DEATH RACE 3: INFERNO
Studio: Universal 1440 Entertainment/Impact Pictures/Chestnut Ridge
Release Year: 2013 (Direct to Video)
Length: 1 hr 45 mins (R Rated Version), 1 hr 46 mins (Unrated Version)
Genre: Action/Adventure/Low Budget
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
BD Resolution and Codec: 1080p, AVC (@ an average 33 mbps)
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (@ an average 3.1 mbps, up to 5.9 during big scenes), Spanish DTS 5.1, French DTS 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Film Rating: R (Violence and Language Throughout, Sexual Content, Inappropriate Use of Automobiles) Unrated (See R-Rated Description and add some more Nudity)
Release Date: January 22, 2013
Starring: Luke Goss, Tanit Phoenix, Danny Trejo, Robin Shou, Fred Koehler and Dougray Scott, with a cameo by Ving Rhames
Screenplay by: Tony Giglio
Story by: Paul W.S. Anderson and Tony Giglio
Directed by: Roel Reine
Review Rating: 1/5
Ah, January. The first month of the year can be counted on to bring many things with soothing regularity. January brings some of the coldest weather of the year. January brings thoughts of the Super Bowl to the fore. January brings out New Years’ resolutions for many of us. And of course, January always brings us the latest low-budget direct-to-video goodness from Roel Reine. Reine, the director/cinematographer responsible for inflicting The Marine 2 and last year’s horrifying The Scorpion King 3: Battle for Redemption now brings us Death Race 3: Inferno, revisiting territory he attacked two years back in Death Race 2. For those who’d prefer to cut to the chase, the movie here is a continuation of the modern “Death Race” saga, wherein violent prison inmates take part in race competitions – races where the cars are armed with high powered weapons so that the racers can try to kill each other. There’s really nothing any more complicated than that. If that’s the sort of movie you’re interested in watching, you may enjoy what you see here. But you must be warned: this is not the Jason Statham movie or anything approaching even that action movie’s stylings. Instead, this is a much cheaper knockoff - a direct-to-video sequel shot on HD in South Africa with a lower-end cast on a short schedule. Roel Reine specializes in this kind of thing for Universal, and they seem to be making a good profit off these movies. But that depends on how many people just pick up the Blu-ray off the rack in a store without realizing that they’re not getting a new Jason Statham movie.
The current HD presentation moves the title race to the Kalahari Desert, where expert racer Frankenstein (Luke Goss standing in for Statham) has a chance to win his freedom. Complicating matters is the sale of the company that owns the Death Race, from corrupt businessman Weyland (Ving Rhames, shooting all his work in very few days) to corrupt megalomaniac Niles York (Dougray Scott, channeling the campiest moments of his performance in Mission Impossible 2.) I have to acknowledge that Dougray Scott does appear in a good portion of the movie to snarl at just about all the other cast members – so I’ve listed him above not as a cameo but as a full cast member. I’ll go into more detail in the next paragraph, but the problems here are easy to see. They start with an incoherent script that asks the audience to suspend not only their disbelief but their wits (and we’ll discuss all this in detail below). Then there’s the incoherent direction, wherein Roel Reine stages both physical fight scenes and race scenes without any regard as to simple matters like where anyone is standing. Most action scenes in the movie are shot in a combination of messy handheld close-ups and swooping crane/dolly/helicopter shots that are guaranteed to induce motion sickness. One has to wonder if even Reine thinks many of these scenes make any sense. On top of this, there is the problem of the cast simply not being very good. The exceptions here are Ving Rhames, who smoothly executes his lines and collects a quick paycheck, and Dougray Scott, who sails over the moon within his first few scenes and winds up somewhere close to Jupiter by the final reel. The biggest issue here would be the producer trying to make a heavy action movie with only a fraction of the budget necessary to pull it off. Granted, the filmmakers do get some fun slow-motion shots of cars crashing and exploding, and there are a few scenic vistas of South Africa along the way. But there’s nothing here worth taking up nearly two hours of any filmgoer’s life. By the way, there are two versions of the movie presented here. There’s an R-rated version and then an unrated version that runs one minute longer. For purposes of this review, I watched the unrated version. I should also note that unlike Death Race 2, the new video does not re-use the cars from the Jason Statham movie. You might think that this means they actually came up with new designs, right? Wrong! Anyone who was paying attention to Fast Five may notice that a bunch of the cars here look really, really familiar…
