Built for speed
Stylish 'Fast and Furious' sequel keeps things simple


Friday, June 6, 2003

C.W. Nevius, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer


Built for speed / Stylish 'Fast and Furious' sequel keeps things simple

In the sequel of "The Fast and the Furious," Vin Diesel is replaced by a cast that includes, from left: Amaury Nolasco, Devon Aoki, Paul Walker and Michael Ealy. Universal Pictures photo by Eli Reed


An ex-cop (Paul Walker, right) teams up with an ex-con (Tyrese, left) and an undercover agent in "2 Fast 2 Furious." Universal Pictures photo by Eli Reed


Eva Mendes plays undercover agent Monica Fuentes in "2 Fast 2 Furious." Universal Pictures photo by Eli Reed


2 Fast 2 Furious: Action drama. Starring Paul Walker, Tyrese, Eva Mendes and Cole Hauser. Directed by John Singleton. Co-written by Michael Brandt and Derek Haas. (PG-13, 101 minutes.

In 2001 "The Fast and the Furious" was testimony to the unexpected lure of a howling engine, blue smoke from spinning tires, and hot dudes and babes in even hotter cars. Oh yeah, and the moody glower of breakout star Vin Diesel.

So what do you do for the sequel? More smoke, babes, dudes and howling. And no Diesel.

The result? Well, as expected, director John Singleton ("Boyz N the Hood") did not make a movie as good as "FF1." This is way better.

How is it better? Let us count the ways. First, he got rid of all the extraneous stuff -- like plot. "2 Fast 2 Furious" has something to do with money and drugs, but Singleton wisely doesn't spend too much time sweating the details. Basically, it boils down to one of two situations: The guys have something and must drive 120 mph to escape with it, or they are after something and must drive 120 mph to capture it.

Second, the lumpish presence of Diesel and his biceps is barely missed at all. Like the first version, this film seems to be set up as a star vehicle for blue-eyed, Steve McQueenesque Paul Walker. But once again it looks as if the sidekick walks off with the movie.

An actor, rapper and model, Tyrese (as Walker's pal Roman Pearce) brings something new to Diesel's role as the moody, hard-driving loner -- a personality. He's not just buffed and cocky, he's got such a nice way with a one-liner that he grows on you.

Like virtually everyone else in the sequel, Tyrese was not part of the original. This is exactly the same movie as the first one except for the fact that almost all the actors have changed, it is now set in Miami instead of Southern California, and a Cuban drug dealer (Cole Hauser of "White Oleander") has been added as a villain.

The constant is that these are still the sort of hot-wheelers who -- when a 20-foot jump is unexpectedly inserted at the end of a white-knuckle race -- find it to be an exhilarating and amusing development. They sail hundreds of feet through the air hollering "Whoooooooo!" at the top of their lungs, and have a good laugh about it at the finish line. (No one gets hurt, of course, despite the lack of helmets, seat belts or parachutes.)

The new premise is that Walker's character, Brian O'Conner, has been kicked off the police force and is scratching out a borderline existence in Florida as a street racer. His buddy, Tej (rapper Ludacris, an improvement over Ja- Rule in "FF1"), runs the garage, finds him races and helps him live the car culture life. Call it "Boyz Under the Hood."

O'Conner needs money and is offered a chance to make some -- and, of course,

clear his name -- on an undercover job with U.S. Customs. In an amazing coincidence, the undercover agent he is working with happens to be a gorgeous brunette (Eva Mendes of "Training Day"). He also picks up his pal Roman (Tyrese) to help run the scam. And we're off.


One nice touch is that in Miami they are apparently not into that boring, side-by-side drag racing from "FF1." This is real street racing with NASCAR- style fender-rubbing and bumper-bumping. There are at least three set pieces in which cars careen through traffic, cutting off semitrailers, skidding across lanes and creating spectacular crashes. It is riveting -- except for those who have driven there, who will recognize it as just another typical day on a Miami freeway.

However, it should be said that Singleton does a nice job of keeping the gratuitous violence to a minimum. Nothing says summer film fun like explosions,

guns and cartwheeling cars -- and that's all here -- but the gore and mayhem is restrained. The scene you'll be talking about afterward, involving a rat, a bucket and a blowtorch, is especially clever since its effect depends almost entirely on the viewer's imagination, not grisly details.

The rest of the action is more likely to spark interest in high-performance racing gear than gunplay.


There will probably be a rash of concerned citizens who decry the crazy driving showcased in the film. But the FF movies may be saving the clutch-and- shift car from extinction. (Although someone should point out that there is not a street racer in the world that has a gear that can be engaged at 114 mph to make the car go faster.)

