Saturday, May 5, 2012

2 Fast 2 Furious - 2003

"2 Fast 2 Furious" - 2003
Dir. by John Singleton - 1 hr. 47 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

I'm not going to pretend that "The Fast and the Furious" set a high-bar for it's sequels to shoot for, but even so, "2 Fast 2 Furious" fails.  It fails in all the ways that a sequel shouldn't fail in: inconsistent characterization, inability to replicate the tone of the original, and shoddy direction.  And it replicates the things that aren't exactly positives for the first installment: wooden acting, bromantic scenes, and cookie-cutter characters.

Brian O'Connor (Paul Walker) returns, this time as a disgraced ex-cop (due to his actions at the end of the first film) on the lam.  He's still street-racing, this time in Miami, in races set-up by local gear-head impresario Tej (Ludacris).  When he gets rounded up by the police, he gets coerced into going undercover one more time, in order to get out from under the laundry list of charges he'd racked up in Los Angeles (and for street racing in Miami).  His task is to infiltrate the local drug kingpin's (Carter Varone, played by Cole Hauser, and looking like Blake Griffin) organization as a driver, and to unite Varone with his money so that both can be taken into custody.  There's already one agent undercover to ease his entry, Monica Fuentes (Eva Mendes).  Brian agrees on the condition that his partner be his estranged buddy, Roman Pearce (Tyrese, who apparently can't utter a sentence that doesn't contain "bruh" in it).  And, of course there are a ton of rad cars (driven by what appears to be the cast of "Crazy Taxi" come to life), barely-dressed ladies, muscly dudes, and they drive really fast all the time.

In the first installment, I admit that there are laughable aspects to the film, but that there's enough positive things and commitment to make it a lot of fun.  And thus, being snarky about a film like that is lazy writing; picking apart things you don't like is easy, and I enjoyed myself anyways.  In "2 Fast 2 Furious," the film is borderline incompetency on display, and I'm not feeling particularly generous.  But I promise, I won't pick on things that don't fully deserve it.

The biggest asset the first film had (other than it's superficial pleasures) is that it conveyed a sense of pressure from every angle.  The various characters all had complicated relationships, even the ones that liked each other.  People were being pulled in more than one direction, and that really helped break up the action scenes.  For whatever reason (and I'm not sure whether to blame the script or the director, John Singleton), that aspect is wholly missing in "2 Fast 2 Furious."  Part of the problem is making the main character opposite Brian an old buddy; even though there's a half-hearted attempt to show some friction between the two, it falls completely flat.  Either the screenwriters (Gary Scott Thompson, Derek Haas, and Michael Brandt for the record) gave the actors nothing to work with, Paul Walker and Tyrese are completely incompetent actors, or director Singleton didn't have a grasp on the dynamic that made the tension between Walker and Vin Diesel's characters work.  There's enough blame to spread around, though.  If you just substituted the words "bro" and "bruh" for "dude," you could sum up Brian and Roman's dialogue thusly:

There is literally a scene with Brian and Roman apologizing to each other, alone on the waterfront with a beautiful sunset behind them.  Tension?  No, man.  Let's hug it out, bruh!

And this leads to the issue of inconsistent characterization.  It's fine to introduce new characters over the course of a series of films, but this film takes Paul Walker's character from a somewhat cocky guy who's possibly in over his head, and is trying to prove himself, to a guy who is just kind of there.  And, instead of always being about one wrong sentence from a fist-fight, all of a sudden everyone is agreeable with his character.  The biggest proof of this is carrying over the Agent Bilkins (Thom Barry) character from the first film.  In that movie, he butts heads with Brian constantly, but all of a sudden he's offering him sweetheart deals to get out of his legal trouble (despite the fact that the reason that Brian is an ex-cop on the lam is because he chose a criminal's side while undercover, letting the focus of Bilkins' investigation go free).  This flip-flopping doesn't even begin to make sense.

Time after time, I found myself cursing John Singleton while watching "2 Fast 2 Furious."  I want to say that he's completely incompetent as a director, but instead I'll just say that he's incompetent as an action director.  Shots are routinely framed in the least-possible interesting manner, the acting was awful (a more charismatic actor might have been able to pull off Walker's role, but after watching the finished product, no one involved with this film seemed to be the least bit concerned about the fact that he's not interesting when he's not doing something action-related), and Singleton blew what is a complete gimme in terms of satisfying audiences: wrecking police cars.  I guarantee you, anyone who does not work in law enforcement really enjoys seeing police cars run into things: trees, fire hydrants, other police cars, hot dog stands, what-have-you.

Here's a clip from "The Blues Brothers" that really shows how much fun it can be to watch dozens and dozens of police cruisers wreck into things.

And here, Singleton has dozens of these cars at his disposal.  And they do run into things.  But very, very gently.  The police cars kind of bump into each other, but not in a satisfying way at all.  When a comedy that's twenty years older than your film trumps what you've done with the same set-up, it's time to admit that car movies aren't in your wheelhouse.

So, after doing my best to neuter this film with a pair of rusty nail-clippers, I might as well offer what I did enjoy.  A couple of the car chases were good (not great, but good - particularly the bridge-jump scene, and the one where Brian and Roman tag-team race for pinks against a couple of greasers), and Eva Mendes is breathtakingly beautiful.  Other than that, the only reason to watch this film is if you intend to go all the way through the series, because "2 Fast 2 Furious" is easily the dog of the bunch.

1.5 / 5 - Blu-Ray

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