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The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

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tokyodriftPlot Summary:  Sean Boswell is faced with prison or moving to Tokyo (it’s in Japan, you know) to live with his father. Naturally he goes to Tokyo where he’s drawn into the underground world of drift racing. Or something like that.

Genre: Action/Crime/Drama

Director: Justin Lin

Key Cast: Lucas Black, Bow Wow (seriously?), Sung Kang, Nathalie Kelley.

Five Point Summary:

1. Japanese culture (duh).
2. Lovely shiny cars
3. Another completely superfluous love story.
4. Driiiiiiiftiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing!
5. Sonny Chiba classing the place up


Analysis
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Until this week, this was the only Fast and Furious film I’d seen. Yeah I know – random, right? Let me explain. I am a former subscriber to the Lovefilm rental service, and despite having all (four films, at that time) on my viewing list, they decided to send me the third one first. Go figure. So having little choice in the matter I watched this, returned the disc, then received something completely different next time round. I never did receive any of the other Fast and Furious films, and not being a massive fan of cars I didn’t get round to seeing the rest. Until now, of course.

On my first viewing all that time back, in the long dark recesses of 2009, I wasn’t overly enamoured with the story, and that feeling has remained. It’s passable, and certainly better than the old Fast and Furious method of “how can we get the characters to drive somewhere and make it fit it into the paper thin story somehow?” But to me it was a glossy reprint of the storyline from the first two films, only transferred to the gorgeous looking streets of Tokyo and handed to a younger (and mostly foreign) cast. The key twist here as well is that the focus is on drift racing rather than the usual 10 second race stuff. The stunts, as a result, look fantastic. I can fully appreciate the skill required to drive like an absolute NUTTER and yet still maintain control of the vehicle. Apart from the obligatory sections where Sean can’t drift and he hits pretty much everything, all of the driving sequences with cars slipping and sliding all over the place are a joy to watch. Additional bonus: not CGI. Practical effects for the win!

In an effort to give some of the characters a bit more than the standard 2D cardboard cut-out fare, Bow Wow (I’m never going to use his character name) is a purloiner of  half-inched (pinched) technology and similar gubbins, which is usually broken or damaged in some way. He’s beaten up by one of the Japanese guys (sorry I couldn’t tell you who, they all look the same… SHOCK HORROR -RACISM! I jest, I know who the actor is. It was… oh, erm… anyway, moving on.)

One more thing I love about the film is the cinematography. Stephen F Windon, I doff my proverbial cap to you, sir. This is the same guy who did the cinematography on Deep Blue Sea and Anacondas. Somehow I think he should focus more on lighting cars than actors reacting to CGI creatures in future. As he’s also done the same job on every “Fast” film to date, then I would say we’re in good hands. The cars look fantastic, enhanced by the Tokyo setting. In fact I would say that applies to any film that shows Japan at night, the Resident Evil film series included (but that’s for another review). Justin Lin brings a real sense of class to proceedings and pushes this a step above the first two films in every sense. Except for the script, unfortunately he couldn’t do much about that.

So… it’s more of the same, yet slightly different. Cinematography and a director who actually has a clue what he’s doing will only get you so far.

Favourite scene: Anything scene where Sonny Chiba turns up. Cinema gold.

Quote: “My mother, she’s blind in one eye and she can drift better than that.”

Silly Moment: Bow Wow slips into the lift alongside a group of ladies, then breaks the fourth wall and winks knowingly at the camera.

Score: 2.5/5

2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)

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2 Fast 2 FuriousPlot Summary:  The authorities catch up with Paul Walker and he’s given a choice of either going to jail or helping the police take down a drug lord. So far so mundane.

Genre: Action/Crime/Thriller

Director: John Singleton

Key Cast: Paul Walker, Tyrese Gibson, Eva Mendez,


Five Point Summary:

1. Cars! And Cars! And more cars! Oh my!
2. Glorious Miami sunshine
3. Wisecracks and a knowing sense of silliness.
4. Paul Walker’s lovely yet off-putting bleached blonde hair.
5. An actual story!

 

Analysis:

My quest to watch the first 5 Fast and Furious movies in one weekend (or one weekend and the Monday night) continues with 2 Fast 2 Furious. This second entry felt more rounded in terms of story, but suffered from only focusing on Paul Walker rather than the ensemble of the original. With that in mind, however, it’s also great fun just for being so ridiculously silly. Walker’s O’Connor is finally caught by the police and is given a choice: to go to prison for his crimes or to go undercover again and help them take down a criminal overlord who, somewhat amazingly, needs skilled drivers to pull off a caper. I get the impression that all of the ‘Fast’ films are set in an alternate universe where drivers and/or driving in general are more important than hired help, gun fights or any other of the standard criminal underworld tropes. For that I suppose the series should be commended. Yeah okay there are guns, but they’re always secondary to the “get to this location before the other guys” that permeates the series. On that note, surely doing a basic CRB check on random guys who you’ve never met before would make sense before letting them come work for you. Too obvious? Hmm.

The CGI was more noticeable to me this second spin around the streets, but the cars themselves look amazeballs, so I think the standard ‘Fast’ fan will be more interested in that rather than how artificial the background looks. There’s the obligatory glut of street races and daft twists to said races, but we’ve got a proper story this time round, even if it is a complete throwback to the action movies of the 80s. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, I might add. My one gripe is the conceit that O’Connor will only drive if one of his old friends is his partner for the job. Surely the police in the real world would balk at the idea? This again supports my theory that drivers are the only thing that matters in the ‘Fast’ universe.

