DEATH RACE just might be the best B+ movie franchise going right now.
DEATH RACE 3 is a sequel to DEATH RACE 2 and a prequel to DEATH RACE and it is, once again, a surprisingly good movie. I should probably stop saying that but while there’s the usual sequel degradation here (DR3 isn’t as good as DR2, which isn’t as good as DR1), the slippage is never as deep as I fear it will be, and I always end up liking these movies quite a bit.
There’s a bit of a blip here at the beginning that doesn’t work well with the end of DR2. We saw Carl “Luke” Lucas (Luke Goss) “die” near the end of that film and the birth of Frankenstein. There was a clear implication that Lists (Fred Koehler) and Katrina (Tanit Phoenix) highly suspected that Frankenstein was Lucas, but at the start of DR3, Frankenstein is being a total dick and Lists, Katrina, and Goldberg (Danny Trejo) now apparently think it’s not Luke in the suit.
Ving Rhames makes an appearance to sell Death Race to Dougray Scott, who takes Frankenstein and 14K (Robin Shou) to Africa to internationalize Death Race. It’s a great idea, both internally and externally. There’s really no reason they can’t make 3 or 6 or 20 more Death Race movies using this model, rotating a never-ending series of cars, racers, and Frankensteins. It’s very admirable that Universal and its partners have stepped up to make a quality film. There’s no actor here that’s going to break the budget, but Luke Goss is perfectly fine as a poor man’s Jason Statham, and the inclusion of actors like Trejo, Rhames, and Scott show the producers know how to balance star quality and acting talent. Toss in the returning Koehler and Phoenix, and DR3 just feels like a quality movie more than a simple franchise cash and grab.
I can’t stress enough how much that matters – by the time you hit a third movie, you’re not likely to market the film to new fans; it’s the fans that have been around that serves as your financial bread and butter and DR3 hits all the right notes for fans of the series. It’s a simple enough story, too, so it’s accessible to new fans, as well.
There’s a plot here but it’s a plot we know well by now. Evil corporate prison people hold a Death Race and take an interest in Frank. Cars blow up. People die. There are lots of explosions. There are some down moments – there’s too much time spent to Luke’s crew being mad at him for not revealing his secret to them, and there’s some really bad exchanges between Luke and Katrina over there romantic entanglements (it just reads wrong when hardened criminal Katrina breaks down in tears at the idea that her hardened criminal not-even-boyfriend slept with another woman), but all of these dings are salvaged in a really strong 10 minutes where DR3 pulls the “here’s what you didn’t see” move. What’s impressive is that in this compressed time we get a whole new way to look at the movie, which rewards you for paying attention, something a movie like DR3 doesn’t really need to do.
Director Roel Reine is back for his second DR film in a row and he does a better job this time around. Overall, the film isn’t as strong, but it’s the best ending of the entire series. Evil media guy Niles York (Scott) gets his comeuppance when Luke successfully pulls off a scam that has York end up burned and mistaken for Luke, thus becoming the new Frankenstein.
If you’ve liked the first two DEATH RACE films, there’s no reason you won’t like the latest installment. Here’s hoping it’s not the last we’ve seen of this franchise.