The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Death Race 2 (2010)

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I didn't know what to expect with this movie going in. It had some great names, including DTVC favorites Danny Trejo and Ving Rhames, but you just never know nowadays. A great idea for a film can be snatched from you, right before your very eyes, with a series of blinding jumpcuts, bad camera effects, and a droning cookie-cutter modern rock soundtrack. I'm just sayin'...

Death Race 2 is a prequel to the original. Ving Rhames runs a corporation that owns prisons and TV channels, and a woman working for the latter decides he can make money by combining the latter with the former in the form of Death Matches. They do all right to start, but not good enough, so the lady ups the ante to Death Races. Meanwhile, Luke Goss is a wheelman who kills a cop in a bank robbery, and is sent to Ving's prison. Sean Bean wants him killed for fear he'll testify against him, but the lady wants him to Death Race for her first. Quite the dilemma.

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So, what I could see of the film, I thought wasn't bad. Yes, it had the inane modern rock soundtrack-- they couldn't even use the Ram Jam's version of "Black Betty", they had to modern rock cover that too-- but Ving Rhames was great, and Danny Trejo, though playing kind of a cornball character, wasn't bad either. I even didn't mind Luke Goss. What killed me, and ruined the film, was the camera effects. I think Lee over at Straight-to-DVD-Heaven coined the term "avid farts", and this movie did it to death. One millisecond I'm seeing a guy go to throw a punch, then I see his back, then I see a chainlink fence, then I see stock footage of a guy being shot in the stomach with a cannon ball, then I see Max Headroom. Dude, seriously, lay off the Red Bull. Then there were the 360 crane shots. Who are you, Ernest Haller, trying to win an Oscar for cinematography? Cut the shit, you're making me dizzy. Then there was the constant slo-mo, acting as if this was the first movie to ever have a car chase, or the first movie to ever blow up a car. It was beyond excessive, it was almost insulting, as if we viewers are so dumb that we can only appreciate an exploding car if it's done in super slo-mo.

The director, Roel Reiné, has directed two films that I've seen, one, Pistol Whipped, which I enjoyed, and another, The Marine 2, which I didn't like. In neither case, though, did he go the MTV/avid farts route. Pistol Whipped was an especially great film, so to see this one turn out like Death Race 2: The Punchfighting was a disappointment. This was such a bad punchfighting film, in fact, that I was wondering where Tony Schiena and Hector Echevarria were. I don't know what this movie was, but had it been a little more straightforward and less gimmicky, I think I would've enjoyed it. I couldn't help thinking, while watching it, about a PM Entertainment film called The Sweeper with C. Thomas Howell, which I reviewed about 18 months ago. Just a good bad action movie. The people making this have a lot to learn from something like that. Stop thinking you're cooler than the 90s, because you're not-- not even close.

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Luke Goss always has this squinty scowl on his face, like he's smelling something funny. The way the film handled his character finally getting scarred was interesting for a few reasons. First, he's badly burned while trapped in a flaming car. Before that, every car exploded on impact, but this one, for some reason (plot convenience theater), slowly immolated. Second, I thought in the previous film, his face was scarred from so many accidents, and I almost think it would've been cooler that way, say if he ends the film and has a big gash on his cheek, like it's just the start of things to come; though I do like doing it the way they did it too, especially so they could bring the mask into it. Finally, I don't know why they showed his face at all. By showing his face all burned and scarred, it ruined the impact of his putting the mask on. I know us Americans have to see everything, but sometimes less is more. What's the point of putting the mask on if you already have us used to seeing his burned face? That'd be like deciding three movies in to give Freddy a mask in Nightmare on Elm Street. Give us some mystery, leave something to our imagination.

I did like Ving Rhames, as I mentioned above. He has a great line, when he's telling Luke Goss that this his prison is like Ancient Rome. Goss asks him "then who are you?" "I'm Caesar." Yes you are. His character was betrayed by the bad script in something I'll be getting into next, when the woman who sets up Death Race is killed by Goss, he sees it on TV and says "That's a dumb bitch." It was crass and ignorant and totally not what Rhames's character had been throughout the movie. I guess it just showed that the people involved with this movie didn't have the capacity to understand how cool Rhames is.

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This was supposed to be an applause scene, where Goss runs over the woman who started the Death Race, but it was a very dangerous message. Violence against women is never a good look, and I know she wasn't a nice person, but really all she did was jump in with the corporate sharks and become one of them too. No one else had a problem with using the prisoners for these twisted games, yet it's only the "dumb bitch", as Rhames so eloquently put it, who gets it? There were also messages about her using her body and having sex with powerful men to get by in life, as if the only way a woman can make it in the business world is on her back. The whole thing was just really chauvinistic, ignorant, and in poor taste. I know I shouldn't expect women's lib from a DTV action film, but maybe something a little less irresponsible. More 2010, and less 1950, is that too much to ask?

This had some potential, and there was some good action, it's just more often than not, that action was overly edited into something that was hard to focus on. I'm worried that this is the future of the action film, that I'll be doomed to gimmicky camera affects and cinematography that makes me sea sick, all set to a soundtrack of a bunch of Disturbed and Linkin Park wannabes. Lord help me!

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1500491/

15 comments:

  1. I just watched this and had similar thoughts. The UFC stuff was pretty weak (although the flamethrower vs. flamethrower duel had potential) but the movie perked up once the racing started. However, it ran out of gas quickly (sorry) from then on. I did get a kick out of the "birth of Frankenstein scene" though. Overall, it wasn't terrible, just really uneven.

    And I have to disagree with you on the reporter death scene. I thought it was a nice throwback to the black humor of Death Race 2000 as it's nearly identical to the part when Stallone ran over John Landis and Joe Dante for talking smack on him.