LOTS OF SPOILERS HERE: Death Race 3: Inferno starts off with a Death Race commercial and a quick recap of footage from Death Race 2, including the racing prowess of Carl Lucas/Frankenstein (Goss) and the fiery wreck that ended the earlier direct-to-video release. Once we’ve established the disfigurement of Frankenstein, the movie sets up the buyout of Ving Rhames’ Weyland by Dougray Scott’s York. In a hostile takeover, York makes clear he’s going to establish a worldwide franchise of Death Race, because presumably every major prison has a bunch of violent inmates who can’t wait to get into strange hotrods to try to kill each other on the road. Weyland reminds York that Frankenstein is the key to Death Race, and that if he wins one more race, he’ll win his freedom (due to a clause that if someone wins 5 races, they’re free…). Weyland next visits Frankenstein to tell him about the new owner, while Frankenstein gets some convenient plastic surgery to repair his face. (One of the fun parts of the movie is seeing the variable looks of Luke Goss as the makeup people don’t show a lot of consistency in where his surgery lines or scarring show up…) The movie shows us in quick cuts that nobody knows that Lucas is still alive after that last direct-to-video effort, since he always wears a mask and apparently doesn’t talk to his team ever. Now York summons Frankenstein to a hangar and tells him he has to race and lose or be killed. After Frankenstein tells York he won’t race, a bunch of guns are pointed at Frankenstein. Frankenstein doesn’t back off, because real men always stand their ground when ten machine guns are pointed at their heads. York assumes this means that Frankenstein will do everything he is told and tells his men to stand down. (This is one of the moments where the viewer does a double take and mutters “Huh?” at the screen…) Somewhere in here, Frankenstein tells York that his deal with Weyland included freeing all of his pit crew and his navigator. York refuses to accommodate any of that, and continues to act as though Frankenstein will just keep racing without complaint.
MORE SPOILERS: A masked Frankenstein and his pit crew (including Goldberg [a confused Danny Trejo], Lists [Fred Koehler, one of the the only cast members to continue from the Statham film] and navigator Katrina [Tanit Phoenix] are now brought to South Africa from Terminal Island, which is a disorienting moment for the viewer. This is disorienting because Terminal Island also clearly is located in South Africa. But in any case, the movie shifts to the Kalahari Desert, where the new race will take place. Also coming to the Desert is racer 14K (Robin Shou, the only other cast member to continue from the Statham film). As soon as our heroes are at the Desert prison, they encounter several of the other racers and pit crews they’ll be challenging. Which of course leads to a big fistfight, wherein it’s almost impossible to tell what is going on due to the incessantly bad camerawork and editing. But we do see Frankenstein’s mask come off, so his crew now sees that their old buddy Carl is alive after all. Does Carl tell them that he was working to free all of them? Does he offer them a human explanation? Does he do anything resembling good writing or interesting behavior? Of course not. He and his crew grunt at each other and the moment is over. And of course within the next scene or two, they’re all grudgingly working together. Heck, Goldberg lets bygones be bygones in record time. We do get to see that the racers have some different cars than were seen in the prior movies. Where Death Race 2 used the same vehicles as the Statham film, the new movie posits that different vehicles would be used in the desert. So do we get to see a bunch of really interesting new vehicles? Do we get a bunch of inventive but efficient designs like were seen in The Road Warrior? Of course not. This is a low budget movie, after all, so what we get looks, well, fairly low rent. The cars also look strangely identical to designs seen in Fast Five… By the way, this Desert prison is apparently a really low-rent affair, given that the older inmates are somehow providing the electrical power via treadmill. You read that correctly: a futuristic desert prison, and they get the electrical power by having the oldest inmates run in place on a treadmill!
