The true stars of 2 Fast 2 Furious prepare for a scene.

Burnt Rubber

Paul Walker is no Burt Reynolds
in 2 Fast 2 Furious.

by Coury Turczyn

 

The job sounded simple enough: To transport a load of contraband across state lines. How could our two fun-loving partners in crime resist? But while their potential payoff was big, so were the obstacles: swarms of bumbling cops pursuing their custom sports car in high-speed, high-flying chases, a hot femme fatale who might jeopardize their mission, and the questionable trustworthiness their shifty employer. Nevertheless, they put the pedal to the metal, burned rubber, and saved the day by outsmarting everyone. Yes, the winsome adventures of Bandit and Cletus captivated a nation, making Smokey and the Bandit a huge hit in the summer of 1977.

Now, almost 30 years later, a new generation has its very own SATB. Or, perhaps more accurately, I should say it has its very own Smokey and the Bandit II. But while 2 Fast 2 Furious, the sequel to 2001’s The Fast and the Furious, may not live up to the standards of the immortal "Smokey" trilogy, it nevertheless offers all the same hallmarks that America so grew to love: It’s the story of two fun-loving partners in crime who must transport contraband while facing off swarms of bumbling cops pursuing their custom sports car in high-speed, high-flying chases, a hot femme fatale who might jeopardize their mission, and the questionable trustworthiness of their shifty employer. Only it’s a lot less believable.

Dispensing with such annoying distractions as plot development or characterization, 2 Fast 2 Furious director John Singleton takes the very essence of the Burt Reynolds automobile epics and distills it even further, down to the base elements: speeding cars and high-fives. Whether this is enough to constitute a whole movie for you depends in large part on whether you play video games, as 2 Fast 2 Furious looks and sounds more like the latest installment of Midnight Club for Playstation 2 than a piece of dramatic narrative. But that’s probably what the target audience of this movie wants, so it’s hard to quibble over the lack of niceties such as coherent action sequences or the laws of physics.

Like its predecessor, 2 Fast 2 Furious is more of a lifestyle fantasy than the urban thriller it’s advertised to be. While both movies are supposedly told from the perspective of "hip" undercover cop Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) as he infiltrates the organizations of "hip" bad guys, the FF movies are really all about car porn. While not exactly a new trend, young hot-rodders of today spend thousands customizing Hondas and Mitsubishis, just as their grandfathers chopped Mercurys and their fathers souped up Camaros before them. The FF movies cater to this demographic by lovingly shooting scores of slammed, blown, and muraled Civics, Supras, and grey-market Nissan Skylines in action. And while kids from California to New York really do gather in droves to marvel at such cars and compete against each other, they sadly cannot launch themselves off open drawbridges, fly through the air, and neatly land with but a dinged bumper to show for it. But they no doubt wish they could, and 2 Fast 2 Furious is in the wish-fulfillment business.

Sure, there’s the semblance of a story here–undercover Customs operatives O’Conner and his best buddy Roman (Tyrese Gibson) get hired by shady "importer" Carter Verone (Cole Hauser) to aid his escape from the country–but the various characters and bits of dialogue exist for but one reason: to provide an excuse, however slim, for racing through the streets of Miami. And beyond a few booty shots of admiring females, that’s pretty much all we get–cars flying to and fro, while occasionally being crushed at high speed by 18-wheelers. While Singleton injects some digital razzle-dazzle to the time-honored car chase (in the opening four-way race, the camera flows from one driver to the next at a hundred miles an hour, while the use of nitrous oxide causes a Star Wars-style hyperdrive effect), he also uses all the same visual clichés as every other car chase scene that’s come before. (When–oh when–will directors realize that the close-up of the driver’s hand shifting down, followed by an exterior shot of the car suddenly vaulting forward doesn’t make any sense? You must shift up to make the car surge forward.)

Worse, lead star Paul Walker has far less personality than the Mitsubishi Evolution he drives. Although all his street buddies consider him "down," Walker’s O’Connor is flatter and whiter than the center line on a highway. Hearing him constantly utter lingo such as "bro" simply makes one shudder in embarrassment. Fortunately, singer Tyrese is able to counterbalance the blandness a bit by conveying some sly wit as the food-obsessed sidekick Roman. I don’t know if the two partners exhibit any real chemistry, but Singleton does get them to grapple together in the dirt in an extraneous "fight" scene.

To tell you the truth, though, I always liked Burt’s Trans Am better than his characterization of Smokey, so perhaps the FF franchise is no better or worse than the car-chase movies of yore. It amply delivers what its audience wants: cool cars being thrashed within an inch of their lives to a hip-hop soundtrack. If you don’t lie awake nights dreaming of lowered Acura Integras with thumping sub-woofers, then 2 Fast 2 Furious is not the movie for you. I will say this, though: It kicks Cannonball Run’s ass.

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