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2Fast 2Furious

Let me get these disclaimers out upfront: I know nothing about cars except a smattering about the Batmobile and the Arrowcar, and I did not see The Fast and the Furious. The good news about 2Fast 2Furious is that these are not hindrances to enjoyment of the film. But don't let that mislead you into thinking that it's particularly enjoyable.

A rare sequel can get away with doing something different than the first film, by either exploring or building another corner of the world previously established. If that fails, a creative team can always just offer something fresh. Instead, 2Fast 2Furious offers apologies for not having Vin Diesel as Dominic Toretto, by wedging in a new character with even deeper ties to returning lead Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker).

That apology can be accepted, as singer/actor/model Tyrese has as much charisma as Diesel. Or maybe that's just in comparison to the blank slate pretty boy that is Walker. In either case, Tyrese offers some fun when the script doesn't, stealing the film from everyone else with greater ease than the misbegotten heist that forms the centerpiece of it.

Opening with a candy rave of a street race in Miami, the film shows some early promise. Short a racer, street impresario Tej (Ludacris) calls in O'Conner, disgraced from the LAPD for his actions in the previous film. But that background is almost completely unimportant. What's clear now is that O'Conner has become a legendary and feared racer that nobody wants to take on, except perhaps the super-pouty Suki (Devon Aoki).

The tragically fallen director John Singleton stages the four-way race with a good sense of excitement. Though no driver has a communications device, Singleton crosscuts among them all "chatting" to each other. All you need is one "stay on target…" and this would be the assault on the Death Star instead of public standards of road behavior.

Still, it drips with goofy fun. Perhaps the Miami street racing scene is as outrageous and over the top as its club scene always seems to be in movies. Alas, 2Fast 2Furious never tells us. Though the racers occasionally reappear to remind us of the general setting, after that initial race, O'Conner is busted and brought before U.S. Customs, who need his mad driving skills to go undercover and help take down a notorious drug lord.

Coincidentally, they already have a woman on the inside of the drug lord's operation: Monica Clemente (Eva Mendes). The coincidence comes from her having already been checking out O'Conner at the race, because her job is …to recruit drivers for the drug lord.

Even more improbably, Customs needs O'Conner to have a partner. As the one agent they have groomed apparently knows less about cars than I do, O'Conner demands they bring in his old buddy Dominic Toretto - wait, no, Diesel opted out - make that Roman Pearce.

The film shifts into neutral as they go about bringing in Pearce. It seems the two old buddies had a falling out, the whys of which get resolved long past the point that we care. Several scenes just repeat the same pattern: the two argue monosyllabically, with their old grudge played as the barest of subtexts.

Once they actually go undercover, however, the script allows Pearce to have some personality beyond bitter ex-con. His past informs his character but does not control it, and Tyrese really shines.

But the movie never really gains that same control over itself. It trolls through a turgid and hoary plot that belongs on a Saturday afternoon Cinemax time-filler, with occasional crowbarred excuses for street racing sequences. It's like car pornography, with the nitrous injection as the money shot.

Most of the actors seem to know it, too, playing everything pretty much one-note. Aside from Tyrese, only Ludacris and Cole Hauser as the drug lord, Carter Verone, bring any sort of real personality to their efforts.

In particular, Hauser is worthy of note for trying not to stoop to the easy stereotypes. For the most part, the actor underplays the role, making it a little more believably menacing. A couple of early scenes have him in the worst latino make-up since George Chakiris in West Side Story, but that fades over time. As well, Hauser foregoes using an offensive accent, showing restraint in his voice as well as his general demeanor. It seems, however, that that choice came in looping, because there's a brief gag involving Tyrese making fun of the way Verone talks.

And such postproduction accidents are simply signs of sloppy filmmaking. You can almost forgive a tired plot if everybody involved acted like they care. When the behind-the-scenes people don't, well, why should we?

At one point, Tyrese turns to Walker and says, "You're going to try that Dukes of Hazzard s***, aren't you?" That was the moment that I realized that I'd rather see Bo and Luke ride again than this pair, even though we're clearly set up for a Faster and Furiouser.

Please, people, don't let that happen. Just wait for Cinemax.

What's It Worth? $3

Derek McCaw

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