I honestly can’t rate the movie any lower or higher than the first – it had its good and bad points both in comparison to the first film and when considered as a standalone movie. You don’t need to have seen the first in order to understand what’s going on, much more of O’Connor’s history is covered in this entry. And what’s going on with his hair? I know he’s supposed to be operating outside of the law and everything, but did he really need to pander to the fashions of 2003 and bleach his hair, looking about 17 years old in the process? Yes, is apparently the answer. There’s a great scene with what seems like hundreds of cars emerging from a garage in an effort to distract the swooping police, and it’s stuff like this that make the film worth seeing. Simple idea, yet effective.

The villain, ably played by Cole Hauser, is about as cardboard cutout as they get, but he has a subtle air of menace to him that creates a decent sense of threat (as it happens, he also shows up later in Die Hard 5 and Olympus Has Fallen. I’m sensing a pattern). There was a slight problem in that I kept confusing him with one of the henchman, so I was never sure if it was the Big Bad doing the dirty work or if it was only the henchman. I’m pretty sure if I watched this again I would still confuse the two.

And finally – Eva Mendes. I suppose she’s in the mix to represent a “strong female character (TM)”, however she doesn’t get to do much apart from skulk around in the background being an undercover spy and acting, naturally, as a former/current love interest for Paul Walker. Before you can say “cliche!” she’s solidly in damsel in distress mode. Yawn.

Favourite scene: Attacking a boat with a car. And winning.

Quote: “Whoa, fellas, fellas. I know my tags are outta date, but damn.”

Silly Moment: Exactly the same as my favourite scene – with seemingly no other options available to them, and the life of Monica Fuentes in the balance, O’Connor does the only sensible thing – he drives his car up a ramp, at top speed, and lands smack bang on top of the moving boat. Incredibly silly but it’s fun at the same time. It might even be one of the inspirations for John McClane taking out a helicopter in a similar fashion in Die Hard 4.0.

Score: 2.5/5

The Fast and the Furious (2001)

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The Fast and The FuriousPlot Summary:  Paul Walker is an undercover cop tasked with taking down Vin Diesel, but he falls for Jordana Brewster and starts to question his loyalties.

Genre: Action/Crime/Thriller

Director: Rob Cohen

Key Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster.


Five Point Summary:

1. Cars! Ooh, pretty.
2. Michelle Rodriguez scowling.
3. NOS-related shenanigans (also known in wider circles as cheating).
4. Obligatory bit with cops arguing.
5. Vin Diesel’s bald pate.

 

Analysis:

Despite watching a ridiculous amount of films each year, with the exception of Tokyo Drift (more on that in a forthcoming review), I’ve never seen any of the Fast and Furious movies. My initial reasons for that were mostly due to my general disregard for car culture and my lack of interest in driving in general. Whilst I still don’t have any real affinity for all of that, I can appreciate the films for what they are. As action thrillers go, this was neither particularly action-led nor much of a thriller. The stars here are the vehicles (sorry, Vin), and as a result the story and most of the cast don’t get much of a look in. The only characters who are anything approaching three dimensional are Vin Diesel’s Toretto and Paul Walker’s Brian O’Connor, and I think that’s only because the majority of the movie hinges on those two characters. Everyone else, even supposed love interest Jordana Brewster, has very little to do.

It might look like I’ve given this film a low score, but given the “out of 5” rating system I use (thanks for that, Flixster), to rate it any higher would put it alongside films like Jack The Giant Slayer (yep, it’s better than this) or Oz The Great and Powerful. It’s more in line with something like Bullet To The Head or A Good Day To Die Hard – serviceable but nothing special. With that said, it looks nice, the cars look and sound great, and the plot does enough to justify sitting through the entire film. Direction is crisp, but the soundtrack suffers from classic early noughties action movie fatigue, with half the soundtrack taken up by generic “modern” rock/metal tracks. They work relatively well, all things considered, but it’s a bit of a cliche of the genre with 10 years of hindsight. I rather liked the race sequences and that bit where the car blows up in a NOS-related kaboom. With a few tweaks to the script (or maybe even the performances?) I might have cared a bit more about what was going on, but in my eyes at least it’s mostly forgettable. That’s the problem when you watch a film about cars and don’t really have an opinion on them…

It’s not a film I’ll be in any rush to own, and many others have done this story before and in a much better way, but it’s a typically brainless kind-of action film and it’s worth seeing at least once. More so if you’re a fan of the ol’ brum-brums.

Favourite scene: The final truck chase/assault. It didn’t overstay its welcome and was nicely edited.

Quote: “I live my life a quarter mile at a time. Nothing else matters: not the mortgage, not the store, not my team and all their bullshit. For those ten seconds or less, I’m free.”

Silly Moment: Chinese chaps fire a ridiculous amount of bullets at Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster and Chad Lindberg. They only manage to hit the latter (seemingly with one bullet), with the rest of their bullets impotently hitting the grass, shrubs and the car that Chad Lindberg was supposed to give them at the end of an earlier race. Also… did Chad Lindberg’s character die? I don’t think that was established. Meh.

Score: 2.5.5