At the end, the whole thing makes no more sense than the conclusion, an implausible, pointless, high-speed leap over hundreds of feet of water. But that doesn't mean you won't be hollering "Whoooooooo!" all the way.

E-mail C.W. Nevius at cwnevius@sfchronicle.com.


2 FAST 2 FURIOUS / *** (PG-13)

June 6, 2003

Brian O'Connor: Paul Walker
Roman Pearce: Tyrese
Monica Fuentes: Eva Mendes
Carter Verone: Cole Hauser
Tej: Chris "Ludacris" Bridges
Agent Bilkins: Thom Barry
Markham: James Remar
Devon Aoki

Universal Pictures presents a film directed by John Singleton. Written by Michael Brandt, Derek Haas and Gary Scott Thompson. Running time: 94 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for street racing, violence, language and some sensuality).


John Singleton's "2 Fast 2 Furious" tells a story so shamelessly preposterous all we can do is shake our heads in disbelief. Consider that the big climax involves a Miami druglord who hires two street racers to pick up bags full of money in North Beach and deliver them in the Keys, and adds, "You make it, I'll personally hand you $100 Gs at the finish line." Hell, for 10 Gs, I'd rent a van at the Aventura Mall and deliver the goods myself.

But this is not an ordinary delivery. The drivers are expected to drive at speeds ranging from 100 mph to jet-assisted takeoff velocities, which of course might attract the attention of the police, so the druglord has to arrange a 15-minute "window" with a corrupt cop, who he persuades by encouraging a rat to eat its way into his intestines. Does it strike you that this man is going to a lot of extra trouble?

Despite the persuasive rat, the cops do chase the speed-racers, but they have anticipated this, and drive their cars into a vast garage, after which dozens or hundreds of other supercharged vehicles emerge from the garage, confusing the cops with a high-speed traffic jam. Oh, and some guys in monster trucks crush a lot of squad cars first. It is my instinct that the owners of monster trucks and street machines treat them with tender loving care, and don't casually volunteer to help out a couple of guys (one they've never seen before) by crashing their vehicles into police cars. You can get arrested for that.

Does it sound like I'm complaining? I'm not complaining. I'm grinning. "2 Fast 2 Furious" is a video game crossed with a buddy movie, a bad cop-good cop movie, a Miami druglord movie, a chase movie and a comedy. It doesn't have a brain in its head, but it's made with skill and style and, boy, is it fast and furious.

How much like a video game is it? The two drivers are named Brian O'Connor (Paul Walker) and Roman Pearce (Tyrese). As they race down city streets at one-fifth the speed of sound, they talk to each other. They can't hear each other, but that doesn't matter, because what they say is exactly the kind of stuff that avatars say in video games. I took some notes:

"Let's see what this thing can do!"

"Watch this, bro!"

"Let's see if you still got it, Brian!"

"How you like them apples!?"

Walker returns from the original "The Fast and the Furious" (2001), which established Vin Diesel as a star. Rather than appear in this movie, about cops infiltrating his car gang to bust the drug cartel, Diesel decided instead to make "A Man Apart," playing a cop fighting the drug cartel. Oddly enough, F&F2 is the better movie.

Walker's co-star is Tyrese, aka Tyrese Gibson, who was so good in Singleton's "Baby Boy" (2001) and is the engine that drives "2 Fast 2 Furious" with energy and charisma. He's like an angrier Vin Diesel. Walker, who gets top billing in both movies, is pleasant but not compelling, sort of a Don Johnson lite.

Other key roles are by Cole Hauser as Carter Verone, the druglord, whose Colombian parents didn't name him after Jimmy, since he's too old for that, but possibly after Mother Maybelle; and Eva Mendes, as Monica Fuentes, the sexy undercover cop who has been on Verone's payroll for nine months and is either sleeping with him or is a sensational conversationalist.

O'Connor and Pearce are teamed up to work undercover as drivers for Verone, and promised that their records will be cleaned up if the mission succeeds. First they have to win their jobs. Verone assembles several teams of drivers and tells them he left a package in his red Ferrari at an auto pound 20 miles away. First team back with the package "gets the opportunity to work with me."

That sets off a high-speed race down Route 95 during which one car is crushed under the wheels of a truck, several more crash, and various racers and, presumably, civilians are killed. O'Connor and Pearce return with the package. As they're driving back, they don't even seem to pass the scene of the incredible carnage they caused in the opposite lanes; just as well, because at 120 mph you don't want to hit a gapers' block.

All of the chases involve the apparently inexhaustible supply of squad cars in South Florida. There's also a traffic jam in the sky, involving police and news helicopters. At one point a copter broadcaster hears a loud noise, looks up, and says "what was that?" but we never find out what it was, perhaps because the movie is just too fast and too furious to slow down for a helicopter crash.

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