An outsider’s take on the ‘Fast’ saga: ‘The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift’ (2006) (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 third movie, “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” (2006):

STRENGTHS

For the first time we have a non-goofy “F&F” film, plus the gorgeous neon scenery of cramped Tokyo as writer Chris Morgan and director Justin Lin enter the franchise. As silly as it may seem to build a film not only around street racing, but around a specific skill (drifting around tight turns by judiciously applying the emergency brake), it’s cool to see a distinct kind of racing crafted for the roads of Japan. A nighttime shot of cars drifting around turns on a curving rural road actually borders on beautiful.

Sean’s Southern-fried accent and general sense of morality and politeness play well against the backdrop of mob-backed street racing in Japan.

WEAKNESSES

The plot, characters and themes are all unoriginal. We’ve seen plenty of other movies about teens trying to break free of authority, and people with little money being roped into crime organizations.

COOLEST CHARACTER

Sean Boswell (Lucas Black). I’ve heard it argued that he’s a terrible actor, but I like Black in this role. His Southern-fried accent and general sense of morality and politeness play well against the backdrop of mob-backed street racing in Japan.

WOMEN’S ROLE

“Tokyo Drift” is a step forward for cultural diversity but a step back for women in the franchise. Neela (Nathalie Kelley) is the only major female character, and she’s essentially the prize Sean and the villain are fighting for, although she does possess a strong sense of self-worth. In addition to holding the token female role, Neela also serves as the character with the mysterious past, although the payoff to that is weak. Other than Neela, women in this film are decorations. An underground club consists of supermodels dancing and looking hot. And in the opening stateside race, Cindy (Nikki Griffin) literally offers herself up as the prize to the winner between Sean and Clay (“Home Improvement’s” Zachery Ty Bryan in his typecast bully role).

VILLAIN

Takashi (Brian Tee). The nephew of a Yakuza crime lord, Takashi is a higher-stakes Japanese version of the spoiled American rich kid, Clay, whom Sean races in the teaser sequence. Takashi has mad skills, though, earning him the nickname “DK” – Drift King.

TOO GOOD FOR THIS MOVIE

Actually, everyone is just right for this movie. It has no outstanding performances and no terrible performances.

MOST THRILLING SEQUENCE

The heroes and villains use their drifting skills to weave among traffic, plus a crowd of pedestrians who part like the Red Sea. Downtown Tokyo in 2006 must’ve been a particularly annoying place to drive and walk, with so many teens showing off their drifting chops after seeing this movie.

THAT’S RIDICULOUS

Sean drives through an under-construction house as recklessly as Riggs in “Lethal Weapon 3.” His legal punishment is that he’s ordered to live with his dad in Japan. Granted, he’s a teenager, but is that how it really works? Maybe American authorities are just happy to get rid of him.

CHEESIEST DIALOGUE

Clay: “That? My grandma’s Buick can smoke that piece of shit trailer trash!”

Sean: “What about your daddy’s Viper?”

Clay: “This beast’s got 500 horsepower and a Borla exhaust system. It does 0 to 60 in what, 4.3 seconds?”

Sean: “Wow. You can read the brochure.”

FAMILY VALUES

Han (Sung Kang) seeks out Sean’s friendship because even though Sean is poor and doesn’t know how to drift, he seems like a solid dude worth having at his side. This is the most surprising and satisfying part of “Tokyo Drift”: It initially seems like Han is using Sean, but their friendship becomes genuine. When Han bites the dust in the street chase, it’s the first time a major character dies in a car crash, adding a dash of realistic stakes to the speed-demon lifestyle. Showing that makeshift families can be tighter than real ones, local Yakuza boss Kamata (Sonny Chiba) excommunicates nephew DK after he loses a race.

FINAL THOUGHTS/EXPECTATIONS

“Tokyo Drift” is a competent piece of technical filmmaking from Lin. The big knock is the simplicity of the tale. I think it’s better than “2 Fast 2 Furious,” but I can see why some might prefer stupid-and-crazy to logical-but-simple. With Dom (Vin Diesel) returning in a cameo at the end, I’m guessing the Dom and Sean branches of the saga will merge.

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)