- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2003

“Fast 2 Furious” is Hollywood shorthand for another dose of “The Fast and the Furious,” an exploitation hit of two summers ago. The forerunner thrived on stunt driving and perhaps the brawny presence of Vin Diesel while borrowing a title from an obscure racing-car picture of 1954 that had launched the low-budget specialty movie studio American International, ultimately identified with beach party farces and florid horror thrillers.

Evidently, the demand for another “Fast and Furious” in our time (the backward 1950s settled for one installment) was so rabid that it couldn’t wait for the availability of Mr. Diesel. Universal Pictures says a testing service called Teen Research Unlimited certified that “F&F;” was “teens’ all-time favorite movie.” It’s a finding that would tend to suggest that the moviegoing habits of TRU’s infallible sample were born yesterday.

Thrill-sequence continuity is invested in approximately the same stunt team, commanded by Terry Leonard of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” renown. Human interest is less securely anchored in the soft-visaged co-star of “F&F;,” Paul Walker, wistfully described in press material as “the tough, blond Californian.” He returns in the role of renegade undercover cop Brian O’Connor, last seen permitting Mr. Diesel to escape capture because the bonding of soul-mate hot rodders trumps all other claims, including those of law enforcement.

Not to worry; O’Connor gets another ethnic soul mate, a fuming ex-con named Roman Pearse, supposedly a boyhood pal and street-racing rival, discovered working demolition derbies back home in Barstow, Calif. He is recruited for a sting in sunny Florida that presumably will restore O’Connor to the good graces of the police officials he riled by failing to collar the big felon two years ago. The case is aimed at a sinister mobster named Carter Verone, suspected of laundering money internationally while also sponsoring street racers in the Miami area.

As a practical matter, the new movie places repeater Walker at a double disadvantage. He possesses far less photogenic swagger and potency than Tyrese, the muscular and explosively amusing young black performer cast as his sidekick. Already a success in modeling and pop recording, Tyrese (last name Gibson, which might be worth retrieving in the movie sphere) made his film debut in John Singleton’s “Baby Boy.” Not coincidentally, Mr. Singleton directed “2 Fast 2 Furious.”

In addition, chief menace Verone is impersonated by Cole Hauser, a reliable secret weapon in such recent movies as “Tigerland,” “White Oleander” and “Tears of the Sun.” Because the charisma factor tilts decisively in favor of Tyrese and Mr. Hauser, the movie’s pecking order in leading men seems a trifle crackpot, or merely timid. It’s also a little difficult to credit the claims of lifelong friendship between O’Connor and Pearse. When Mr. Walker reflects, “You remember us growing up?,” the knee-jerk response tends to be, “Say what, white boy?” This is one of those interracial bonds whose plausibility exists only in the dogma of Hollywood filmmakers.

Not that bogus belligerence looks any more persuasive than bogus chumminess. O’Connor and Pearse are obliged to grapple their way out of lingering resentments when they meet again in Barstow. A ludicrous wrestling and slugging match seems to beg the question “How homosexual were they in days gone by?” This impression is reinforced when the heroine, Eva Mendes as an undercover customs agent who has insinuated herself as Verone’s mistress, must reprove the buddies with the following squelch: “Both you girlies shut up.”

It’s a rare note of authority for an alleged boss lady. As a rule, Miss Mendes is about as animated as a floor lamp. The comic and erotic vitality that distinguished her partnership with Mike Epps in “All About the Benjamins” is never in play in “2 Fast 2 Furious,” where the auto fleet gets all the glamorous and seductive showcasing and clever characterization comes as a shock. A welcome shock, to be fair. For example, there’s a funny bit that finds Tyrese stripping his shirt and wrapping it around his fist before bashing in a car window. Mr. Walker, a step behind, demonstrates that the brute force was superfluous because the car hadn’t been locked in the first place.

Though hostage to moronic plot cliches at every turn, the movie has its scattered kicks. The introductory street-race sequence is so intent on parading starlets in hooker outfits that you wonder why the title wasn’t “We Love Short Shorts.” Some of these starlets have such glossy complexions that you also suspect that the Botox influence has gotten decisively out of hand. Not only is it effacing wrinkles, it’s turning flesh into waxed fruit.

Mr. Hauser’s mansion once was the Coral Gables, Fla., residence of Sylvester Stallone, who somehow overlooked the street-racing pretext in his heyday, although he certainly did anticipate Vin Diesel in some respects. I eagerly await the Teen Research update that confirms “2 Fast 2 Furious” as the new all-time favorite of its sample group.

A similar survey 50 years ago might have given the nod to “The Wild One,” whose impression of biker gangs was every bit as laughable and stilted as the “F&F;” approach to street racers and the cops-and-robbers genre. Hollywood has an uncanny knack for remaining outmoded while pretending to be on the cutting edge of all youthful crazes.

* 1/2

TITLE: “2 Fast 2 Furious”

RATING: PG-13 (Occasional profanity and graphic violence; fleeting sexual vulgarity)

CREDITS: Directed by John Singleton. Screenplay by Michael Brandt and Derek Haas. Cinematography by Matthew F. Leonetti.

RUNNING TIME: About 100 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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