2 FAST 2 FURIOUS [5/10]

USA 2003 : John SINGLETON : 108 mins

The big box-office surprise of summer 2001 was Rob Cohen’s The Fast and the Furious, a teen-oriented action picture about illegal street-car racers that made a big star out of Vin Diesel, despite his second-billing status behind bland lead Paul Walker. Two years later, Diesel and Cohen have moved on to bigger if not better things in the form of the xXx franchise. Diesel reportedly asked for $30m to appear in 2 Fast 2 Furious, which explains his absence this time – instead, producer Neal Moritz has shifted events from Los Angeles to Miami and brought in an almost entirely new team on both sides of the camera: Walker (his salary demands evidently less extravagant than Diesel’s) returns as ex-cop Brian O’Connor, who was kicked out of the force after allowing his prey – Diesel’s Dom Toretto – to escape at the end of the last movie.

Brian has wasted little time establishing himself as a street-racing star in Florida, where he’s tracked down by his former colleague Agent Bilkins (Thom Barry). The cops think Brian would be perfect to infiltrate the criminal gang operated by Argentinian mastermind Carter Verone (Cole Hauser) and, having fallen foul of the law in the form of Agent Markham (James Remar) once too often, Brian doesn’t have much choice but to agree. With one condition: he insists that his long-time friend and car-racing whizz Roman Pearce (Tyrese) joins him in the escapade.

On paper, 2 Fast should be a cut above the first movie: as their collaboration on the criminally underrated Baby Boy proved, director Singleton and Tyrese (formerly known as Tyrese Gibson) have talents beyond the wildest dreams of the very limited Cohen and Diesel. Walker is no more charismatic or convincing than before, and while it’s a shame there’s no sign of the first movie’s Michelle Rodriguez or Matt Schulze, the presence of the terrific Remar plus the amazingly exotic-looking newcomer Devon Aoki as a no-nonsense racer is a definite plus.

Its a real shame, then, that the script simply isn’t up to scratch. There are suspiciously strong echoes of xXx, especially as Raquel Welch lookalike Eva Mendes’ role is virtually identical to Asia Argento’s in the Cohen picture. Credited to Michael Brandt and Derek Haas (who collaborated with Gary Scott Thompson on the story), the screenplay just doesn’t give these talented actors enough to do: Remar and Aoki are especially underused. The story, once it gets going, turns out to be disappointingly thin and, despite one bizarrely out-of-place and over-the-top torture scene (involving a rat, a champagne bucket and a blow-torch), Hauser’s Verone isn’t much of a villain – the actor’s hair and face have been oddly “darkened” in the interests of fake ethnicity.

Of course, as in the first movie, the plot is really no more than an excuse to string together car races and other action sequences, and Singleton handles these set-pieces reasonably well. When the film clicks into top gear, it’s easy to overlook the many deficiencies (i.e. Walker) and enjoy what is very straightforward, good-natured unpretentious entertainment. But it’s a shame that Singleton misses the many opportunities offered by the Miami setting: Michael Mann’s Miami Vice keyed into the area’s distinctive neon-and-pastel aesthetics and unique heritage of architecture — 2 Fast 2 Furious, however, could be taking place in any large seaside city.

The film could, of course, be attacked as a glorification of extremely bad driving — as when, during one tense highway race Brian reminds us that reverse is the fastest gear on any car. Such shenanigans go with the territory, however, and Brian and company are always scrupulous about wearing their seatbelts as they execute their Dukes of Hazzard shenanigans. And there is a hilariously bald warning halfway through the end credits —  and thus unlikely to be read by target teenage audiences — reminding us that the stunts depicted are dangerous and no attempt to duplicate should be made by viewers. Yeah, right.

Neil Young
18th June, 2003
(seen 16th June: Warner Village, Newcastle)