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Death Race 3: Inferno

AS remakes go, the 2008 movie Death Race, adapted from the Roger Corman-produced exploitation classic Death Race 2000 lived up to its inspiration. It was quality shlock.

Inferno is the second direct-to-DVD sequel, starring a down-market Jason Statham named Luke Goss (remembered from his years in the '80s Brit band Bros). Goss plays Carl Lucas, a reluctant ace driver obliged to occupy the role of the legendary masked racer known as Frankenstein.

There is even more reason to be reluctant: The futuristic evil corporation responsible for the televised gladiatorial Death Race franchise has been purchased by an even more evil billionaire (Dougray Scott), who wants to take the franchise global, starting with a race in Africa.

Carl and his team, including sexy, bustier-clad navigator Katrina (Tanit Phoenix), mechanic Goldberg (Danny Trejo), and nerd Lists (Fred Koehler) are forced to participate with the understanding that if they win, they all die.

It's all complete nonsense, of course, but it's a tad closer to its Corman origins in its exploitative ethos, at least in its "unrated" version. Random shots of women taking showers don't exactly further the plot.

More disagreeable, however, is the movie's especially vile view of Africa. The African Death Race participants are particularly repellent sorts and even the civilians are either part of a disruptive mob or gun-toting gangsters -- designated Death Race fodder.

This makes for a big distinction from Corman-era movies, which balanced its dyspeptic view of the world with at least a hint of sympathy for beleaguered humanity. With an overriding tone of contempt, Death Race has turned into the kind of bloodthirsty entertainment satirized in the original film. 'Ö1/2

Hotel Transylvania

IT'S funny how the things that once terrified adults eventually transform into things that delight kiddies.

So it is with the stable of Universal monsters -- Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, the Wolf Man, the Mummy and the Invisible Man. They all appear in this cartoon feature as benign weirdos, more afraid of humans than humans are afraid of them.

This kid comedy employs monster other-ness for a tale of love and prejudice, a Romeo and Juliet where, instead of Montagues and Capulets, the lines are drawn between the living and the undead.

Count Dracula (voiced in broad Bela Lugosi style by Adam Sandler) is here both defanged and neutered. Instead of the biting seducer, he's a devoted dad who has opted to raise his beloved daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) in a creepy castle far removed from the torch-bearing human slobs who killed his bride a century earlier.

In fact, this benevolent Drac has opted to turn his home into a hotel, where shunned monsters from all over the world can get away from it all and enjoy a gothic vacation resort where their every need will be gratified.

All the guests are similarly unthreatening, scary reputations notwithstanding. Frankenstein's monster (Kevin James) is just a big lovable lug with detachable body parts. The Wolf Man (Steve Buscemi) is a harassed family man with a pack of little brats who cause him more tsuris than a silver bullet.

Into this monster mélange blunders an oblivious human backpacker named Jonathan (Andy Samberg), a California dude whose travels have given him a high tolerance for the unusual.

He meets Mavis, who resembles an 18-year-old goth chick, even if she does happen to be 118 years old. And before you can say "It's alive!" a star-crossed romance blossoms, one that Dracula is determined to sabotage at any cost.

Director Genndy Tartakovsky (Dexter's Laboratory) has fashioned a reasonably funny kids movie, and this is a real achievement, given that the last time Sandler got together with Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, and David Spade (the voice of the Invisible Man), the result was the spectacularly unfunny live-action comedy Grown Ups. 'Ö'Ö1/2

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 31, 2013 c14

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