24th Dec2018

‘Death Race: Beyond Anarchy’ DVD Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Zach McGowan, Frederick Koehler, Christine Marzano, Yennis Cheung, Cassie Clare, Danny Glover, Danny Trejo | Written by Don Michael Paul, Tony Giglio | Directed by Don Michael Paul

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Danny Trejo returns as the ruthless bookie, Goldberg, in the wildest, bloodiest, Death Race ever… Death Race: Beyond Anarchy. After a failed attack on inmate and legendary driver, Frankenstein, Black Ops specialist Connor Gibson (Zach McGowan) infiltrates a super-maximum federal prison with one goal – enter the immoral and illegal Death Race and take Frankenstein down. Connor enlists the help of Baltimore Bob (Danny Glover) and Lists (Fred Koehler), and unexpectedly falls in love with bartending beauty Jane (Christine Marzano). Connor will have to fight for more than his life in this brutal world of no guards, no rules, no track, and no fear.

OK, confession time, I’m a HUGE fan of the Death Race franchise – in particular of the DTV entries that followed the Jason Statham original (though the original is kick-ass too!). What marked out the second and third films in the series was the overall story arc of Frankenstein; we found out how he came to be and just how he escaped his death-defying car-racing prison punishment. So why go back to the well for another film? It puzzled me; and that’s even given my respect for screenwriter Tony Giglio’s work – a man whose oeuvre I’ve been a huge fan of since 2007′s Timber Falls - just what could this story bring to a series which perfectly ended with its third installment?

Well it seems the inmates are now RUNNING the titular Death Race, with Lists now behind the wheel – so to speak – having hacked the original satellites used for the death race, a race by the way, which is now completely illegal and run via the dark web by those inmates still living inside the sprawling city-sized prison we’ve seen previously. The rest of the plot is little more than an excuse to inject some new blood into the franchise, in the form of Connor Gibson (McGowan), who’s now the hero rather than Frankenstein.Yes, gone is Luke Goss, who was [essentially] a replacement for Jason Statham when the series went DTV, and in comes Zach McGowan, who seems to be the new go-to star for the Universal 1440 DTV franchises, having recently played the titular role in the companies FIFTH Scorpion King movie!

Though if I’ve worked it out right we’re now on the third or fourth iteration of the mask-wearing driver (Statham replaced a Frankenstein, but which one?). Is this the same Frankenstein we saw put unwillingly into the mask at the end of the last film? Or this this another unlucky stooge? And when will we ever get to the Frankenstein that Jason Statham replaced in the first film? Though given that ALL these “sequels” are actually prequels to that film, this series can keep on going without ever tying into the original Statham flick. But that’s the beauty of Frankenstein. He can be a hero or a villain, depending on how the filmmakers want to play him. He is after all just a man in a mask – who happens to be able to drive a car really well! The film even mentions this… its the MASK that makes the legend not the man.

It’s obvious the inspiration for Death Race: Beyond Anarchy has moved on from the original Sly Stallone-starring Roger Corman movie and instead has found influece in the post-apocalyptic stylings of Escape From New York and the recent Mad Max movie – all the while upping the gore, sleaze, sex and violence quotient(s) to compensate for this movies flimsy plot. Unfortunately the decision to make Frankenstein the “villain” of this piece hurts it considerably – the previous films were all about fighting against an oppressor, men put under immense pressure battling for their freedom, and the evils of authority. Yet here authority are the good guys? It’s a complete reversal of what made the first three Death Race movies so good in my opinion. Now I get that we can’t just have the same recycled plot of “guy goes to prison, is forced to be Frankenstein” that we’ve had before but this radical a change makes this installment feel alien to the rest of the series… Until THAT ending that is!

Death Race: Beyond Anarchy also feels like the story is an afterthought to the stunts, action and car race set-pieces. Something that cannot be said of the other Death Race films. Which means that this death race, for me, is over before it gets out of the starting gates. Though props to the production team for using Sick Puppies’ song War on the soundtrack – a welcome blast from the past!

Bonus Features:

  • Audio Commentary with Director/co-Writer Don Michael Paul and Star Zach McGowan
  • Inside the Anarchy
  • Time Served: Lists & Goldberg
  • On the Streets of Death Race: Beyond Anarchy

Death Race: Beyond Anarchy is out on DVD and Digital today, December 24th, from Universal Pictures UK.

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