Death Race 3: Inferno

tn_deathrace3DEATH RACE 3 is of course the sequel to the DTV prequel to Paul W.S. Anderson’s theatrical sort-of remake of Paul Bartel and Roger Corman’s DEATH RACE 2000. To gage my response you will need to see my scorecard: I consider DEATH RACE 2000 a classic, DEATH RACE a surprisingly solid b-movie, DEATH RACE 2 a pretty enjoyable DTV prequel to that type of movie. And part 3 rates about the same as part 2.

It’s all the same people: Luke Goss (BLADE II, HELLBOY 2) returns as the pre-Statham Frankenstein, masked hero of the newly invented car racing to-the-death prison circuit. Tanit Phoenix is still his sexy girl navigator, Danny Trejo is still his mechanic, Ving Rhames still Weyland, the warden/CEO of Terminal Island, and from the movie we have Fred Koehler as the somewhat autistic Lists and Robin “Liu Kang” Shou in his traditional P.W.S. Anderson supporting player role as fellow racer 14K. Part 2’s director Roel Reine (of PISTOL WHIPPED and THE MARINE 2 fame) and writer Tony Giglio (story by Anderson) also return.

So what changes? Well, now that Weyland has invented Death Racing and turned it into a pay-per-view empire the even-greedier people want in on the action. Miles York (Dougray Scott) and his York Global Industries buy out Weyland and a bunch of prisons around the world so they can franchise the sport. For a minute it seems like they’re gonna turn part 2’s villain into a victim, like some lovable mom and pop business is being bought out by The Man, but they don’t quite go that far.

York’s big plan is to ship Frankenstein and his team to a prison in Cape Town, South Africa to compete in a desert race. This plays like a switch in location, but of course part 2 was already filmed in Cape Town. So it’s like if Jackie Chan’s character from RUMBLE IN THE BRONX left New York to visit an uncle in Vancouver.

mp_deathrace3I pretty much forgot everything that happened in part 2 until part 3 spent its first 20 minutes trying to undo all of it. That one seemed to tell the origin of the David-Carradine-voiced Frankenstein Statham replaced in DEATH RACE. Goss’s character Carl “Luke” Lucas started as a racer, got all burned up like Darkman, wore the mask, nobody knew he was alive or that he was Frankenstein. Everything set up to lead right into DEATH RACE.

Except then they decided they wanted more movies, so they changed everything back. In this one his face is only partly burnt (pretty good makeup job, actually) and they explain that Weyland “fixed” his monster face because the burns got infected and he would’ve died. Then his mask gets knocked off in front of his friends and various South African prisoners, so it’s not a secret identity anymore and everybody gets mad at him for making them think he was dead. It’s pretty ridiculous to have to undo everything they did in the last one, but it’s also kinda cool the way it sets up a possibility that this might not actually be the same Frankenstein Statham replaces, there could be others in between.

As much of an asshole as Weyland was, York is worse. The fans know that Frankenstein will be freed if he wins one more race, but he doesn’t intend to honor that. Instead he tells him to lose the race or be killed and replaced behind the mask. There’s no escaping, either, because the racers all have trackers implanted in their necks and if they go off course they’ll be blown up by missiles. Of course this leads to most of the deaths in the movie (maybe the best being the guy who makes a run for it on foot in a South African township).

There are some new wrinkles to the sport to keep both the fictional PPV audience and the actual DTV audience interested. The new navigators are chosen in a spin-off competition show called Navigator Wars, where all these female convicts who look like models (including “identical twin serial killers”) have a battle royale to the death. Like in Death Race there are hotspots they can activate to get weapons like battle axes and stuff. Luckily Frankenstein’s girl Katrina Banks gets the blowtorch.

They also finally get some of the DEATH RACE 2000 spirit going by involving some civilian pedestrians in the action. They still don’t get points for running people over, but there are warlords that shoot at them for no reason and, my favorite, mobs of protesters with signs saying “DEATH RACE GO HOME!” and stuff like that. They’re so opposed to this violent sport that when Nero (Eugen Khumbanyiwa) and his navigator crash, they pull him out of the wreckage, beat him to death and drag his corpse through the streets.

The narrator of the Death Race broadcasts is back too. He explains some of the action and gives warnings like “Action not to be duplicated.” My favorite is “Any rebroadcast or unauthorized use is punishable by death, or life in prison if under the age of 15.”

