An outsider’s take on the ‘Fast’ saga: ‘2 Fast 2 Furious’ (2003) (Movie review)

T

hrough the end of May, I’m looking back at the nine movies of the “Fast & Furious” franchise, watching most of them for the first time. Next up is the second movie, “2 Fast 2 Furious” (2003):

STRENGTHS

The car action in director John Singleton’s sequel – from a goofy screenplay by Michael Brandt and Derek Haas — is great, whether viewed literally or as unintentional comedy. In the opening street race, Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) launches off a slightly raised drawbridge over the top of his competitor to cross the finish line first. Tyrese Gibson pairs nicely with Walker as childhood pal and racer/demolition derby driver Roman. The Miami location gives us something new to look at, and the soundtrack is less obtrusive than in the original.

Although the plot isn’t wildly different from the first movie, this entry is somehow more boring. In retrospect, the absence of Vin Diesel might be the reason.

WEAKNESSES

Although the plot isn’t wildly different from the first movie – an undercover investigation of a criminal enterprise that conveniently requires street-racing skills – this entry is somehow more boring. In retrospect, the absence of Vin Diesel might be part of the reason.

COOLEST CHARACTER

Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson). Known simply as Tyrese in the credits, the actor comes naturally to this strutting action absurdity more so than Walker. But he seems to meet Walker halfway in acting style, and they mesh pretty well as reunited childhood buddies – Roman as the cool one and Brian as the white dude who tries to be as cool, and whom we forgive for his earnestness.

WOMEN’S ROLE

A woman racer is introduced to the saga in the form of Suki (Devon Aoki), who has an all-female pit crew and a pink car that spews pink exhaust. Suki has little to do after the opening street race, where she is a worthy challenger to Brian. And Aoki is obviously cast for her cuteness rather than her acting ability, but sometimes that’s OK (see also “Sin City”). Meanwhile, Monica Fuentes (Eva Mendes) is deep undercover investigating the criminal enterprise. Fuentes is certainly good at her job. After one slip-up in 11 months of posing as the bad guy’s girlfriend, she needs the boys to save the day. But as with the first film, “F2F2” strikes an odd balance where it uses women as decorations on the sidelines of the races but shows the named female characters to be just as capable as their male counterparts.

VILLAIN

Carter Verone (Cole Hauser). I never did figure out exactly what Verone’s scheme is. It was probably mentioned in passing and I missed it. Presumably he runs drugs. At any rate, he shows his bad guy chops when threatening a corrupt cop by putting a rat under a bucket on his stomach, then heating up the bucket. It’s a clever twist on the “1984” rat mask, and it makes it clear Carter is not to be messed with.

TOO GOOD FOR THIS MOVIE

Michael Ealy as Slap Jack. Ealy went on to do solid work as an android cop, acting across from Karl Urban, in the TV series “Almost Human.” Luckily for him, he both landed the role as a top-billed racer in “2F2F” yet is hardly in the film at all.

MOST THRILLING SEQUENCE

It’s more visually comedic than viscerally thrilling, but I like how it seems like every cop car from Orlando on south pursues our heroes along I-95 to the Keys. When Brian or Roman trips up one car with a maneuver, it brings about 10 more to a crashing halt.

THAT’S RIDICULOUS

The “F&F” saga is made fun of for how often the word “family” is used, but in “F2F2,” it’s “cuz” (cousin) and “bro” (or Roman’s version, “bruh”) that are the culprits. It punctuates at least half of Brian’s and Roman’s sentences.

In the original, the street racers block off a few blocks of a seemingly abandoned section of Los Angeles. Here, they block off several blocks of a nice-looking, fully functional portion of Miami. There are no issues with cars or pedestrians wanting to get through their amateur road blocks, and – very fortunately – no cases of outsiders wandering onto the track.

When a racer punches the NOS button, they essentially jump to lightspeed, going so fast that the scenery is a neon blur.

To catch Carter, who is escaping on his yacht, Brian launches his car off an incline, through a wide stretch of air, and onto the yacht.

Roman walks off at the end with a bunch of the would-be confiscated money tucked under his belt. But then again, the fact that the FBI uses the disgraced former cop Brian and the criminal Roman as one-time recruits is absurd to begin with, so they had it coming.

CHEESIEST DIALOGUE

Tej (pulled over by a huge pack of police cars who think they have been chasing Brian): “Whoa, fellas, fellas. I know my tags are outta date, but damn.”

FAMILY VALUES

Roman hates Brian for not helping him when he got thrown in jail for three years. Later, after Brian says he would’ve done something if he could’ve, Roman forgives him. Dom’s backstory speech from the original this ain’t.

FINAL THOUGHTS/EXPECTATIONS

The FBI knows full well that Brian let Dom go at the end of the first movie, yet still calls on him for a freelance mission in the sequel. So I guess those are just the rules of the game in this franchise. The buddy-(not)-cop pairing of Brian and Roman is decent, and it could be the formula for future films, but it’s somehow not as resonant as the friction-laced budding friendship between Brian and Dom. But I’m probably barking up the wrong tree, anyway: The cars are the thing in this saga, aren’t they?

Schedule of reviews:

Saturday, May 16: “The Fast and the Furious” (2001)

Sunday, May 17: “2 Fast 2 Furious” (2003)

Wednesday, May 20: “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” (2006)

Thursday, May 21: “Fast & Furious” (2009)

Saturday, May 23: “Fast Five” (2011)

Sunday, May 24: “Fast & Furious 6” (2013)

Wednesday, May 27: “Furious 7” (2015)

Thursday, May 28: “The Fate of the Furious” (2017)

Saturday, May 30: “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” (2019)