Principal Cast : Paul Walker, Tyrese Gibson, Eva Mendes, Cole Hauser, James Remar, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Devon Aoki, Thom Barry, Edward Finlay, Mark Boone Jr, Mo Gallini, MC Jin, Amaury Nolasco, Michael Ealy, Eric Etebari, John Cenatiempo.
Synopsis: Brian O’Connor, now on the run from Federal Law Enforcement, teams up with best bud Roman Pearce to bring down a Miami-based drug kingpin.
2 Cars 10,000 Gear Changes.
It seemed only natural that The Fast & The Furious would spawn a sequel, thanks to the original 2001 film’s popularity with audiences around the globe. Continuing those adventures without lead actor Vin Diesel was always going to be fraught with danger, especially considering how iconic his role in the original film was. “I live my life a quarter-mile at a time” had become the catchphrase of the new millennium. Universal, looking to capitalize on the Furious success, green-lit a sequel, to be helmed by John Singleton – best know at that stage for Boyz N The Hood, Higher Learning, and the Samuel L Jackson vehicle remake of Shaft. Singleton came aboard the Furious train with little action background; Shaft hadn’t exactly set the world alike, and it was his most “action packed” film to that point. Still, Singleton had cred, and that cred would be burned up trying to replicate the Rob Cohen inspired racing sequences and high-octane action of the original film. With Cohen and Diesel out of the picture (they were off making xXx), Paul Walker headlined the film with rapper/model Tyrese Gibson (who went simply by the moniker of “Tyrese” at the time this film was released), hoping to cash in on the fanboys wanting more of the same action they got the first time around. Would 2 Fast 2 Furious succeed in spite of a Diesel no-show? Would Paul Walker’s cheery, surfer-boy image translate into “leading man” status with enough impact to give the film some serious box-office?
Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) is a wanted man – after letting Dominic Toretto escape at the end of The Fast & The Furious, he is now pursued by both the LAPD and the FBI, fleeing across state lines in an attempt to evade capture by driving across country to Miami. After being caught by US Customs agent Markham (James Remar), however, undercover FBI Agent Monica Fuentes (Eva Mendes) assists O’Connor’s former boss, Bilkins (Thom Barry) in seconding him into using his particular set of skills to infiltrate the gang of a Miami drug kingpin, Carter Verone (Cole Hauser), in order to have his record expunged. O’Connor teams up with a former friend, now ex-con, Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson), to go undercover and bring down the drug lord.
How do you make a sequel work? Tradition dictates that you give the audience more of the same, only with a larger budget, bigger stunts, better effects; hell, the whole idea of a sequel is to make money out of people hoping to recapture the same feeling they had upon watching the first film. 2 Fast 2 Furious, the “poor cousin” sequel to the original film, is often listed as the lesser of all the Furious franchise films, and I think that’s a bit of a shame. It isn’t that it’s a bad film, no sir, and it certainly doesn’t lack in terms of racing, chasing, and other franchise elements, such as hot women, hotter women, and the hottest women, but in keeping with sequel tradition the film doesn’t really do a lot better than the film that spawned it. On its own it isn’t a bad film, and since the last time I saw it was in cinemas – where I distinctly remember feeling disappointed – I can honestly say that my feelings about the film initially were misplaced.
2 Fast 2 Furious picks up sometime during the aftermath of the original film. We find O’Connor street racing, earning a living beating opponents in the Miami nightlife, teaming up with Chris “Ludacris” Bridges’ Taj (who would appear in future Furious films) to take the proverbial candy from babies. It’s a given that he’s now a fugitive, living life on the run (ironically, a lot like Toretto would following the original film as well), although his adrenaline-fueled passion for fast cars pretty much guarantees that wherever there’s street racing, O’Connor will be there. The opening race is almost an identical copy of the now iconic race in the original Furious, where Brian loses his car to Toretto after racing for pink slips, although here O’Connor is the master, whereas the other opponents are the fodder. It’s a fun play on the previous film, although Singleton’s tactless direction never accentuates it, or really gives us any homage or nod to the original film. Sure, franchise favorite elements are there, such as the “warp speed” effect used when the cars hit the NOS, and the rapid clutch-n-gear-change shots that become almost tiresome as an editorial crutch for Singleton to use between shots (seriously, how many gears do these cars, have… eleven?), yet 2 Fast has its own beats, its own energy, that belies its pulp-inspired origins.
