Chances are that if you’re reading this, then you’re already a convert to the ways of the Death Race franchise, so what you’ll probably want to know is how the new film, Death Race: Inferno, holds up compared to part two. Thankfully, Inferno is just as much B-movie fun, sticking to the traditional sequel convention of being bigger, louder and considerably more insane.
While Death Race 2 made every effort to build up the new character of Carl ‘Luke’ Lucas (played by Luke Goss), while introducing his own story arc, Inferno centres almost entirely on action and makes absolutely no apologies for it. So what better way to review the film than to highlight the more gloriously bonkers moments that perpetuate the it…
Exposition through fist fights
Back in the 80s, any self-respecting action flick had a plethora of punch ups, especially at the film’s climax, but sadly it was a trend that faded away. This year The Last Stand and Bullet To The Head have already redressed the balance, with the stars of both bringing back their unique cinematic movement; after all, Arnold Schwarzenegger walloped Bennett, Richter, everyone in The Running Man and even the Predator, while Stallone had the punchfest franchise that was Rocky, as well as going head to head with the mighty Wesley Snipes in Demolition Man – and that’s just a fistful of examples.
In Death Race 3, barely ten minutes have passed before the first fist fight breaks out, which sees the heady combination of Goss, Danny Trejo, Tanit Phoenix and Robin Shou all cracking skulls at the same time in a prison scuffle. The sheer gratuitousness of it all had me chuckling, though through sheer audacity, Inferno chooses to randomly insert plot exposition and purpose into the fight. Where most films would choose to emphasise the dramatic twists and turns with dialogue, Death Race does it with fists and feet.
The fight scene may be a little too quick on the edits, but it hardly matters because another ten minutes later, and it’s time for…
If you ever thought that the chicks in chains genre was a relic of the past and that the outdated and dubiously voyeuristic spectacle of women attacking each other had run its course, then think again. In Death Race 2, the majority of the action involved hand to hand combat between male inmates, with weapon-releasing pressure pads to spice things up. In Inferno that concept remains, only this time… it involves women.
Though my cinematic nemesis Paul WS Anderson retains a story contributing credit, the difference between this and most of his directorial efforts is that there are no pretensions to aspire to anything above B-grade action. Anderson consistently tries to emulate his hero James Cameron by attempting to write roles for strong female leads, but always misses the point by leering over them in scant or skin tight clothing, but there are no such pretentions here.
Here, the all female combatants have at each other with gusto, then when the weapons are released things get hysterically over the top as heads are cleaved and faces spiked. If that wasn’t exploitational enough, some of the women are said to be serial killer twins, another an IRA terrorist – and if that doesn’t tell you all you need to know, then read on.
A man versus missile chase scene
The use of parkour in movies has increased over the years, featuring in everything from independent movies such as District 13 and hoodie horror F to mainstream blockbusters Casino Royale and The Incredible Hulk, but ask yourself this – have you ever seen a man hurtle over fences, walls and rooftops while being pursued by a rocket? Well, in DR3 you’ll get the chance, as an entire chase scene plays out between a man and one of the smartest rockets I’ve ever witnessed. The missile even chases him through an occupied shack with near perfect comedy timing. Eat your heart out Point Break.
Last seen on the big screen in the rather fantastic My Week With Marilyn, Scott is back to the scenery devastating villainy of Mission: Impossible II in DR3, spitting out lines with the same barely concealed rage that originally landed him the role of Wolverine in Bryan Singer’s X-Men, before filming on M:I2 overran. In Inferno he shouts and hisses, but his highlight is the rather frightening shot of him sticking his tongue out and then forcing it into a woman’s mouth. The mind boggles as to whether that was in the script or not.
Tanit Phoenix’s cleavage
We’re not normally prone to draw attention to such things on Den of Geek, such are our chivalrous, pipe smoking ways, but my word if it isn’t a character in itself. At points I was concerned for Phoenix’s surrounding actors, all of whom seemed oblivious to the worry that at some point her chest might explode and kill them all.
Irresponsibly, Ms Phoenix seems to do approximately nothing to help the situation, wearing only her signature crimson vest for the most part, which provides little shielding beyond a few cubic centimetres of cloth. Worse still, her costumier only provides her with racing leathers one size too small, as the front just doesn’t seem to zip all the way up, which is a mean and fairly dangerous practical joke.
Still, if all this seems a little one sided, there’s plenty of naked Trejo to spare, which once seen, cannot be unseen (the BBFC make no mention of this on the certification though, so be warned).
If there’s one area where the film genuinely excels, it’s in the car-on-car violence, which is lucky, as this time around it dominates around 80 per cent of the run time. There’s a certain beauty to the way some of the cars are filmed in the desert, and unlike the brawls, the camera is given a little more time to rest on the action. Bearing in mind that Inferno is a low budget production and that shooting car chases can be incredibly time consuming and difficult, I was amazed exactly how much director Roel Reiné was able to squeeze in.
Where the Statham starring Death Race was confined to the prison race track, DR3 is opened up to sandy dunes, highways and a populated civilian town, making the competition feel much broader in scope and scale. The stunt drivers deserve particular credit as the non-stop carnage wracks up an incredible number of exploding vehicles, as cars leap through flaming debris and all manner of destruction ensues, which really does elevate the film above its budgetary constraints.
Of course, there’s also the requisite amount of splatter to match the devastation, the consequence of drivers attempting to flee their rides and make it on foot, which never seems to work out well.
It’s more fun than Drive
There, I said it. Drive featured hardly any driving and only a few people being viciously beaten to death. Death Race: Inferno tops that on every count.
Death Race 3: Inferno is out on DVD and Blu-ray now in the UK.
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