After the disappointing outing DR3 was, DR4 opens to an encouraging back to basics approach. We’re back in a prison (albeit a different one – a city walled off) and Frankenstein is back to a brutal race. We get a quick recap with shots from the Statham film, to set the stage.Death Race still exists, but has been made illegal and gone underground, broadcast on the dark web from the walled off prison city (for a prison city though, they seem to be pretty well off with plenty of gas, bullets and booze. It’s not the wasteland Escape From New York was).
I’m not sure what Danny Glover is doing slumming in this film, but Danny Trejo makes a welcome appearance as Goldberg, now a bookie in Mexico and our real link to the outside world. He funnels supplies into the prison and takes bets on the race. We really get to see the race through his eyes. Frankenstein looks more terrifying than ever. The entire affair has more of a Mad Max feel to it, possibly stemming from the success of Fury road (released a year prior), and the opening treats us to gore at horror movie levels. Chainsaws, beheadings, this new Frankenstein is out of control, to the extent that the government is ready to move in and take over. Our hero this time around is Conner, a ringer snuck in to take out Frank in the race. He’s also about as charismatic s a block of wood, with a somewhat bored expression perpetually plastered on his face.
Of course it’s a new director so it’s a new vision for the series. The more stylized violence is a departure from the series. The fights are far more martial arts based, not the brutal street brawling that Statham was directed to do in Death Race. Also a departure is that Frankenstein is brought in as the straight up villain. Finally, the running time is a big departure, clocking in at nearly two hours. I’m not sold on the longer run time, I tend to think these things should stick to 90 minuets. It dosen’t quite pass the watch test, but there’s enough blood and antics to keep me amused.
It’s interesting to look at the cars. They’re evolving; not just guns, but fins and more spikes – you can see how they are growing into the cars we will see in DR2000. It’s ramshackle, something you can even see it in the tombstone on the back of Connor’s car. It feels welded and patched together, not the solid block of steel we’re used to. Still, it lends us a brilliant sequence where they are building the car and getting things ready. It’s good stuff, bonding the characters without lengthy exposition. And it makes me absolutely fall in love with the sassy, punky navigator for this movie. She still gorgeous, but it’s different kind of pretty. Not the glamorous street girls we’ve gotten used to in the past. Interestingly enough, she’s not the love interest for Connor, she’s really just there to help him with the car.
Of course, before you get a car, you have to fight. The gladiatorial bits are even more prevalent here, with both a dirt bike challenge and a hand to hand one, each streamed in all their bloody glory.
They get out of the cars a lot. Even though the race is really only the last half hour of the film, it seems like they are constantly finding reasons to get out of the cars and shoot at each other.
It’s not a bad film, certainly a step up from three and the twist at the end was actually well done. It’s worth a look, but be careful who you watch it with. There’s so much nudity in this thing that there’s characters who spend more time with their clothes off than on.