I can’t claim the action is great, and when there’s some fighting in the prison it’s lots of quick edits, disappointing coming from the director of THE MARINE 2 which had some good action and particularly a great long take fight sequence. On the other hand there’s alot of fun stuff because in the fine tradition of the series it’s a movie full of cars flipping, crashing and exploding, and I didn’t notice much of it being digital. One stand out stunt is a slo-mo shot of a car driving off a cliff with two passengers jumping out (alot like the one in FAST FIVE, actually, but give these guys credit for doing it on a DTV budget).

And like all good DTV there are a bunch of funny parts and interesting touches. A death racer with a blowtorch encounters some locals having a barbecue (it fits the tone better than the jetpack/hamburger scene in MINORITY REPORT). Trejo’s character has a real good looking groupie (Yrsa Daley-Ward I think?) who, you know, sharpens his machete or whatever. There’s a reference to the singer Elliot Smith, which is weird, but it’s on a list of “famous stabbing victims”. History’s first female death racer Olga Braun gets a good scene or two. And the movie benefits greatly from a big ending twist where everything comes together in a partly expected, partly clever, mostly ludicrous way. It left me immediately hoping they would do a part 4 so we could see what the hell they do with that.

Movie’s biggest sin: one of the racers yells “Yippee Ki-Yay Motherfucker!” I don’t know why. Maybe to prove that it’s the unrated version?

This is a dumb movie but I think there is something mildy progressive in it: it depicts black South Africans as regular people, not just solemn characters in an apartheid drama. I’m sure there are other examples of this but off the top of my head I can’t think of a Hollywood movie that does it. Here we have a sexy TV producer/villainess (Hlubi Mboya), prison guards, nurses, plus various racers and civilian extras. Okay, most of them are bad guys, but not all of them, like the white South Africans.

I’m not saying this is next level DTV shit, but not too many years ago it would’ve seemed like one of the best of its type. It’s more like a great syndicated action show than a great movie, but I’d keep watching these. The above-averageness gauntlet has been thrown down. Your move, SCORPION KING prequel sequels.

This entry was posted on Thursday, January 24th, 2013 at 2:13 am and is filed under Action, Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

21 Responses to “Death Race 3: Inferno”

  1. Sweet. I will certainly check this out as I thought that Part 2 was pretty great.

  2. Safe house with Denzel also shows South Africans as regular people. I lived in Cape Town for a while so its weird that all these Hollywood action movies are using the location and local actors. Sometimes it takes me out of the movie, recognizing some local celebrity.

    I liked the death race 2 but I am shocked they managed to keep the original cast together. Is that a first for DTV sequel to DTV sequel to a remake?

    Luke Goss needs to do a DTV prequel to his character in Hellboy 2.

  3. I’m glad this is getting good reviews. I really dug the previous 2 DR films: the first one is something PWS Anderson was actually a good fit for, and part 2 turned out to be a pleasant surprise.

    And yeah, an Elliot Smith reference? Mighty odd.

  4. pheteesh: I have the same problem with films shot in Toronto but set elsewhere. That diner that Pastyface McYuppie visits with his wife in COSMOPOLIS is where you’ll find me almost every weekend (the rat-protesters were somewhat fictionalized). I kept looking over the actors’ shoulders trying to see if my buddies were in a corner booth, or if the cute waitress was working.

  5. If WWE took a cue from the “pre Death Race event” they could make their Divas matches so much more interesting

  6. This film is good dumb fun. Vern I agree that these DEATH RACE DTV films feel like installments of a TV show. They are like something Cinemax would make if it produced original programing the way HBO does.

  7. Cape Town’s on fire these days. We just shot the last leg of Mad Max: Fury Road here in the Cape Town Film Studios. Same place they made Dredd and are now starting on Black Sails, a Michael Bay produced TV series about pirates and shit. I think Neil Marshall is directing the first episode (he’s been here before with Doomsday).

    Speaking of South Africa and movies, did you guys hear about David R. Ellis passing away in his hotel room in Joburg? Weird, man. He was gonna direct a movie called Kite (some anime remake). Some of my friends were gonna work on it, but I have no idea what’s gonna happen now. I kinda liked his shitty horror movies.

    Anyway, Death Race. I wonder how long it will be until Paul W.S. Anderson finally makes the transition to DTV (or maybe TV) as a director. I’m guessing it won’t be any time soon, since those Resident Evil movies just won’t stop making money. I read a column the other day where this guy wrote that Event Horizon was his last good film. And I thought to myself “What’s this guy talking about? Soldier is obviously his best movie. It’s got a badass space marine Kurt Russell kicking ass all over the place. Sure, when it comes to Anderson the pickings are rather slim, but I still think Soldier is a winner.

    Three Musketeers on the other hand…

  8. I always thought SOLDIER was a very bad movie with a very good lead performance. The HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN of its day.

