Sunday, March 29, 2015

2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) Review

2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)

Note: Check out my original 2009 review to see how much of a better writer I am now

2 Fast 2 Furious is exactly the type of sequel that one would expect to come from a movie such as The Fast and the Furious. There are more cars, more racing scenes, more beautiful women, and more dumb sequel titling. It’s the type of sequel that replicates the shiny surface details that defined the first movie without trying anything new or even understanding why that movie resonated on some level with its audience. The Fast and the Furious is not particularly good even by action movie standards, though it still merits a spot in the genre’s annals for the niche world it created and Vin Diesel’s authoritative role. Now with Diesel off working on his other iconic role, this 2 dumb 2 care sequel tries to keep cruising along a yet-to-be-defined series path even as it doubles down on the elements that didn’t work out last time.

With only Paul Walker returning to his part as Brian O’Connor, 2 Fast serves as a soft restart that allows for newcomers who can jump right in without missing a beat and also returning fans who want to see where undercover cop Brian’s story goes after letting Diesel’s Dominic Toretto ride off to freedom. He’s now fully integrated into the racing subculture on the Miami front with a whole new group of friends to call his own, including future “Fast and Furious Avengers” member Tej Parker. Knowing that Fast Five would fold back Ludacris’ character (and others) into the series got me wondering: why stop there? I say Devon Aoki’s Suki and her pink ride are long overdue for a return call, especially since she gets more to do and say than Letty did in installment one and yet I haven’t seen her get a death/revenge/resurrection storyline. (Spoiler?)

It’s a new world with a new director in John Singleton but done with the same old tricks, even the ones that failed before. The digital effects found in The Fast and the Furious’ opening drag race were excessive but Singleton, perhaps due to his lack of experience in action movies, pushes them to a higher, much more obtrusive degree. Not content to simply let the cars’ power and speed speak for themselves, the director opens the movie with a race through the Miami streets that’s filled with distractingly digital camera movements and unconvincing computer-generated vehicles. Even the sequence’s money shot, where Brian’s car flies over an opponent’s on a drawbridge, loses all impact due to its obviously faked nature. Real cars doing real stunts are viscerally exciting; fake cars doing fake stunts are just video game cut scenes.

One of the few set pieces that is mostly free of these distractions is a memorably crunchy race around the Miami highways so that drug kingpin Carter Verone can pick a couple of drivers for his operations. If the first movie was glorified Point Break redo then this one does the same for Miami Vice, complete with corrupt cops, undercover cops, loose cannon (ex)cops, and angry chief cops. It’s also written more in line with the buddy cop genre along the likes of Lethal Weapon rather than the serious crime thriller tone of the previous movie, bringing in Tyrese Gibson as Brian’s estranged old friend Roman Pearce. Brian and Roman’s reluctant alliance brings forth a history of bottled tension and also possibly the greatest repressed gay action movie romance since Maverick and Iceman played volleyball.

Their charged banter together is so laced with unintentional innuendo and Roman’s resentment of Brian’s attraction to undercover FBI agent Monica Fuentes is so strong that it’s hard not to pick up on it. But there’s no time for love when they’ve got to take down Verone for the FBI men that hired them to infiltrate the operation. The clearer goals give the movie a tighter focus and momentum than the slippery plotting of Rob Cohen’s entry, but they’re undercut by Cole Hauser’s apathetic performance as the lead villain. Hauser, who coincidentally costarred with Vin Diesel in Pitch Black, hits the same low pitch growl note for his personality-less performance in every scene, sapping away any sense of menace to the heroes. Mendes fares only slightly better given the lack of real material written for her, and yet she’s arguably more useful to the plot than any other female in the series until part six.

Walker and Gibson’s tense friendship (possibly more?) is the real backbone that keeps the movie going through its rough patches, and their chemistry together brings out a looser side to Walker’s performance that was previously missing. The free-wheeling sunny spirit of the movie itself is a virtue too as it moves along at a fast clip all the way up to its sprawling climax across the streets and swamps of Miami. But apart a Dukes of Hazzard-esque car jump 2 Fast 2 Furious is lacking in memorable values, and with a visual style that screams “USA Original Series” it loses the underworld mystique of its predecessor. Its biggest lasting merits wouldn’t come until years later when Fast Five brought Mendes (briefly), Tyrese and Ludacris back into the mix, so it is important to the franchise in a roundabout way, but as its own entity the movie lacks inspiration to stand out.

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