Plot: In order to drive up profits, a corporate run prison has developed a television show where viewers can watch brutal brawls between inmates. Known as Death Match, these fights are relentless battles between violent men and often involve weapons, with all kinds of injuries and even death as a result. The show is a smash success and ratings are through the roof, though some prisoners aren’t as cooperative or popular as others, which proves to be a concern. When Carl Lucas (Luke Goss) finds himself locked up, he arrives just in time for a switch from Death Match to a new competition, one that he is tailor made to excel in. Now the inmates will battle it out on a special race track in armed, armored vehicles, with freedom as a prize to anyone who can survive and win five races. But with a host of colorful, violent rivals around him, can Lucas manage to rise to the top and claim his freedom?
Entertainment Value: This movie serves as a prequel to Death Race, showing us how the vehicle combat began and giving us a look at the original Frankenstein, who meets an unkind fate at the first movie’s start. I liked Death Race more than expected, thanks to the creative, well executed car battles, so I hoped for more of the same from this one, only to be quite disappointed. The first half of the movie is a slow, rather dull ride that has no cars or even hints of the epic road showdowns. I don’t mind fight scenes, but the ones here feel rushed and like an afterthought, just a plot device to branch from in order to set up the race sequences. But even once the race concept is opened up, Death Race 2 takes a while to get us onto the course and while passable, the race battles just aren’t as impressive this time around. The scale of the races is dialed way down here, while it is clear the overall special effects and stunts budget was also greatly reduced, as the impact and spectacle just aren’t there. I think the race scenes are the best parts of Death Race 2, but that isn’t saying much, to be honest. I didn’t have much fun here, so this one is tough to recommend.
The cast here is a step down from the previous Death Race installment, but there’s still fun performers involved. Luke Goss is brought in a generic replacement for Jason Statham, though in a different role and while he isn’t terrible, Goss leaves no impression whatsoever. He goes through the motions and covers the basics, but has no charisma or presence, so the lead here is weak. But we have Sean Bean and Ving Rhames as colorful villains, which helps things a little, even if Bean is underused. Rhames gets some fun sequences and hilariously bad lines, so I’d have to rank him as the most entertaining member of the ensemble. The cast has some interesting talent involved, so it is a shame that Goss is so central and drains so much of the focus. Danny Trejo is also around, but again, it isn’t put to full use here. The cast also includes Tanit Phoenix Copley, Robin Shou, Frederick Koehler, and Joe Vaz.