EVEN MORE SPOILERS: You’d think that the race would get started by now, but there’s a little formality to take care of first. You see, it’s time for a cage match between all the buxom women contending to be navigators for the ten racers at hand. And the movie proceeds to show another messy fight, this time between the women, until presumably only ten are left alive, conveniently including Katrina. And now the race gets going for the first of what will be three days. Except there are now eleven cars. (One wonders if the eleventh car has a corpse for a navigator.) As the race begins, we quickly establish that Roel Reine has about three tools for shooting the cars – a swooping crane or helicopter shot, a handheld shot from inside a vehicle, and then a bunch of slow motion shots when a car is about to be destroyed. Over the next three days of the race, we get a variety of backdrops for cars and drivers to be eliminated, including some fairly poor CGI of desert racing, and a few gratuitous CGI shots of racers being killed. The biggest villain on the road is an evil guy named “Razer” who seems to enjoy eliminating his competition. After one day of racing, Goldberg is slashed by a competitor, leading to him getting some very personal attention from one of the prison hospital nurses, and to the audience seeing a lot more of DannyTrejo than they probably ever wanted to. The next day, Goldberg is killed in an explosion and everyone mourns. Frankenstein is offered a different kind of mourning – an attractive navigator from another racer is sent into his prison cage without her clothes on. Because as well all know, this kind of thing happens in brutal desert prisons all the time. By the way, while we’re on the subject, is there a reason that Frankenstein’s cell is ankle deep in water? Are they trying to give him pneumonia? Do they think he might try to use electricity? And speaking of that, one supposes there’s no chance they could electrocute him, since all the power for the facility is coming from the old guys on the treadmills…
AND MORE SPOILERS: On the final day of the race, things of course come down to Frankenstein, 14K and “Razer”. But at the very end of the race, Frankenstein throws the race and deliberately stops just short. Mysteriously, “Razer” just disappears as the cars arrive at the finish line. His car gets there, but we never see him again, so there is no payoff to all the animosity the filmmakers have been trying to build. This takes us to the big finish of the movie where Frankenstein runs his car into the tunnel where the TV show control center is conveniently located, and we get to see a fiery crash as Frankenstein runs into and fries York, the primary villain of the story. In the process, he sets off an explosion and fireball that obliterates the tunnel, leading one to think that either everyone in the movie is dead or that they are inherently flame retardant… After another spate of incoherent editing and montage, we get the idea that the whole race and conclusion has been a setup to get Carl Lucas and his friends free and to frame York to be the next Frankenstein. The movie concludes with some happy shots of Lucas, Katrina and a not-dead Goldberg (who everybody apparently knew was not dead while they were mourning him in private), a tearful goodbye to Lists (who happily decides to stay in prison, because as we all know it’s much nicer in there…), and what looks like a bridge into the Jason Statham movie including a glimpse of footage of Joan Allen and a photo of Ian McShane. Everything finishes off as the audience loudly wonders what the heck has been going on and a heavily made-up Dougray Scott swears revenge. Now, doesn’t that sound like a delightful evening at the movies?
Death Race 3: Inferno was released on Blu-ray and DVD on January 22nd. The Blu-ray edition contains high definition picture and audio of the movie and a collection of extras. The usual Blu-ray functionality is here, including pocket BLU and BD-Live. A digital copy and ultraviolet copy can be accessed via instructions found on an insert in the packaging. The standard definition DVD is also included in the packaging.
VIDEO QUALITY 3/5
Death Race 3: Inferno is presented in a 1.78:1 1080p AVC encode that works about as well as that seen in Death Race 2. The HD cinematography, done by director Roel Reine on the Red Epic, is the same intentionally gritty work we saw in the prior DTV prequel. The movie looks as well as one supposes it can, and the shots lifted from Death Race 2 match here without a problem. There are a few dicey CGI shots, but that’s par for the course with these videos.
AUDIO QUALITY 4/5
Death Race 3: Inferno gets a solid English DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix, which packs a lot of punch during the race scenes, where there’s usually a big explosion or three to wake up the subwoofer. There’s also plenty of loud music to fill the surrounds.
SPECIAL FEATURES 3/5
Death Race 3: Inferno comes with a brace of extras, including a director’s commentary, some deleted scenes, a montage and a few featurettes. There’s also the usual Blu-ray functionality. Instructions for downloading a digital copy and obtaining an ultraviolet copy of the movie are included in the packaging. The standard definition DVD edition is also included in the packaging.
Some special features are available on both the Blu-ray and the DVD, while others are exclusive to the Blu-ray. I will indicate which are which below. Also, the special features are presented in high definition on the Blu-ray and of course downrezzed to SD on the regular DVD.
Commentary with Director Roel Reine (AVAILABLE BOTH ON BLU-RAY AND ON DVD) (COMMENTARY AVAILABLE ON BOTH VERSIONS OF THE MOVIE) – Here’s a new scene-specific commentary with Roel Reine, who continues to provide thorough discussions of his process of making these dtv movies. Reine admits right off the bat that the budget was about the same as Death Race 2: 6.5 million dollars. (I mistakenly noted 15 million when I wrote my review of the earlier piece, and I really wonder what I was thinking when I did so…) According to Reine, they shot this video in 35 days in South Africa, pinching every penny they could, including the use of the cars from Fast Five when it became clear that they couldn’t afford to make completely new vehicles. Reine appears to be a little confused about whether his movie is a sequel or a prequel in that he discusses the freedom of not needing to match to the 2008 Death Race, but then goes out of his way to show how he was ending this movie to match with that one. Reine continues to be an affable speaker who gives a fair amount of insight as to what he was doing, but some of his comments are alarming. At one point, he discusses his enthusiasm for the Red Epic camera and notes that with the new chipset, he could just use available light and not have to spend time lighting his locations. While many cameramen are happy to use less light or to not need to add much, Reine is dreaming if he thinks he can get away with shooting many of the people who do these dtv movies and not spend any time lighting them. Reine also admits getting carried away with the big tunnel explosion but doesn’t seem to understand that his killer shot of the huge fireball also means that everyone inside is dead. Reine concludes by saying that he believes his movies are setting a new quality standard for dtv sequels. I agree with that assessment, although not exactly in the direction he was thinking… (As I noted, this commentary is available on both versions of the movie. Given that there’s only a minute of difference between the two versions, this wouldn’t pose any major difficulty for the editor.)