  9. (THE MARINE 2 was OK, but not as good as the REAL sequel to THE MARINE: 12 ROUNDS.)

  10. When it comes to DTV directors, Roel Reine is one of those guys that I simply can’t get excited about. I didn’t think The Marine 2 was in any way better than the first Marine, and I feel the same way about Death Race 2. Didn’t like Pistol Whipped either (which doesn’t say much, I guess, since I don’t really like any DTV Seagal movies).

    I just think the guy’s quite generic, but somehow gets all the “big budget” projects. He’s kinda like the Stephen Sommers of DTV.

  11. I plan to pick this up tomorrow. I like the “Death Race” films and I think Paul W.S. Anderson is a solid B-movie filmmaker, I never got so much flack and hate mail than when I compared him to John Carpenter in my moviezonemagazine.com review of the latest “Resident Evil” flick. As far as DTV goes this is a good franchise and Roel Reine is a pretty good technician, I liked “Pistol Whipped”, I think it’s one of Seagal’s best DTV flicks. I also liked “The Marine 2”, it’s a hell of a lot better than the stupid would-be campy theatrical original, his “Scorpion King 3 is a hilarious guilty pleasure in the vein of the under appreciated “Red Sonja”.

  12. “They’re so opposed to this violent sport that when Nero (Eugen Khumbanyiwa) and his navigator crash, they pull him out of the wreckage, beat him to death and drag his corpse through the streets.”

    Um. Okay. Heavy-handed commentary on extremist protestors and their fucked-up logic, I take it.

    I’ll watch this soon, I bet. Husband and I loved the Death Race movies, although I’ve always thought Joan Allen was the best thing about the first one. Yeah, she was chewing scenery, but she was doing it like an Oscar nominee should!

  13. ANoniMouse: Well, she IS the one who shits on the sidewalk.

  14. Actually, the line is “Fuck with me and we’ll see who shits on the sidewalk.” So it was unclear who shits on the sidewalk, because we didn’t really get to see the aftermath of the her-with-fucking. Honestly, they need to quit it with these prequels so they can answer the question of who actually ended up shitting on the sidewalk. Because the people deserve to know.

  15. You know, I always assumed Joan Allen was asserting her dominance in that line, squatting down on the pavement and marking her territory, presumably metaphorically. It could also be interpreted the other way, as in the loser of the confrontation is left destitute, homeless and having no recourse but to poop on the side of the road. Clearly DEATH RACE is a movie that works on multiple levels.

  16. Where’s the Parker review? I’ve got to know the end result.

  17. I kind of dug the first DTV prequel, so I’ll probably catch this in the next few days. I was a little confused as to how they could come up with a sequel after the ending of the prequel, but this review cleared that up a little. I give them credit for at least attempting to show how Frankenstein’s face got back to normal. The filmmakers at least care a little about continuity. Besides, if Blade 2 can revive Whistler and still kick ass, then Death Race 3 can give Frankenstein his face back.

  18. Yeah, with all the prequelitis going around, the Death Race continuity can be a real bitch to figure out. The Statham remake, Death Race, is chronologically speaking the third movie in the series. Death Race 2 is the first one, and Death Race 3 is the middle movie.

    IOW, Death Race 2 -> Death Race 3 -> Death Race

    I really like this little DTV series. Hot chicks, crazy cars, plentiful action, actors willing to chew scenery en masse, and plot twists that are both silly and awesome. I hope they start up another trilogy of Death Race flicks; it’s a pretty open-ended franchise and I’d like to see what becomes of 14K and Lists.

  19. I just read this review. I love every word! Thanks! We’re hoping to make DEATH RACE 4 soon.

  20. Great! I can’t wait to see how you continue from that ending.

  21. I finally got around to watching Death Race 3. I have to say, its been quite a while since I saw Death Race 2 (and I did that based on Vern’s recommendation) but I remember enjoying it a fair bit. But this one was total dogshit and pretty much unwatchable due to the terrible editing. Which is a shame, because it looks great and is a really fun movie (though very stupid with a laughably bad “twist” ending). I was surprised to see it was the same director as #2 because I don’t remember noticing this issue during that one. I don’t think there was more than 3 seconds of movie without a cut (the only exception being a longer take of a naked woman in a shower). I mean, there was a scene of Frank just walking down a hallway and they did about 7 or 8 cuts in 5 seconds. It was really unbearable, especially during the racing scenes. They had some fun ideas but they were all totally ruined by the editing. If it’s the same people behind Death Race 4 I am not going to bother watching.

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