predecessor. Reine's grim grease-monkey palette is bleak, barren and, at-times, monochromatic, but bold spalshes of red, retina-searing explosions and the yellow hull of a shiny new Shelby punch through the otherwise grisly proceedings. Primaries sizzle, skintones are relatively convincing and black levels are fairly well-resolved, at least on the whole. Delineation isn't exactly revealing (particularly when night falls on Terminal Island), muted shadows sully many a shot, noise and crush trail close behind, and the hyper-bright digital-video sheen of Reine's photography pancakes several scenes. Even so, detail is quite impressive. Edges are sharp and serrated (without much ringing to speak of), fine textures are crisp and unflinching, and closeups, both long and midrange, are immaculate. (After watching Machete, Rodriguez's Mariachi trilogy and Death Race 2, I'm now intimately familiar with the recesses of Danny Trejo's craggly mug). The studio's encoding efforts are commendable as well. While a few negligible instances of artifacting and banding appear, outright distractions are rare. All in all, Death Racers willing to overlook the sequel's less-than-stunning production values will declare their high definition dollar well spent.
Death Race 2 Blu-ray, Audio Quality
"Well, it's certainly loud." So chirped my wife shortly after Universal's sinewy DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track kicked into gear. Before Lucas even finds himself incarcerated on Terminal Island, a botched bank robbery, a few cracked jaws, a chaotic shootout and a citywide car chase rip through every channel. By the time our thankless antihero is behind bars, swooping helicopters, prison riots, gladiator battles, roaring flame throwers, testosterone fueled warehouses, slow-mo explosions, bloodthirsty crowds and, of course, high-octane racers do everything they possibly can to wake the kids and upset the neighbors. But while the lossless track is certainly loud, it lacks balance and finesse. The rear speakers go for the jugular, pumping the soundfield full of directional effects, rending metal and sprawling flames. Strangely enough though, the rear soundscape is occasionally more aggressive than the front, making Death Race 2 one of the first rear-heavy mixes I've encountered. Once a race is underway, the normally ripped and rowdy LFE channel takes a back seat to the ensuing chaos as the environment supersedes the action. Thankfully, it amounts to an oddity rather than a deal breaker. Dialogue is always crisp, clear and neatly prioritized, low-end output flexes enough muscle to intimidate anyone in the vicinity, dynamics pack serious heat, pans are slick and smooth, and the soundfield is altogether encompassing. Much like the film it accompanies, whatever the mix lacks in artistry it makes up for with power and persistence. I have a feeling anyone who has a blast with Death Race 2 will have a blast with Universal's lossless fireworks as well.
Death Race 2 Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Nothing flashy here. Just six simple but solid special features fans of the film will appreciate. Reine's commentary is an exceedingly extensive one, a trio of EPKs fill in whatever gaps remain, and a strong selection of deleted scenes add further value to Death Race 2's Blu-ray release.
Death Race 2 Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
As direct-to-video sequels/prequels go, Death Race 2 is a quasi-decent followup to one of 2008's most entertaining guilty pleasures. Whenever its casting, performances and script fall short, its suitably talented director prevents the film from outright crashing and burning. Just be warned: a healthy affection for Anderson's Death Race is required. Not so of Universal's Blu-ray release. Regardless of how you feel about the film itself, it's tough to deny the film's video transfer is an excellent one (particularly for a DTV affair), its DTS-HD Master Audio track is strong and satisfying, and its special features are actually worth digging through. Death Race 2 doesn't roar past its predecessor, nor does it even come close. But it's a competent prequel for the most part that leaves the door wide open for Death Race 3.
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Death Race 2 Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Death Race 2 Blu-ray Clips and Game - January 18, 2011
To promote the release of Death Race 2, which comes out today, Universal Studios Home Entertainment has made available a slew of video clips from the movie, its bonus features and its women, as well as a Facebook-linked racing game.
• Death Race 2 Announced on Blu-ray - October 6, 2010
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has announced Death Race 2 for Blu-ray release on January 18, 2011, in a BD/DVD/Digital Copy combo pack including the unrated and rated versions of this direct-to-video prequel to the 2008 action thriller Death Race. Danny Trejo, ...
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