Monday, June 17, 2019

When Death Race Meets Bartertown

So there's the Roger Corman-produced Death Race, which somehow took 33 years to be remade into a bland Paul W.S. Anderson/Jason Statham muted action vehicle, which then got a sequel/prequel that nobody saw, followed by another sequel/prequel that I didn't know happened, then a more direct sequel/reboot of the original film made with full zany Trumpian overtones in 2017, and then, because life is sometimes very confusing, a direct (maybe?) sequel to the 2008 movie.

I know I complain an awful lot about the confusingly sequenced Fast & the Furious franchise, but the Death Race series makes those look perfectly linear.

Quick Plot: In the near future sometime after Death Race 2008 but before Death Race 2050, unemployment and crime rates are at an all-time high. America meets the call by privatizing prisons to the extreme. The largest maximum security facility has been dubbed "The Sprawl" and is set up more Escape From New York than No Escape. New prisoners, both male and female, are dropped into the hot zone to serve out the rest of their lives in a Mad Max-ish hellscape ruled by the masked Death Race champion, Frankenstein.

Having missed the middle two installments of Anderson's series, I have no idea if this Frankenstein is a holdover from the rest of the series, or exactly what Danny Trejo's casino captain has to do with any of it. What I do know is that Frankenstein is voiced by the actor who plays Spencer Hastings' dad on Pretty Little Liars, and that's important.

Frankenstein, however, is not the hero (and honestly, might not actually be the villain, though I'm still unsure) of Death Race: Beyond Anarchy. That title falls to Connor Gibson (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Zach McGowan), a mysterious convict who glistens without a shirt and asserts his position in the next round of Death Race by plowing through a gaggle of other eager contestants. 

With the help of Danny Glover (yes, seriously) and a fun but completely undeveloped female navigator named Brexie, Connor takes on Frankenstein for control of The Sprawl. Meanwhile, in the free world, Danny Trejo organizes some gambling brackets while a senator and warden hedge their own bets on Connor while watching a Death Race stream via the Dark Web.

There's a fair amount going on in Death Race: Beyond Anarchy, which is perhaps why this Death Race movie runs nearly two hours. Directed by Don Michael Paul (he of such notable genre sequels as Lake Placid: The Final Chapter and Tremors 5: Bloodlines), it's far more fun than the 2008 version, but comes nowhere near the insane satirical pleasures of the Malcolm McDowell camping it up for the cheap seats. 

Points for Paul’s ambition, which spans a batch of creative action sequences well before we even get to the slightly anticlimactic titular vehicular obstacle course. If anything, the breadth of wacky characters feels like a lost opportunity. From Cassie Clare’s Aunty Entity-is Brexie to the badass bus driver Matilda the Hun, Death Race: Beyond Anarchy is populated with some disappointingly untapped potential. 

That being said, I’d be welcoming of another entry, more so if it found more time for its quirkier sensibilities. 

High Points
For a movie about a coed prison filled with the worst of the worst, I suppose I should be thankful that Death Race: Beyond Anarchy avoids any real dalliance with sexual assault

Low Points
And yet, for a movie about a coed prison filled with the worst of both sexes, it's pretty unfair that every frame is from the heterosexual male gaze

Lessons Learned
In the future, global warming will make weather so confusing that you'll need a winter hat and an open chest hoodie

Dystopian prisons lack many amenities, but heavy black eye makeup is not one of them

You can never really know which skills will keep you alive in future prison, but if Death Race is telling the truth, the following will prove valuable: music, fire throwing, bartending, unicycling, and decapitating

For an extremely violent future-set action flick, Death Race: Beyond Anarchy has enough decapitated heads-as-props to keep you entertained, though the 110+ minute running time could have been easily shaved for better pacing. I'd still go with the original, or G.J. Echternkamp’s 2017 version to scratch that campier fun itch, but this is at least more enjoyable than the 2008 film. 


  1. I saw this installment of the Death Race franchise about a month ago, so it's still (fairly) fresh in my mind. I've seen all of the Death Race films with the exception of Death Race 2050. So, Danny Trejo is a holdover from the sequels/prequels that take place between this one and the Jason Statham one. He had a bigger role in those films(which centered on the "original" Frankenstein (Luke Goss) and crew--Trejo, etc.), but he's more of a "Special Guest Star" in this one. They also feature the character Lists in Beyond Anarchy (Fred Koehner,sp?) who is the only actor to have reprised his role from 2008's Death Race and the subsequent sequels/prequels to that film.
    So...I ended up enjoying this one more than I thought I would, even though it was fairly cheesy. The action sequences were well done, and the Mad Max elements were goofy but fun. Zach McGowan was ok as Connor. I liked the "twist" regarding his true identity. I didn't really care about the love interest character. She seemed shoehorned into the storyline to make Connor conflicted about his mission, and it's a big reason why the ending didn't work for me. And I agree, Brexie was a much cooler and more interesting character who deserved more screentime/development. The amount of female nudity was pretty gratuitous, and in some instances, ridiculous. It felt like a holdover from a 70's or 80's exploitation movie. And is it just me, but was Danny Glover the oldest inmate in "The Sprawl"? It just seemed like the average age of inmates spanned from 20's to 30's at most. Strange.
    Anyway after seeing this installment, I still prefer the 2008 one (what can I say, I'm a Statham fan), and it's the only version that I not only own but rewatch when it airs on TV. :)

    1. You explained it very well, but I'm STILL confused by these timelines! Glover definitely seemed like the only senior in the group, but I can't imagine life expectancy is too high on a prison island with few resources and lots of murderers.

      I STRONGLY encourage you to check out 2050. I watched it right when it dropped on Netflix, which I think was January or so of 2017. At the time, it felt like incredibly fast satire. It might have aged a little rougher since then, but I really enjoyed it.

    2. Yeah the timelines ARE confusing...I reread my comment and realize I screwed up my explanation! So Part 2 is actually the 1st film in the timeline, followed by the 3rd film. If I'm remembering correctly the 3rd film references the characters of Ian Mc Shane and Joan Allen towards the end of the movie, characters that hadn't been introduced into the timeline yet (since 2 and 3 are technically prequels). Then the 1st film is next in the timeline, followed by Beyond Anarchy. What makes Beyond Anarchy even more confusing is the Mad Max post-apocalyptic appearances of the inmates and the overall look of the Sprawl. But then they show us the outside world via scenes with Trejo and the corporation that owns and runs the prison, and everything looks like modern day.

      I'm sure that I will end up watching 2050 at some point, especially since I went back and read your review for it and learned that Malcolm Mc Dowell is in it :)
      Thanks for the recommendation Emily, and have a Happy 4th of July!

    3. You too! Let's enjoy the time we have before we get thrown into wacky Death Race timeline futures!