Wednesday 20 April 2011

From the archive: "2 Fast 2 Furious"

The first The Fast and the Furious arrived late in a disappointing summer for Hollywood event movies, and so couldn't help but shine. Inevitable follow-up 2 Fast 2 Furious, which pulls a CSI in relocating the action (more illicit speed-racing) from the West Coast to a never-hotter Miami, has been promoted to the status of major blockbuster, souped-up to take on the Matrix and X-Men sequels, but original director Rob Cohen has bailed to make way for a John Singleton going for a similar kind of watchable mediocrity to that peddled in his Shaft remake. The Skulls 2 and Dragonheart: A New Beginning, the last two sequels taken from Cohen originals, ditched their franchises' original stars to take the straight-to-video route; 2 Fast 2 Furious pulls up without the first movie's breakout star Vin Diesel, but sticks with Paul Walker in the lead role as undercover-cop-turned-rogue-petrolhead Brian O'Connor. Walker projected a magnificent, Keanu-like blankness first time round; here, he's equipped of the world's most effective deodorant, never seeming to break sweat in races conducted under the Florida sun at speeds of upwards of 100mph, but blonde hair and blue eyes alone scarcely justify a cinema release. New additions to the cast include charmless ex-model Tyrese, who - in a film of such conspicuous consumption - spends most of his screen time making lewd comments aimed at the bikini-clad females around him, and eating wherever possible on the grounds that the food awaiting him in prison is so awful he has to eat "what [he] can, when [he] can". (That's the American way, I guess: so much oil is burned off in the making of 2 Fast 2 Furious that it's possible Gulf War II, the year's first overhyped sequel, was fought at the behest of the film's producers.) It makes something of a concession to the Asian-American audiences who might have been offended by the first film's Chinese punks in casting another sometime model, Devon Aoki, alongside the boys and cars. This is a breeze of a role for a former star of the catwalk: in an early race, she's allowed precisely two lines of dialogue - a "grrr" when she misses her gear change (not dissimilar to the noise a model might make when her assistant has forgotten to bring her her latte), and a triumphant "yeah!" upon crossing the line, the sort of exclamation Miss Aoki might make on landing yet another cosmetics contract. To establish her cultured, sensitive side, her character is given some colouring-in to do ("Dat is some artistic shit!"), but she gets sidelined in the second half as Walker and Tyrese assume the bulk of the action. Singleton pads out the rest of this juvenile cast with rappers looking for a lucrative crossover career: more than once, the camera pans to an American recording star who hasn't quite made it big enough over here to be considered recognisable. In a summer of predominantly whitebread sequels (Matrix, X2, Charlie's Angels 2) and a - F. Gary Gray aside - very much white Italian Job remake (whose box-office is bound to suffer in 2 Fast's wake), this particular follow-up, like its original, is commercially shrewd enough to market itself as ethnically diverse: even Robert Rodriguez's Spy Kids trilogy hasn't ventured much past the experiences of one Latino family. But, really, urban schmurban. Filmgoing has never seemed more like - and just as fulfilling as - a spell playing Grand Theft Auto; all you're likely to take away from 2 Fast is a bad case of tinnitus. The major problem with this new model lies in the suspension (of disbelief) required: as if the impossibly carless and congestion-free roads of Miami weren't enough, we're asked to buy a Special Agent (Eva Mendes) with lips that disappear into blind spots at the corners, who wears clothes designed for no other reason than to show off her cleavage, and gets a close-up just to demonstrate how she eats a grape; a villain (Cole Hauser) who takes a live rat and an oxyacetylene blowtorch into a nightclub for the purposes of needlessly elaborate torture; and a hero who, after crashing his car into a speedboat, nurses his forehead for what seems like an age only to sit up and reveal not a scratch.
(June 2003)

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