“I’m not going back to Barstow”
It would appear that we have Michael Brandt and Derek Haas to blame (thank?) for the sudden change from overwrought melodrama to self-aware comedy I would attribute to giving the Fast and the Furious franchise its longevity. Being that I had only ever seen the first, fifth, and sixth installments, I wasn’t quite sure what happened in between because, while I enjoyed the latter two, I simply couldn’t get into the original. Not only was it riffing on Point Break the wrong way by trying to turn things super serious, it eventually proved to go nowhere while accomplishing nothing. The others were at least fun. It was therefore a pleasant surprise to see 2 Fast 2 Furious embracing the joke. It’s just as bad as its predecessor, but at least I had a helluva time watching.
Director John Singleton wastes little breath ushering in the new tone with a cartoonishly campy opening set on the streets of Miami. Local mechanic/drag race organizer Tej (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges) has three racers revving their engines (Devon Aoki‘s Suki, Amaury Nolasco‘s Orange Julius, and Michael Ealy‘s Slap Jack) as a ton of extras cheer them on much harder than anyone should when the action hasn’t started yet. The group needs a fourth driver before they can begin—at least I think they do. Once Brian ‘Bullitt’ O’Conner (Paul Walker) arrives, Tej suddenly has no issue with either Orange or Slap cowardly running away to leave him at only three or maybe two. Perhaps it’s all a ploy to squeeze their egos as everyone throws in thirty-five large and the warp speed light show graphics commence.
This sequence is long, but fun. We have no idea what’s going on—whether Brian is still a cop or merely a driver after letting his man go in The Fast and the Furious. We don’t know how many years have passed, what he did to earn the nickname and reputation as a fierce competitor when he could barely get his car over the finish line last time we saw him race, or why the producers thought they could give us a sequel with only two returning characters. Yes, there is one more familiar face and it isn’t whom you’d expect. Our bridge of connective tissue comes from Thom Barry‘s Agent Bilkins, a tourist in Miami to help US Customs Agent Markham (James Remar) take down druglord Carter Verone (Cole Hauser). And he needs a driver.
What this means is that Brandt and Haas pretty much wipe out everything that happened in Gary Scott Thompson‘s original for a clean slate. They make it so Bilkins doesn’t care this punk cop turncoat burned him. He doesn’t care Brian went on the lam, hiding out in Florida to engage in more illegal activities. The amount of disbelief suspension the filmmakers ask of us to accept his next case just happens to need a racer, that Brian has become a legend, and that the collar is worth giving a traitor a pass is incredible. It’s not shocking that Singleton and company went so far into farce as a result. They probably figured if they’re going to go silly, go all the way. Make these cars jump bridges and onto boats—it’s no less idiotic than O’Conner’s luck.
Without the Toretto family drama, 2 Fast 2 Furious becomes a glorious action romp of style over substance. Do we care whether Brian succeeds? No. We assume he will, but the endgame won’t provide anything besides closure from the first film’s obnoxiously open conclusion. This whole thing is to separate O’Conner from past discretions and set him up to be the franchise character the producers hoped Vin Diesel would be for many films to come. The whole feels very much like a rush job to make this happen, as though Thompson wrote a sequel before Diesel bailed and a scramble ensued with Brandt and Haas. My favorite part of the experience is that they went through all this trouble only to have Walker bail too, forcing their hands to move to Tokyo for a completely fresh start.
Making it into a buddy film feels rushed too—unless the writers hoped for the blatant homoeroticism. We all know the jokes about Point Break and Furious, how the cop and criminal have this latent sexual tension. Hot Fuzz mocks the entire genre for this trope. Well, because Bilkins actually needs two drivers, Brian’s old buddy Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) joins the fray. Rome and Bri have a checkered history wherein they must scream into each other’s faces with only an inch separating their lips. How they don’t accidentally kiss is beyond me. The two play off one another like a married couple, bickering and egging each other on without fail. It’s so over-the-top that the inclusion of Eva Mendes becomes less sex appeal and more reason for Tyrese to get jealous about Bri straying for his love.
Details like this and Hauser’s Verone being a wax mannequin brought out because the film needs a conflict position 2 Fast 2 Furious as self-parody. Going too far into this style hurts it from being a coherent story with value, but it does introduce a tone Justin Lin and Chris Morgan would soon capitalize on by combining with the original’s melodrama for a blockbuster formula still thriving a decade later. It isn’t a complete loss on its own either thanks to Ludacris and Gibson having a blast. The former is very much like his Tej in later installments, but Tyrese is a different beast. While his humor comes from straight-faced neuroses in Fast Five and beyond, he is let loose here to be the clown. His windshield washer gag makes the movie worth watching on its own.