Alternate Opening (5:21, 1080p) (EXCLUSIVE TO BLU-RAY) – This feature, exclusive to the Blu-ray version, is an alternate beginning to the movie, spelling out the situation a lot more simply and directly. Reine clearly decided to go with the mock-commercial opening as a way of being less on-the-nose.
Deleted Scenes (11:50 Total, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON BLU-RAY AND DVD) – Nine deleted scenes are included, including some material that initially played under narration. The scenes may be viewed individually or via a “Play All” function.
Deleted Shots Montage (4:59, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON BLU-RAY AND DVD) – As with Death Race 2 and The Scorpion King 3, Roel Reine presents a series of deleted shots to show some of the work that didn’t make it into the final cut of the movie. There’s nothing particularly earth shattering here – just some bigger masters and interesting camera moves that had to be left out. There’s more footage of cars blowing up, for people who are really into that kind of thing.
The Making of Death Race 3: Inferno (10:39, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON BLU-RAY AND DVD) – A brief making-of featurette is in the package, including the usual battery of on-set video, clips from the movie and soundbite interviews with Roel Reine, producer Mike Elliott and some of the cast. The usual mutual compliments are exchanged, although they are truly strange to hear in this context. The interview with Ving Rhames has a jaw-dropping moment, in which Rhames discusses Reine’s great skill as an actor’s director. Reine concludes the featurette with a comment that may scare the heck out of anyone hearing it: “Death Race 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, we could keep making these movies forever…”
Racing for Death (5:57, 1080p) (EXCLUSIVE TO BLU-RAY) – This featurette centers on the racing scenes and the various stunts involved with dispatching the various cars and drivers.
Art Imitating Life: Goldberg (5:21, 1080p) (EXCLUSIVE TO BLU-RAY) – This little featurette is probably the best extra on the disc next to the commentary. It focuses squarely on Danny Trejo, the actor playing Goldberg in the past two dtv sequels. Trejo briefly talks about his history: He is a former convict who wound up getting a second chance and fell into the movie business as an advisor and bit player in Runaway Train. Trejo is a positive and upbeat presence in this interview, where he is openly grateful to have a life and career making movies. This is of course a direct counterpoint to his fierce exterior. Trejo says he uses that harsh outside as a way of teaching people that crime doesn’t pay, that gangsters get killed or go to jail, and that you have a better life if you help other people. Looking at Trejo’s life since he reformed himself, it’s hard to argue with him.
pocket BLU – The usual pocket BLU functionality is present here.
BD-Live – The usual BD-Live functionality is present, including a few online trailers that play as soon as you put the disc in your internet-connected player.
Digital Copy/Ultraviolet – Instructions for downloading a digital copy of the movie or obtaining an ultraviolet copy are included in the packaging. The copies must be accessed by December 31, 2012.
DVD Edition – The standard definition DVD of the movie is also included in the packaging. It presents the movie in standard definition with a Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix (at 448 kbps), and presents most of the same special features from the Blu-ray, in standard definition. (The alternate opening and two of the featurettes are exclusive to Blu-ray.)
The movie and the special features are subtitled in English, French and Spanish. The usual pop-up menu is present, along with a complete chapter menu.
IN THE END...
Death Race 3: Inferno inspires the same reaction I had to Roel Reine’s last outing. It’s the kind of movie that causes people to not want to purchase direct-to-video sequels. It’s marked by a sloppiness of writing, directing and acting that reflects a low budget and a rushed schedule. And it’s the kind of release where my position as a reviewer isn’t just a matter of evaluating the material – it’s a matter of warning unsuspecting customers that the nice-looking box cover at the front checkout stand may not be the epic movie it appears to be…
February 4, 2013
Equipment now in use in this Home Theater:
Panasonic 65” VT30 Plasma 3D HDTV – set at “ISF-Night” picture mode
HDTV Calibrated in June 2012 by Avical
Denon AVR-3311Cl Receiver
Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray Player
PS3 Player (used for calculation of bitrates for picture and sound)
5 Mirage Speakers (Front Left/Center/Right, Surround Back Left/Right)
2 Sony Speakers (Surround Left/Right – middle of room)
Martin Logan Dynamo 700 Subwoofer
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