The mere idea of “2 Fast 2 Furious” doesn’t exactly set expectations soaring. In fact, it sets off something akin to a universal gag reflex. “A sequel to The Fast and the Furious, of all things?” objects the cinéaste crowd. “A sequel to The Fast and the Furious without Vin Diesel?” scoff that film’s fans–and, as the original’s shockingly robust box office take suggests, there are a lot of those, for whatever reason. And then there’s that little cherry on the top of the sundae of disdain: “2 Fast 2 Furious”? The hell?!
While that punny alphanumeric title still clangs to the ears months after its unveiling, it’s understandable why Universal opted to go with that once-promotional-only moniker rather than the originally announced “The Fast and the Furious 2.” Despite the returning presence of the first film’s top-billed star (and, for the record, that is Paul Walker, not the Diesel–check the credit line on the poster and DVD) “2 Fast 2 Furious” feels less like a true sequel/continuation than a loosely-tied spin-off. As such, the film works all the better for both non-fans and fans of the first film alike; the fresh approach keeps the non-fans from making the negative associations with The Fast and the Furious, and those who hold the first film sacred can look at the film as being something completely different.
And, make no mistake, “2 Fast 2 Furious” is different. Of course, certain constants remain: Walker as Brian O’Conner; Thom Barry as the background character of Agent Bilkins; and, naturally, lots of tricked-out cars going really, really fast. But the similarities are only surface-deep; take, for instance, the opening scene. It is a street race, and while that description sounds like anything that appeared in the first flick, it certainly doesn’t unfold like anything from the first film. Unlike the much-vaunted first race in the first film, which relied a lot on fancy inside-the-car-and-out-again CGI trickery to get the adrenaline pumping, what fuels this chase’s rush (and that of all the action sequences in the entire film, for that matter) are the impressive practical stunts done by actual people driving actual cars–and, of course, the fact that the cars and their drivers are pretty damn hot doesn’t hurt, either.
That last comment may strike as being superficial, but that’s what the film is–and that’s not meant as a slam. From the souped-up Universal logo and that turbo-charged opening, director John Singleton wears the project’s shallow, unsubtle slickness as a badge of honor, making it crystal clear that this is a film strictly concerned with style, attitude, and having a good time. Unlike “The Fast and the Furious,” which played its cop-in-deep-cover plot all too melodramatically straight and displayed too much misplaced conviction in laughably labored and long-winded soliloquies about street racing being the ultimate spiritual liberator, “2 Fast 2 Furious” is simply about the ride–no more, no less; not any buried pretense of actual deep meaning behind the ride. And when the ride looks and feels as smooth as this, it’s practically irrelevant to complain about any lack of so-called substance.
Not that there isn’t a story at work here; there indeed is, but only just enough to sustain the action. Those looking for updates on the absentee characters from the first film should prepare to be disappointed, as any questions they may have will be met with a stone-faced cinematic silence equivalent to an ear-splitting cry of “Vin WHO?!” Actually, his Dominic Toretto character is referenced–but not by name and only in passing, and that’s how it should be, as it is O’Conner’s release of him that put him in his present place: without a badge in Miami, earning some bucks and kicks on the street race circuit as “Bullitt.” The law eventually, inevitably catches up with him, and so he is given a chance to redeem himself by infiltrating the inner circle of money-laundering import/export businessman Carter Verone (Cole Hauser) as one of his street-race-recruited grunt drivers.
Joining O’Conner in is assignment is his old friend and ex-con Roman Pearce (Tyrese, not billed with the Gibson surname this time), who also gets a clean bill of legal health if the plan succeeds. While this pairing sets up one of the more contrived elements of Michael Brandt and Derek Haas’s script (specifically, some half-assed psychological explanation/motivation for O’Conner’s fateful decision at the end of the last movie), it is definitely one of the more effective new elements in “2 Fast 2 Furious.” The presence of Roman loosens up the bland tight-a*s that was the original incarnation of O’Conner; similarly, Walker shows a more relaxed chemistry with Gibson (with whom he reportedly improvised a lot of their amusing banter) than he had with his counterpart in the first movie. That ease extends to Walker’s performance and general demeanor in this film, which is livelier and a little edgier, in line with the changes in the O’Conner character. Granted, to state that Walker’s work here compares favorably to his in the first movie isn’t saying too much, and while he does exhibit a bit more personality this time, he still gets trumped in that department by his lead co-star. After proving his dramatic chops in Singleton’s “Baby Boy,” Tyrese brings his pure movie star charisma to the fore as the fast-talking, perpetually eating goofball that is Roman. With his formidable screen presence and winning sense of humor, he exudes that indefinable “It” from every pore, and with two solid–and vastly different–turns under his belt in his first two film outings, Tyrese’s big screen career should be an exciting one to follow.
Don’t go looking too hard for depth in the more background characters, though. Hauser, who previously provided villainy for Singleton in 1995’s Higher Learning, has far less to work with in this film, but he fills the role of psycho heavy effectively for the modest demands of the film; similarly, Ludacris (billed here as Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) perks up his few scenes as mechanic and race ringleader Tej. If there’s an area that the first film has over this one, it’s in that of the female characters. The two prominent female roles here, undercover agent Monica Fuentes (Eva Mendes) and racer Suki (Devon Aoki), aren’t as meaty or memorable as Michelle Rodriguez’s badass grrl in the first; both characters are tough and strong-willed in their own right, but ultimately the two are called on to not do much more than stand, sit, lounge, and/or drive around and look good (which, needless to say, Mendes and Aoki do quite well).
But, again, the look and the vibe is what “2 Fast 2 Furious” is all about–no more than in the film’s bread and butter, the race/chase sequences. From the outset, it’s obvious that Singleton is having a grand ol’ time flouting his image as a “Serious Film”-maker and making a movie where he can let loose other, not typically seen sides of himself. With its larger-than-life stunts, wild angles, kinetic “how did they do that?” camera movements, anime-like speed enhancements, and rat-tat-tat quick-cut comic book panel frames, the curtain-raising race sequence plays like a cinematic crash course in Singleton’s fanboy inspirations. That may seem a bit indulgent (and perhaps it is to a certain extent), but there’s no use in complaining since the bag o’ tricks succeeds in its intent: revving up the audience and laying down the tone for the picture–extreme fun in high style. That attitude is upheld as the film progresses and the stunts build in scale and magnitude–and do they ever (speeding down a highway backward?) . But the crashes, jumps, and all assorted manner of jaw-dropping vehicular insanity that ensue would be chaos if not captured in a coherent, captivating manner, and while he dials down the added flash after the open, Singleton creates some creative and exciting set pieces, aided in no small part by the amazing action shots captured by director of photography Matthew F. Leonetti and the editing by Dallas Puett and longtime Singleton collaborator Bruce Cannon.
Most viewers, I imagine, will likely be too caught up in the ride to really pay too much attention to all those fast and furious little things that add up to the larger experience, and that’s just as well. Movies like “2 Fast 2 Furious” are all about the bigger picture in every sense: the rocket speed of the cars; the over-the-top stunts; the firepower of the explosions; the glass-shattering decibel level; the uniformly broad strokes in every aspect of the execution; and–last and certainly not least–the size of the box office take. With “2 Fast 2 Furious” being just 2 fun 2 deny, success in that last respect should be as effortless as the film’s thrills and irresistible style.