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Published: Friday, 6/6/2003

Movie review: 2 Fast 2 Furious **

BY CHRISTOPHER BORRELLI
BLADE STAFF WRITER

2 Fast 2 Furious is a movie about all the jerks who race right up on my bumper on the highway. Well, more or less.

In this perfunctory but occasionally exhilarating B-follow-up to the surprise summer B-hit of 2001, The Fast and the Furious, Paul Walker returns as Brian, a speed demon with blue eyes and sandy blond hair and the charisma of tofu. He says “Bro.” (But makes it sound like “Bra.”) He says “Cuz.” He's down, hip, street-savvy. At least that's what the script says. Mostly, he stares into the distance, trying to channel the ghost of Steve McQueen, I suppose. In the fun opening, he drives a blue rocket of a racer with exhaust pipes on the front puffing smoke like a dragon.

Walker is terrible and Brian is worse, but they're ideal for this movie, hollow bodies with slick exteriors. Suspiciously, Brian has almost exactly the pixilated makeup as the perfect video game hero. If you're one of the millions who've played Grand Theft Auto: Vice City on Play-Station2 - and since the demographic for the movie and blockbuster game are roughly equal (guys, ages 18 to 34), there's a good chance you have - you understand Brian.

Brian is an undercover cop who lost his badge for letting Vin Diesel go free in the first movie. Here, he's recruited by Miami police to go back undercover and use his racing skills to track an evil businessman from central casting. Please do not ask how or why a street racer would have special skills required to stop a money laundering cartel. I know not.

But if Brian nails the creep - if he wins - he gets his badge back. He does this by advancing from racing scene to chatty-sequence-of-little-consequence to racing scene. There's a chase around Miami ending in a heart-stopping leap over a drawbridge; there's a highway race. Stunts grow more harrowing, hairpin turns get tighter. The learning curve gets steeper - no wait, that's a video game.

It's hard to tell the difference. One shot of Brian and Roman (Tyrese), his best friend and undercover partner, looks like a direct lift from Vice City: They rest against the hood of their Hot Wheel, the sunset leaving a deep orange sky, as those long, low white bridges to the Florida Keys stretch into the horizon.

A recent headline in the industry journal Variety read: “Video Game Boom Lures Writers and Filmmakers.” Which sounds about right, since a film like 2 Fast 2 Furious recognizes that the movie industry is hard-pressed to compete with a medium that offers its audience endless op-portunity to be in the greatest car chase ever. This film proves that the two mediums have irrevocably merged - and that is not entirely a bad thing.

Action filmmakers could do worse than locate the movie equivalent to a video game rush. Director John Singleton began as a serious filmmaker of dramas like Boyz N' The Hood, and then he floundered; he's since found new energy in cheap thrills like the Shaft remake, and works overtime here to make at least the racing sequences dazzle. And they do, even better than the original. He strips everything to the sensation of speed - these scenes are the only reason to watch: Singleton cuts from eyes, to gear shifts, to foot pedals, back to eyes, while through the windshield, street lights fly past so fast, they turn into thousands of onrushing stars. The problem is we sit inert, waiting for a turn at the joystick that never comes.

2 Fast 2 Furious is a lot of go-go-go, blab-blab-blab, go-go-go. Too much Smokey and not enough Bandit. Too much Potsie and not enough Leather Tuscadero. The story is almost identical to the story in the first film, but while Singleton treats it as an off-the-rack TV cop show plot, you get frustrated when he keeps returning to it. Singleton is too serious to be a decent director of B-films.

He understands the material is second-rate but he treats the script seriously, without trying to make it sleazy enough. It's actually Tyrese, a sometime rapper/model/actor who made his movie debut in Singleton's underrated Baby Boy, who understands the demands of the B-movie best. He's flip, loose, ringed with a bit of gravity, but hasn't an ounce of pretense on his bones. He's the real hero here, a charisma machine who seems to approach acting as if it's nothing more than a goof, a free lunch with benefits.

Why Tyrese isn't the lead is probably the most glaring problem. Singleton paints an alluring Miami street racing culture. (Everyone dresses up; how nice.) His Miami is the real Miami, filled with a zillion nationalities and crossed-ethnicities. And while it's thrilling to see so many faces of color holding a screen, it's mystifying why the movie keeps returning to standard old movie star Paul Walker to save the day, make a point, advance the plot, etc.

When Tyrese says “American muscle,” again and again, the film gets closest to what it's about: not heroes or even B-movies, but an appreciation of strength and power and engines that deserve field testing in a NASA lab. 2 Fast 2 Furious is part of a Hollywood movie tradition of films loaded with cars, lots of cars, for their own sake. The sight of hundreds of tricked-out dragsters in tight formation or fleeing en masse from the police, spinning out of control, and leaping canyons, summons something like pride. Do not deny it: Smokey and the Bandit is the perfect Fourth of July movie. Convoy gives you a little chill. At its best, deep down, 2 Fast 2 Furious celebrates a great American pastime: low-interest auto loans.



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