Archive for Thursday, June 5, 2003

Speed freaks return in ‘2 Fast 2 Furious’

(PG-13) **1/2

June 5, 2003

From the first image of the Universal Pictures logo morphing into
metallic hubcaps and zooming away, it's clear this sequel is making a
game attempt at having a little fun.

"2 Fast 2 Furious," the inevitable follow-up to the $144
million-grossing street racing ditty from two summers ago, provides
the same brainless thrill ride as its predecessor. It's as much of a
guilty pleasure as the loud, adrenaline-fueled original - maybe more
so because it yields even lower expectations.

While "star" Paul Walker reprises his role, the real STAR - Vin
Diesel - is conspicuously absent. On paper this looks like an
insurmountable obstacle, but "2 Fast 2 Furious" manages to maneuver
around it thanks to some key decisions.

First, the story is sensibly self-contained. Almost no previous
knowledge of the initial movie is needed to enjoy this one.

Second, it's got John Singleton in the director's chair. The
Oscar-nominated filmmaker ("Boyz N the Hood") is certainly more of a
name than the original's Rob Cohen, who went on to work again with
Diesel in "XXX." Singleton exhibits his reputation for being good at
handling actors, especially those who come from non-acting
backgrounds. He's also quite adept at wrangling the terrific
vehicular stunts that punctuate this yarn.

Third, the sequel has Tyrese. The ex-supermodel brings real charisma
to his co-leading role. Despite a shaky start, in which it appears
his character is just going to be the "angry black man," Tyrese
loosens up and turns into an excellent font of comic relief. In only
his second film (he also starred in Singleton's "Baby Boy"), the
performer has already learned to deftly deliver a punchline.

Sure, the movie is unnecessary and silly. But, honestly, it's
arguably smarter than "The Fast and Furious" - a film whose entire
story thread rested on the most implausible method of hijacking ever
devised by crooks.

Although there are plenty of scenes involving street races and car
chases, the new picture is really just a variation on "undercover
cops take on a drug ring." Even with such a typical plot line, the
flick has enough twists and gimmicks to keep the audience interested.

In "2 Fast 2 Furious," Walker returns as Brian O'Conner, a renegade
ex-police officer who's found refuge in South Florida. After taking
part in one illicit race too many, Brian is arrested. However, he is
recruited by U.S. Customs agents to help take down a nasty drug
kingpin named Verone (played by Cole Hauser, who was coincidentally
Vin Diesel's adversary in "Pitch Black").

Verone is looking for drivers to help with a high-stakes smuggling
gig. So Brian and his antagonistic childhood friend Roman (Tyrese) -
an ex-con who will be granted full clemency if he helps out - work
their way into the gangster's organization.

Soon, they're running afoul of both Verone's henchman AND the feds,
who have serious doubts about their intentions. Plus, they become
dangerously close to compromising the identity of an undercover agent
(Eva Mendes), who is posing as Verone's girlfriend.

It's still hard to believe Paul "Mr. Vanilla" Walker can effectively
headline an action movie. The pretty boy has about as much street
credibility as "Weird Al" Yankovic. In any other cinematic universe
this might pose a problem, but it doesn't seem to matter in a project
where some of the cars can claim more personality than certain cast
members.

The "Furious" series proves it doesn't need Walker or Diesel or
anyone else for that matter. The formula is viable as long as it has
a strong director and combines enough kinetic scenes of speed with
the self-aware recognition of its own junky aspirations.

Sometimes summer movies don't have to offer anything beyond an hour
and a half of mindless thrills. "2 Fast 2 Furious" totally delivers
on that level.

It's the mindless movies with NO thrills that one has to watch out for.

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