Death Race 3: Inferno (Two-Disc Combo Pack: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy + UltraViolet) (2013)

Actors: Luke Goss, Danny Trejo, Tanit Phoenix, Frederick Koehler, Robin Shou
Director: Roel Reine
Producers: Paul W.S. Anderson
Format: AC-3, Color, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, Subtitled, Widescreen
Language: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), French (DTS 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (DTS 5.1)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Region: All Regions
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Number of discs: 2
Rated: Unrated
Studio: Universal Studios
DVD Release Date: January 22, 2013
Run Time: 105 minutes



Critics tend to get their panties in a bunch over movies like Death Race 3: quick, sleazy little genre exercises that demand little and return what they’re given. No one seriously claims to like them, though the right sort can certainly enjoy them so long as they’re not mistaken for actual quality productions.

Death Race 3 benefits from the fact that none of its predecessors aspired to anything higher than it does; it’s not like we’re watching the rape of great art here. That combination can actually flummox a thoughtful critic . . . which may be why so many of us just bash it out of hand.

Death Race 3 neither embraces nor rejects our scorn. It simply can’t be bothered to acknowledge it, concerned only with its allotted docket of stunts, kill shots, and gorgeous women in skimpy outfits. This is grindhouse moviemaking at its purest, which means that any attempt to debate its quality misses the point entirely.

Luke Goss returns from the second film as the heroic convict in a future world where prisoners must race each other to the death (with the world tuning in on PPV, natch). He replaced Jason Statham’s character (who clearly has better things to do) thanks to a convenient gimmick. Both of them raced under the handle “Frankenstein,” wearing a metal mask supposedly hiding their hideous facial injuries. The gag comes from the Roger Corman original, but it holds up well, and we accept Goss as our new go-to guy with only a minimum amount of plot exposition.

They also find a new hook for the race itself, after a corporate sleazebag (Dougray Scott) buys the company in charge of the whole thing. (Ving Rhames shows up to collect a check as the former owner, supposedly outfoxed in a subplot that no one need pay any attention to). Goss’s Frankenstein soon finds himself shipped off the South Africa, home to a new Baja-style Death Race that the company eagerly wants to use him for. His pit crew Lists (Fred Koehler), Goldberg (Danny Trejo) and Katrina (Tanit Phoenix) come with him, and soon find themselves embroiled in the usual intrigue surrounding the race.

It all stays pretty boilerplate, which both the cast and director Roel Reine take as a given. The murky plot serves mainly to give the actors something to talk about besides the rules of the race (spelled out again and again to make sure we keep it all straight). Then it’s off to the dunes where yet another field of brutal felons in Road Warrior dune buggies fight it out until only one’s left standing. Death Race 3 does best in the middle of that action. Real-world stunts predominate, with CGI and similar visual effects cut to an absolute minimum. Reine translates that into some decent tension during the copious chase scenes, infusing them with modest energy and keeping our attention more or less where it’s supposed to be.

And the film really doesn’t need to do anything more than that. The actors run through their paces agreeably, the twists remain ludicrous but bearable, and the entire affair goes down with a reasonable pep in its stride. You won’t remember a thing about it the second the credits roll – and had they dared to release this in theaters, you could have reasonably demanded your money back – but its direct-to-video status gives you a perfect sense of exactly where this thing wants to go. Ask it no questions and it will tell you no lies: a fair bargain that too many other films on this level resolutely refuse to grant. I gave it two stars as a way of metaphorically avoiding the question. Death Race 3 is naked product through and through. Just never accuse it of false advertising.

THE DISC: The comparatively decent quality of the disc reflects Universal’s commitment to better-than-average direct-to-video releases. HD transfer looks good, the sound mix is solid and the extra features run about what you’d expect. Besides the usual behind-the-scenes feature and deleted scenes, it contains an alternate opening, a closer look at Trejo’s character and audio commentary with the director.

WORTH IT? Probably not to own . . . unless you really love this series, and I’m not sure anyone out there can say that. But you could do worse if it pops up on your Netflix queue, and the Blu-ray affords it a fair amount of respect.

RECOMMENDATION: For whiling away a lazy weekend afternoon, Death Race 3 does the job. If you expect anything else, you clearly picked up the wrong movie.

- Rob Vaux



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