Over the next several weeks, Game of Nerds will be looking back at our greatest modern soap opera. Each installment of the main Fast and Furious franchise will be covered in preparation for the release of F9 on June 25, 2021.
2003 – the year of the sequels. From The Matrix Reloaded to Spy Kids 3D to Terminator 3, Hollywood collectively said “Fuck it!” and doubled down on whatever IP they could get their hands on. Even if it wasn’t a direct sequel, studios were trying whatever they could to get their familiar properties in the market place. It became such an epidemic, someone thought Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd was not the worst idea they’ve ever heard.
This mad dash of franchise saturation is the backdrop to the release of 2 Fast 2 Furious (the most ‘2003’ of 2003 movie titles, but it was a good effort X2: X-Men United and Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, and Blonde). After the original hauled in over $200 million at the global box office, Universal wanted to turn their new action series into a franchise. The problem is, Vin Diesel didn’t want to return. Reportedly, Diesel was disappointed in the script for a potential Fast sequel, reiterating in interviews that he felt a sequel was only necessary if a screenplay could justify it. Diesel would go on to star in The Chronicles of Riddick (2004), a spin-off of Diesel’s breakout role in Pitch Black (1999). Thus, 2 Fast 2 Furious would be without Dom Toretto, pushing Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner into the spotlight as the face of the franchise.
With that knowledge, the opening scene of 2 Fast 2 Furious christens Brian O’Conner as the film’s biggest star, as he makes his belated grand arrival to a drag race while adorned with a remarkably fresh white T and a bright smile that says “this is my franchise now!” Here is where we first meet Ludacris’ Tej Parker, the MC for this race, as the rapper is essentially replacing Ja Rule’s role in the first film (although the two actors portrayed different characters). Tej wants to raise the ante on the race, prompting the participants to agree on a prize of “35 large.” Subsequently, all the participants just pull out a wad of cash, and give it to Tej without counting it while wearing an expression of “It’s all there!”; the next time a cashier gives me a price, I’ll do the same and just hope I haven’t overpaid.
The proceeding car race is spectacular, a step above any set piece in the original film. Director John Singleton imbues the action with grandiose but also intimacy, utilizing intense close-ups of our racers, awash in neon colors for an abundance of dynamic shots. During a high point of the exhibition, one of the racers – as she approaches the finish line – exclaims “Woooo! Smack that ass!” Not entirely certain what prompted this outburst, or whose ass is being smacked, but I’m sure reading the screenplay would fill in the blanks for her inner monologue. Tej goes on to raise the stakes of the race that pretty much puts the participants’ lives in danger, but leads to a finale that is breathtaking. As far as opening scenes go, it is one that sets a potentially unrealistic standard that the rest of the film has to find a way to live up to.
And live up to it the film does not. Fresh off of letting Dom go without arresting him in the original The Fast and the Furious (2001), Brian has quit the LAPD out of disillusionment and fled to Miami. This is a similar character arc to Johnny Utah in Point Break (1991), yet was sorely underdeveloped in the 1st film of the Fast franchise. 2 Fast 2 Furious, admittedly, does better at fleshing this out. We learn that Brian was a cop when his longtime friend, Roman Pearce (Tyrese, in his series debut), was busted for car theft. When Roman found out Brian was a cop, it alienated their friendship as Roman felt Brian did nothing to stop his arrest.
Brian’s regret motivated his decision to let Dom go, and inspires him to enlist Roman’s help when a group of Miami detectives ropes the ‘retired’ Brian into an investigation on a Florida drug kingpin. Said drug kingpin, Cole Hauser, is also having a relationship with Monica Fuentes (Eva Mendes), who unbeknownst to him is an undercover customs agent working closely on the case – and is smitten with Brian. From there, Brian and a disgruntled Roman (bullied into this investigation with the promise of clearing his record) must infiltrate and betray this criminal operation before Hauser can get his money, and himself, out of Florida.
You know, because we didn’t get enough of obvious cops pretending to be friends with the leader of a criminal enterprise the first time around. And once again, Brian’s love interest causes palpable tension between himself and the man he’s meant to turn in. But Hauser isn’t quite like Dom – he’s painted pretty clearly as an evil bad guy, who has a penchant for terrorizing potential “rats” in his organization with, you guessed it, actual rats.
But as a villain, Hauser is a bit low-rent. Yes he’s appropriately vicious, but too generic and 2-dimensional to differentiate himself from the bad guy in 200 other action movies. He doesn’t even have much chemistry with the rest of the cast, although part of that is because every character appears to be afraid to say more than two words to him. Speaking of lack of chemistry, they really miscalculated how well Paul Walker and Eva Mendes would fit together. I couldn’t recite to you a single line of dialogue they share, and their flirtatious eye-banging seems forced. I was praying for Jordana Brewster and Will Smith to crash through the window to come get their respective on-screen soul mates. We’ve seen Walker and Mendes excel in the aforementioned relationships, but there’s nothing much here between the two, and having the plot ride on Brian’s conflict between getting the bag or saving his girlfriend means this film limps to the finish line. The climatic action scene is laughably abrupt and tame, making Dom and Brian’s cathartic race, to cap the original, feel like Luke blowing up the Death Star by comparison.
What works here for the majority of the runtime is the dynamic between Tyrese and Walker. Roman Pearce feels like a real character when he could have easily been a caricature, and his bromance with Brian is measured with remorse but also rehabilitation. They bring the best out of each other’s personalities, both as characters and actors. The apex is when Brian is pressed by Roman on a question, when out of the blue the movie hits an intense close-up on Brian, who states, confidently, without a hint of self-awareness: “Forget about it, cuz!” It’s not the first or last time Brian has auditioned his hood persona for public approval, but better luck next time.
But perhaps that line is indicative of the film itself, announcing its arrival with the confidence of a James Cameron film, when in reality the film is just OK. It certainly could have gone worse considering we’re missing the star of the original, as well as two other important characters. I consider this to be more of a stopgap for the franchise; a placeholder until the part of the story we actually care about turns up again. If only we knew that in 2003, amidst the gluttony of IP overload, that while the offerings may seem hit or miss, there were better days on the horizon.
Fast Saga Reviews: