Thursday, November 17, 2011

How Fast Do You Like It?

From time to time, I plan to use this space to repurpose film reviews I wrote for several local independent newspapers during the previous decade:

THE OCTOPUS: 1999-2000
THE PAPER: 2003-2004
THE HUB: 2005-2006

During my tenure as a professional (re: paid) film critic, I wrote about both new releases and cult classics. The date provided below is the date the newspaper issue containing the review hit the streets.

This review has been slightly edited from the original published piece.

1 ½ Stars
Rated PG-13
Running Time 1:40
First published June 13, 2003

A more apt title for 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS, Universal’s boisterous sequel to its surprise 2001 hit THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS, would be 2 STUPID 2 BORING. In a surprise move, director John Singleton and his screenwriters have jettisoned everything that was interesting and exciting about the original picture, and replaced them with…well, nothing really. It seems as though it would take less effort to make a good movie about car chases than the soulless noisemaker Singleton has assembled, but perhaps he believes in doing things the hard way.

TFATF was no work of art. But it understood its B-picture pedigree, and cruised to success on the heels of Vin Diesel’s starmaking presence and a pair of well-crafted chase scenes. Diesel’s not around for the sequel, and neither are the exciting chase scenes. Don’t get me wrong—this movie has plenty of sequences that resemble car chases, but Singleton’s are about as adrenaline-pumping as a game of Pole Position. There are basic directorial rules that need to be followed when shooting a car chase, and Singleton ignores all of them. Establish the physical setting, shoot lots of medium and wide shots so we can see the cars in relationship to one another, film real cars driving at actual speeds to lend the action a much-needed verisimilitude—I swear, this movie has more shots of hands shifting gears than metal smashing into metal.

The plot is reminiscent of the Good Ol’ Boy movies of the 1970s, where a hotshot driver would haul moonshine over Georgia back roads with a corrupt sheriff in pursuit. This time, ex-cop Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker, reprising his role from the first movie) and his childhood pal Roman Pearce (model Tyrese) are recruited by a U.S. Customs agent (a welcome James Remar) to go undercover as drivers for drug kingpin Carter Verone (the waxen Cole Hauser). Their contact is a voluptuous agent named Monica Clemente (Eva Mendes), who is undercover—and presumably under the covers—as Verone’s aide-de-camp. After all the tests of will, macho posturing, bickering, and doublecrosses, the plot boils down to the boys’ unlikely assignment to pick up some drug money and drive as fast as they can in very flashy foreign sports cars to a delivery point on the waterfront. Personally, I would do what they used to do in the Good Ol’ Boy movies, which was to drive the speed limit so as not to attract undue attention from the police, but then the screenwriters would have to work harder to create a believable chase scene.

The plot is extremely stupid and the young performers are either stiff or unconvincing, but you could argue that no one is paying seven bucks for that anyway. Then what are we paying for? The action? Disregarding the fact that drag racing—two cars traveling really fast in a straight line—is less exciting to watch than a tractor pull, Singleton’s botching of the chases removes all reasons to watch this movie. The movie’s big car jumps don’t even appear to be “real,” but rather digital effects. If the filmmakers can’t be bothered to use real cars to generate real suspense, then why should you bother to pay real money to see this movie?

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