Death Race 2 ended with the creation of Frankenstein. DR3 opens with Frankenstein having won his fourth race. One more and he goes free. There’s just one small problem. The race has changed hands and the new owner isn’t as keen on keeping that bargain.
Between the films, it appears the pit crew never knew that Frankenstein was actually Lucas – their fallen comrade. His identity is revealed in the opening minuets of this entry though, along with the fact that he’s been getting some reconstructive surgery to fix his face (so Luke Goss doesn’t have to wear makeup or a mask for this whole film)
All of this feels very episodic. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear this was filmed back to back with DR2 because of how easily the characters slip back into their relationships. I suppose we can chalk that up to this film being made by Roel Reiné, the director of the previous film. We’re still following his vision, which is pretty close to what Anderson wanted when he made Death Race. The continuity makes this comfort food. Still, there’s some new faces with Dougray Scott taking over for Laurie Cohan as the villain. After he wrests control of Ving Rhames’ company and acquires the Death Race, he takes a very hands on approach to administration, chewing the scenery every chance he gets.
The Death Race has a new twist. The navigators have to fight for their positions, echoing the Death match of the previous film. It’s an interesting twist to let us know that all bets are off and the rules don’t matter anymore. The team is shipped off to Africa to race against new prisoners in a desert track. Its a different kind of race, that takes us through a village. The residents and the warlords are none to happy to see them and It gives us a glimpse of what the race will eventually becoming Death Race 2000.
It also presents us with a problem. At this point in the sequels, you have to do things that are new and innovative, things we’ve never seen before. This is just a step down from “Death Race in space!”. The problem is that we’re still in prequel mode, with this taking place before the Statham Death Race or the Corman DR2000. Innovation feels out of place. The scriptwriters have just about given up too, simply content to drop Rob Zombie levels of f-bombs instead of crafting actual dialogue and cramming as much sex as they can into the halftime intermission. Moreover the bigger wrecks and explosions come at the cost of the racing action. The desert track not only completely changes the color palette, but it also slows things down.
The ending feels very contrived. It’s an attempt to get things in line with the continuity established in the Statham Death Race while attempting to give us a satisfying conclusion with this crew. It’s certainly not what I expected, with a voice over recapping and explaining how everything fits together (kind of like the end of Oceans 11 or a Sherlock Holmes story) but it doesn’t drag the film down too much.
I have to give this film a bit of a break, with each installment the budget has been slashed (I don’t get how that works anyhow. Seems like you should get more money for a sequel, not less) and the move overseas was likely budgetary rather than aesthetic. Still, it’s one of the weakest films in this run, and that watered down feeling from DR2 is even more keenly felt here. This one is a safe skip, and I would have bet it was the end of the road for this series. In fact, it was, but only for a little while.