I think this movie copped a lot more flak than it deserved, and honestly, I liked it better than Death Race (which also copped more flak than it deserved), or Death Race 2000 (the 1975 film the former two are based on, which is not as good as people say it is).
Though it was sad not to see Statham in the film, Luke Goss did an excellent job of picking up the reins of protagonist. So far I can honestly say I've loved everything I've seen that Goss has done to date (Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, Blade 2, Tekken, Fringe and The Dead Undead). Also Sean Bean (of Boromir from The Lord of the Rigs fame) and Danny Trejo (From Dusk till Dawn, The Devil's Rejects, Rob Zombie's Halloween, Predators and Machete) are both always money well spent in my books.
I was doubtful that Death Race warranted any furthering in its franchise, given that it was a quasi sequel to Death Race 2000 to begin with. Honestly though, after having seen Deathrace 2, which was made for only a tenth of the cost of Death Race, I'm quite glad they did. It may be just another action movie, but it's got great re-watch value, which is what I most admire in a film.
That's not to say it's not without fault. I had to watch the film through twice before I really understood half of the characters motives. Ving Rhames is a terrible actor, how he keeps getting work is beyond me. Though thankfully his role as Mr. Weyland (hopefully this was a deliberate throw back to Alien, and they don't honestly expect us to believe they come up with it themselves) who owns (but doesn't run) the Terminal Island Prison, is a minor one. Goss's love interest wasn't quite as annoying, but the navigator really didn't do it for me. She was even worse then the navigator from Death Race, which is bad.
The actual "Death Race" part of Death Race didn't come up until half way through the film, which I'm sure caused plenty of people a lot of grief, but seriously, this is what I like to see from an origin story, the origin. World is bad, prisons get full, corporations buy prisons, prisons make money, not enough money, prisoners riot, rioters die, news coverage of deaths make money, prisoners fighting to death becomes reality show, reality show loses popularity, change fight to death to fight to death in cars, fight to death in cars makes money. Simple. Now we know. It doesn't matter how good the film itself may be, I'm sick of movies like Rise of the Lycans, The Scorpion King, Exorcist: The Beginning, Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning and Paranormal Activity 2, (most of which were crap by the way) that advertise they will let you "see how it all began", and they don't! Sure, maybe you find out how SOMETHING began, but it doesn't take you all the way back. At least Chains of Olympus and Gods of the Arena are upfront that they're only prequels, not "Origin Stories".
I can't decide which order to suggest to people you should watch this franchise in. Honestly I say give Death Race 2000 a miss all together, but do you watch them in the order they were released, or their set chronology? I'm thinking #1 then #2, but I'll never know which would be better. I just say to do it that way, because you'll be less disappointed by the absence of almost every character from the prequel in Death Race if you watch them that way around. 14K is still around, and so is Lists, but that's really it. The films got one of the best soundtracks I've come across in a while, but other than that there isn't anything particularly special. Still, it's a Hell of a lot of fun.