More noise than signal

2 Fast 2 Furious

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com

In the not too distant past, there was a film named The Fast And The Furious. It’s had a certain actor by the name of Vin Diesel in it. At about the same time, Hollywood decided that Vin Diesel was the Next Big Thing, and he started appearing everywhere. As a result, an essentially mediocre film became a big-time hit, despite the fact that there was no chemistry whatsoever between the wooden Paul Walker and the emotionless Vin Diesel. this made it really difficult to care about, no matter how many fast cars and beautiful women you cram into it. Still, Diesel is off making his Pitch Black prequel and as such couldn’t show up for the sequel. It’s important to mention this little saga because many will think twice about putting down their cash for this non-Diesel fuelled affair, but frankly this is far better than the first outing.

There is one reason for this and it’s the relative newcomer Tyrese. He plays Roman Pearce, an old and now estranged friend of the returning Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker). Having seen Diesel in a few films now it’s apparent that the Emperor has no clothes, or ability to emote. While I’m not best placed to comment on the attractiveness of either guy, if there’s one thing that Tyrese brings to the table it’s emotion, and there’s a great deal of charisma on display which makes the relationship between Brian and Roman far more believable than you could otherwise expect.

Brian has been drummed out of the police for letting Diesel ride off into the sunset in the first film, but he’s kept up the street racing. This quickly lands him in trouble with the police after an impressive opening race that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a video game. While languishing in a police interrogation room, his old boss Bilkins (Thom Barry) approaches him. Handily he offers a deal – his charges vanish if he helps them infiltrate the inner circle of the notorious drugs baron Carter Verone (Cole Hauser). He agrees, but only if he can have his old friend Roman as backup. A similar deal for Roman is enough to get his attention and ignore the stony relationship between the pair since Roman’s arrest and three year stint in jail.

They have inside help in the form of Verone’s woman and undercover agent, Monica Fuentes (Eva Mendes, mmmm, Mendes), who gets them their chance to win Verone’s trust by performing a little errand in retrieving a sensitive item from an impounded car of his. As with the rest of the weak plot it’s an excuse for more fast driving, as they race to the impound against four others. They win, and are tasked with transporting a large quantity of cash from Verones of his hideouts to his private jet. This is exactly what the U.S. Customs operation want to hear, as it gives them the necessary evidence to put Verone away, after another driving set piece.

There’s the usual questions over who Brian and Roman can trust, and it’s nice to see the distrust Roman has for Brian give way to rekindling their old friendship over the course of the movie in a way that never seems forced. Frankly, I wasn’t expecting anything more than some fast cars from this film so character development is a nice bonus. It has some utterly daft moments, including an unconventional torture scene involving a corrupt cop, a rat, a metal bucket and a blowtorch that defies explanation. If the plot sounds like it could have been lifted direct from a video game then that’s because it could have, but it seems churlish to dismiss it on that basis. After all, it’s no less straightforward than The Italian Job and that’s one of my all time favourite movies.

Not that it’s even approaching that level of coolness, and the ensemble cast of the 1969 classic puts this to shame. However, the supporting actors here certainly do a more than adequate job, probably better than the occasionally stilted Walker. Rapper Ludacris puts on a more than decent show as race organiser Tej and for once it’s more than a random cameo, as he does have some use in the finale. The same goes on a far lesser scale for poster girl and weird alien-looking girl Devon Aoki as Suki, fellow driver in the opening race, ditto Amaury Nolasco as Julius. Perhaps the overall importance to the plot these guys have isn’t entirely proportional to the screen time devoted to them, but that’s a minor niggle and certainly preferable to a monologue by Walker.

It’s contrived to appeal to as many ethnic groups as possible, with the promotional material heavy on pushing the ‘one character from every main American ethnic group’ deal they’ve got going. It’s a pretty cynical attempt to broaden the appeal of a film which by it’s very nature is unlikely to pull in vast audiences from the above-25 category. Doubtlessly this is the kind of behaviour that pisses off many critics, but the only thing I’m interested in is it’s entertainment value.

Which it has a great deal of, shockingly enough. The first half of the film falls mainly into the ‘alright’ category with nothing overly spectacular happening. It’s to director John Singleton’s credit that the pacing of the film is expertly judged, and by the time the audacious final set-piece involving vast numbers of street racers and vast numbers of police cars (displaying the usual competence of police drivers, i.e. none) I was more than willing to forgive the air of silliness it had and sit grinning like a moron at the screen. Whether you want to be a moron for the length of the movie is a decision you’ll have to make, because if you want to overanalyse every aspect of a film this isn’t made with you in mind.

The action is handled very well by Singleton, who’s clearly been playing Project Gotham Racing and watching Gran Turismo‘s replays. The neon coloured cars, bright paintjobs, scantily clad nubile lassies, ludicrous stunts; it all seems like a video game or a comic book, which is a good thing. If it was trying to be gritty and realistic it would fail, but the slight air of unreality everything is given fits he film like a glove. The most important thing for the film to get right was the impression of speed, and it’s there in spades. Some of the set-pieces may lack the wow factor of the first films daft truck high jacking moments, but as these made me sit back from the first film and think that they were dumb rather than just enjoy them I shed no tears at their departure.

So the characters are better acted than the first, the acting is better than the first, the action is as good as the first and perhaps better captured by Singleton and the location (Miami) is way nicer than the first film. Walker’s common to both films so that’s against them both. The dialogue, especially in the first half seems to have been written by a twelve year old, but that’s not uncommon in the first film either. The only major niggle here is the generic evil guy with his generic evil henchmen, who have no real character and it’s difficult to feel any real danger from them. The plot is largely filler between set-pieces, but that’s lifted from the first film too. Hence, to batter a cliche, if you liked the first film you’ll like this. If you though the first one was vapid and uninteresting this won’t cause a paradigm shift.

I’ll be lynched for saying this from some quarters but 2 Fast 2 Furious is a great example of a summer popcorn fodder flick. Sometimes is nice not to have any thoughts provoked and just have something enjoyable to watch for a couple of hours, and certainly there’s nothing like though involved anywhere in this film. You have to judge it on what it’s set out to do, and that’s being an enjoyable two hour car fest. The motors are the real stars here, and it ought to get the boy-racer seal of approval easily enough, but there’s enough on show here for it to deserve a wider audience too.

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