(On DVD, December 2011) I won’t try to hide my disdain for the 2008 film that led to this follow-up, especially given how it establishes my low standards for approaching this film. Can you expect anything good from a Direct-to-Video prequel to a wholly useless remake/prequel? No way. And yet, especially by the rising standards of Direct-to-Video action movie, Death Race 2 actually isn’t too bad. Director Roel Reiné knows how to work with a small $7-million budget, and the film feels just as big as the big-budget 2008 film. Luke Goss makes for a fine stand-in to Jason Statham as an action hero, Lauren Cohan seems to be auditioning for a chunk of Milla Jovovich’s career (similitudes may not be accidental given Paul W.S. Anderson’s presence as a writer/producer), and there are surprisingly big and enjoyable roles for both Danny Trejo and Ving Rhames. The concept of the film has been stolen from the 2008 Death Race, but the dialogue has occasional moments, the story leads straight into the 2008 film, and the direction is quite a bit better than what we could expect with moving cameras, ambitious pyrotechnic stunts and audacious shots –some of them in super-slow-motion. The car chase following the bank robbery looks as if its cost quite a bit, and the film seems to have been able to re-use a bunch of material from the 2008 film. It’s certainly more colourful than its predecessor, taking away one of the main criticism I had of the earlier film. No, there certainly isn’t any more social consciousness here compared to the 1975 film. But it is exactly what it claims to be: a competently-made action film released straight to video. I even enjoyed chunks of it. The DVD extras are far more successful in focusing on the making of the film than trying to glorify it as an entry in an ongoing “franchise”; director Reiné is more interesting in discussing aspects of his approach in low-budget film-making.
(On DVD, June 2009): Carl Hiaasen’s particular brand of comic crime fiction can be tricky to swallow even on the page, so it’s not much of a shock to find out that this straight-up adaptation somehow fails to click. His usual strategy of surrounding a competent character with a bunch of idiots may be successful in a novel, but here it creates a comedy vacuum around lead Demi Moore, which becomes a problem since most scenes revolve around her. Hiaasen’s all-knowing narration can’t be used, and the uneasy mixture of comedy and violence becomes even more uneasy on-screen (even after toning down the book’s gratuitously blood-thirsty ending) Worse yet are the problems that the film creates for itself: While a film about strip-teasing is expected to show some flesh, the entire club sequences lose their charms quickly, especially when they still grind the film to a halt about three different times: it doesn’t help that Hiaasen’s twisty plot is snipped to a only a few thin threads that don’t create much suspense. Still, the film isn’t the disaster one could expect: Ving Rhames is hilarious in one of his first big-screen roles, whereas Burt Reynolds hits a late-career peak as a particularly perverted politician. The Miami locations are often well-used, and the whole thing is over before anyone has time to be really displeased.