" I can safely say at this point that we are lost. "
— Heather Donahue, The Blair Witch Project

MRQE Top Critic

Winsor McCay -- The Master Edition

A new DVD offers an opportunity to see films by a master of animation —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

Gertie the Dinosaur, born of Winsor McCay

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It’s a well-orchestrated routine. A posse of fast cars zips around in the dark of night strategically placing barricades around a deserted neighborhood. The racers and throngs of kids in flashy cars pour in and the rituals begin.

First, there’s the strut and preen, where people stand next to their vehicles or gyrate to thumping rap music and wait for others to notice them. Then there’s the wager, where everyone bets on the racers and the racers bet each other, raising the stakes as high as they can go (large amounts of cash or the pink slip are typical bets). Finally, there’s the race.

All Tricked Out and Nowhere to Go

Paul Walker is still a chunk of green wood
Paul Walker is still a chunk of green wood

2 Fast 2 Furious’s streetracing is Grand Prix-style compared to the quarter-mile drag races that dominated 2001’s The Fast and the Furious. The racers whip around a course that tests their abilities to corner and outmaneuver other cars. The race director, in this case rap star Ludacris as Tej, the now-race-shy owner of a hot Miami garage, jacks the stakes a little higher by throwing in a surprise at the race’s finish: a raised drawbridge. Interior shots of clutching and shifting, and exterior shots of cars passing in a blur keep the action moving.

Then the standard action-flick plot kicks into gear, and it’s ho-hum all the way down the home stretch.

Boyz Out of the Hood

If you liked The Fast and the Furious, try to forget it if you decide to see 2 Fast 2 Furious. In the new flick we get more of the same speedy thrills, but only a couple of the characters reprise their roles: Paul Walker as the hunky cop-cum-streetracer Brian O’Conner and Thom Barry as Agent Bilkins.

Unfortunately, Walker is still a chunk of green wood onscreen, Barry has had a character transplant (from humorless to comic foil), and we get neither the actors nor neighborhoods that made F + F interesting to watch, including Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, and Chad Lindberg.

Good in a Clutch?

While the racing has come a long way since the short races of F + F, the dinky plot adds little to the atmosphere. Screenwriters Michael Brandt and Derek Haas try to capitalize on the multicultural nature of streetracing introduced in F + F by bringing in another moonlighting singer, Tyrese, as O’Conner’s hometown buddy Roman Pearce, who bears a grudge since his friend turned cop and abandoned him to three years in prison.

The old pals are recruited by the FBI to infiltrate a streetracing scene to get to drug lord Carter Verone (Cole Hauser), luring the pair with the promise that their records will be wiped clean (the cops bear a grudge themselves over O’Conner’s mishandling of his big LAPD case that cost him his badge: at the end of F + F he handed Dom Toretto the keys to one of their cars and let him drive into the sunset).

The boys get inside Verone’s organization and they are shocked! stunned! to learn that Verone plans to off them after they deliver his package, but somehow with half of south Florida’s law enforcement involved, this plot detail adds little suspense.

And it just isn’t right to put a cigar cutter on the table in each of the first two acts and not use it again in the third.

Personality Imbalances

Where pretty-boy O’Connor walks into rooms and lets people admire him, Roman gets all the personality. He lets his bad manners do the talking. He carps, he filches things, and he eats constantly, all the while remaining loyal to his old friend. Hauser is a menacing smoothie, and the agent of some torture, involving a rat, that is disturbing out of proportion to the intensity of the rest of the film.

Director John Singleton (Boyz N the Hood, 2000’s Shaft) tries hard but never brews up much chemistry between any of the actors. I tried not to think of the Lethal Weapon flicks here, but they set the bar fairly high compared to what we get from this story and these characters. Nor are the characters helped by spending lots of time in separate cars. A few too many shots feature Walker in his car, shouting, “Stay with me, Rom!” as the pair jet up and down Florida’s freeways each in their own tricked out Japanese cars.

Sleek and Sexy

Lip service is given to equal opportunity in both pictures, but the cars are sexier and more compelling than the women. Eva Mendes wears an unconvincing pout as an undercover agent acting as the drug boss’s moll and travel coordinator. Whether she is a double crosser and whether she and O’Connor will get it on keeps O’Connor and Pearce (but not us) guessing.

One of the lead racers is an Asian babe called Suki (Devon Aoki), who manages to be babe-a-licious and geeky all at once, but she doesn’t get much to say beyond a few crude behind-the-wheel exclamations while she’s trying to outmaneuver a competitor.

Tough Act to Follow

2 Fast gives us lots of warp-speed jetting into a blur and fun stunt driving, but none of the stunts are as impressive as that semi-truck sneak that they pulled off in F + F (a single stunt that director Rob Cohen said added $50 million to the gross receipts of the film). 2 Fast extends that stunt by showing exactly what can go wrong when a car goes underneath a truck when both are at high speeds.

The Fast and the Furious was a revelation of the street scene in turn-of-the-millenium Los Angeles. I loved the vibrant mix of cultures, the West Side Story-style rivalries and cliques, the throaty roar of powerful cars, and the jittery cameras that made you feel you were rocketing down city streets with them. It was a hot-rodder’s dream of the perfect life: tinkering in high-end garages by day, racing by night, all in the company of babes.

Instead, 2 Fast looks too much like too many other films, and its pedestrian plot fails to take it anywhere new. 2 Fast has plenty of the throaty engines and chest-thumping rap that created the texture of F + F. But the other half of the movie – the plot and performances – could not keep me at the edge of my seat.