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  2. Even when things perked up, I felt like it was material that I'd seen handled better in the average PM Entertainment film. There's a reason why those movies worked, and this one didn't-- mostly because they let the action speak for itself. We'll take crass and gratuitous, as long as we can see it!

    What gender were John Landis and Joe Dante again? Had there been a second character killed with her, or if every bad ignorant male stereotype about women who succeed in business-- that they either got there on their backs, and/or they're heartless bitches-- hadn't been used to describe her character, maybe I could see your point, but unfortunately that's how they chose to play it. Maybe the fact that you didn't see that and disagreed with me shows how ingrained these ideas still are in our society. Again, I don't expect my DTV action movies to be paragons of women's lib, but when it's that blatant, it needs to be addressed. It's 2011 after all, not 1951.

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  3. Well I since I disagreed with you on Marine 2, odds are i'll probably like this one as well, though I will agree that the "message" part does sound rather disturbing and misguided, so i'll make a mental note to fast-forward past that part when I see this. BTW Linkin Park and Disturbed are guilty pleasures of mine, so that aspect dosen't really bother me.

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  4. I like Disturbed and Linkin Park too, it's the wannabes that don't really do it for me, and these punchfighting movies are like showcases for everyone with a demo who contacts the film makers.

    One thing this conversation about how poorly the female villain was handled reminded me of was Circle of Pain and Bai Ling's character. That movie did a great job, and because of that, her character provided an element of depth usually not seen in punchfighting movies. It was a missed opportunity in Death Race 2 that proved to be a major negative.

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  5. That's unfortunate that this is bad semi-punchfighting film. Ugh hate the quick edits. The cast is good though, big fans of everybody.

    Hopefully the next Luke Goss punchfighting movie: "Blood Out" is better. It co-stars Val Kilmer and Vinnie Jones.

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  6. Ty, Blood out sounds fantastic based on that sentence. Hope it is.

    I still haven't sat down and watched my bluray of this, but even though your review was mostly negative I still look forward to it. Generic Disturbed clones are the worst so that is definitely a big downer for me.

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  7. There's one fight scene early on that is so quickly edited that I literally couldn't watch it. it was ridiculous. Maybe it'll look better on blu-ray. I just had the Netflix standard rental.

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  8. This sounds great! And by great I mean bad! :D Me and my friend are getting together this saturday for an all day moviethon...might have to include this in the mix.

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  9. I don't think her gender matters all that much. Let's face it, because of her meddling, Luke wound up severely burned and lost his identity completely. And don't forget she had the doctors pull the plug on him so they could create "Frankenstein" which was again, her idea. He would've done the same thing to her if she was a man, woman, or Klingon.

    Plus, you can argue that Luke didn't do it at all, Frankenstein did. And like his cinematic ancestor, he killed his creator.

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  10. I'm going to be curious to see what you think Mr. Gable. It had it's moments, but overall was pretty blah.

    I think you're missing the point Video Vacuum, it wasn't whether or not Luke Goss was justified in killing her, it was how it was done, and how her character was treated throughout. If you look at how a Rush Limbaugh attacks Hillary Clinton or Nancy Pelosi, it's always on two fronts: either in an oversexualized manner, or she's portrayed as a "feminazi", and in both cases the idea is that she needs to be put in her place. This is exactly what we have here. The character was portrayed as someone who only got to where she was on her back, and was not capable of holding her own with the big boys-- a "dumb bitch", as Ving Rhames put it after she was killed. Even the Frankenstein metaphor, though it's apt, is undermined by this applause scene of an uppity bitch being put in her place. I don't know, maybe the screenwriter had a bad experience with a female authority figure that he never got over, but it just smelled of out-dated male chauvinism regarding women in places of power. If her gender didn't matter, as you say, there would've been no threat on her part to charge Rhames with sexual harassment if she didn't get her way, no referring to her as a "dumb bitch", no portrayals of her as someone who sleeps with any men who will get her ahead. You can't divorce those aspects from the rest of the film just to make your argument, especially when they're that blatant.

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  11. I think you may be reading too much into this character. She's way too flimsily written and one-dimensional to get worked up about. I know your issues are more with the screenwriter's intentions but still. Cliches and stereotypes are as old as Hollywood itself and as more progressive times get, some things will stay the same no matter what (in horror movies the black guy still dies first).

    But having the villain be a sleep-her-way-to-the-top slut was an interesting choice for a DTV flick. I'd take that over yet another bland corporate villain.

    (By the way, we're probably debating the merits of the character more than the filmmakers ever did.)

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  12. I think this is a little worse than the black man or the non-virgin getting offed first in the horror film. In action movies, violence against women is always a tough move anyway, but this one came with a bunch of loaded imagery that made it even worse, and I think that kind of thing, especially in 2011, should get them called to the carpet. Again, I'm with you (and I think I said this a couple times myself) that I don't go to DTV action movies for my women's lib, but this was something a little worse than simply pigeonholing women into a damsel in distress role. I would have agreed with you fully had the woman just been a villain, but there was too much loaded imagery that made her death an applause scene for all the wrong reasons, whether that was their intention or not. It felt like a getback for all the office guys who ever thought a woman got a promotion ahead of them by sleeping with the boss, or threatening the boss with a sexual harassment suit.

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  13. The term 'AVID FART' was actually invented by Vern (from AICN) and author of 'Seagalogy:The Movies Of Steven Seagal' (a great read)

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  14. Agree with that; I have both Vern's books and they are great fun, damn funny at times.

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  15. Hey, thanks for the tip, I'll remember that for the future.

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