In the decade or so since this film came out, I think it has built up a thoroughly unwarranted reputation as a shitty film. 2 Fast 2 Furious made a truckload of money (just over $235 million against a $75m budget) and is loaded with more of the stuff audiences loved about the original movie, yet both critics and franchise fans seem to point to Singleton’s effort as the most tedious, boring, and flat-out worst of the whole franchise (thus far). Why is that, exactly? What does 2 Fast do differently from the original that makes it so? Is it the cast of characters? With the exception of returning lead Paul Walker, and co-star Thom Barry as Bilkins, the film contains an entirely new cast roster, including the super-sexy Eva Mendes, the spunky Devon Aoki (in a role supremely underwritten), and Chris Bridges, as Taj (who becomes this film’s de facto Neutral Zone character). Not to mention Walker’s co-star Tyrese, as Roman Pearce, a character which would become a franchise favorite in later installments. None of the cast are exceptional in their roles, delivering the stilted and clunky script with as much energy as they can all muster (even chief villain, Cole Hauser, struggles to muster the enthusiasm for his cliched and inane character), but the same could be said of the entire cast in the original film. So no, the acting isn’t an improvement – and it’s certainly no worse.
The action sequences fare little better, even with Singleton’s roving camera and occasional higgle-piggle editing finger, which creates not only vehicular havock, but audience confusion with some of his more rapid-fire scene cutting, as the action sequences fly past at a rapid clip. At least in Rob Cohen’s film, we could understand what was happening at all times; here, though, the vibrating, pulsating lensing by Singleton is undermined by a refusal to stay on a shot long enough to take it in in its entirety. Still, the film looks cool, and the racing sequences are a blast (again) to watch. Whereas the original film stayed with the imported vehicle roster, for 2 Fast they’ve thrown in some American muscle-cars – including a Dodge Challenger (sweet!) – that adds a crazy thunder to an already buzzing soundtrack. Singleton isn’t afraid to throw in a bevvy of gorgeous women, plastering bikini-wearing girls all across any kind of crowd scene; it’s nice to watch, as a guy, but it is somewhat unrealistic, I think.
Did people have a problem with the film’s visual effects? I doubt it, because even in HD I couldn’t really be sure about a vast majority of shots where effects might have been used. Okay, so a lot of the in-car footage is shot on green-screen, but exactly how much of the racing-chasing material is CGI, and how much is shot for real? With the exception of maybe a handful of moments, it was too hard to tell. What about the production values, such as setting, lighting, and camerawork? If anything, this film looks even better than the original, especially the night-time sequences, which sparkle and glow like the neon lights on the cars themselves. Singleton’s DP, Matthew Leonetti, makes this film look saaa-weet. From the bustle of high-energy action, to the lavish mansions and vast expanses of Floridian freeways, every element of this film looks an absolute treat. So you’d hardly say the film looked uninteresting.
Where I’m inclined to think audiences found disfavor was in the fact that the film didn’t try and do anything different – or better – than the original film. With its brainless plot and contrived characters, coupled with a marginal improvement on the vehicular action, the film struggles to set itself apart from Cohen’s film, and that’s probably the biggest let-down as far as I can tell. O’Connor is a blank slate of a character (as established in the first movie) his friends – Taj, Suki, Roman and even Bilkins – seem to have barely more depth than he does, and the script does little to mitigate this. The action scenes are continually cool, yet strangely un-involving from an emotional standpoint; Brian seems to have become a “super driver” character, unable to be beaten in any kind of car, and this unstoppable element to the film makes the tension leech away rather rapidly. In 2 Fast, the big “grand finale” stunt, where Brian and Roman drive their car off a ramp, over some water, and land it in a boat (yeah, you just read that) can hardly differentiate itself from the original films’ massive crash at the very end, and in many ways feels a little inferior. I’m not sure how, or why, but it just lacks the class of Cohen’s direction in these big moments.
It’s weird to say this after a decade of thinking 2 Fast 2 Furious is a lesser film in this series, but I actually didn’t mind it. Honestly, I think I was more entertained here than even re-watching the original. The cars and action feels cleaner (although it is occasionally hard to make out thanks to the furious editing) and there are a lot more chases and races than there were in Furious 1, and even though the acting is as mediocre as a film like this deserves, the characters (Roman in particular) make for entertaining viewing. At least they did for me. So I’d take to task anyone who outright declared this film to be the weakest in the franchise, to back up that declaration with a worthy opinion, because while I agree it’s not any better than the original film, it’s most assuredly no worse. I had a blast watching it, I’ll watch it again, and no doubt when this series is concluded I’ll watch it again again, but I’m not gonna spend my days thinking it’s a poor film just because it offers the same level of entertainment as its progenitor. 2 Fast 2 Furious needs reconsidering as a worthy action film – sure it’s mindless, brainless pop-corn fare, but isn’t that the point? I suggest you reconsider it.