Thursday, February 12, 2015

In Asphalt, Nitrous, and Rubber: 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)

“Come on, man, Guns, murders and crooked cops? I was made for this, bruh!”

            Let’s get this out of the way: 2 Fast 2 Furious is the least of the F&Fs. It’s cartoony, the action is lacking, it’s frequently strange and jumbled in a bad way, festooned with bizarre characterizations, even by the most generous standards the racing connection is tenuous at best, and we spend too much time with a villain who isn’t worth any of the attention he gets.
            But what I’m never going to call it inessential. For one, just the structure of the title, 2 Fast 2 Furious, is so simultaneously brilliant and stupid, it has provided an evergreen joke for sequel titles to rival “Electric Boogalo.” 2 American 2 Sniper. 2 Imitation 2 Game. 2 Grand 2 Budapest 2 Hotel. It works.
            Primarily, though, it’s not inessential because of Tej Parker and even more because of Roman Pearce.
            What, at the time, seemed like the movie’s biggest liability also, I think, led to the series’ success. With no Vin Diesel, and thus no Dom, 2F2F had no choice but to expand the universe. This meant a whole new community of gearheads ruled by Ludacris’ Tej. For now, Tej doesn’t get much to do except be the cool helper guy, collecting money and sitting about dockside shouting through a megaphone at a jet ski race before he’s called upon to rally the troops in aid of the heroes.
            Roman, though. Magnificent Roman.
            Roman’s my favorite, and he’s easily and handily the best thing about the movie. Hot headed, angry, snide, contemptuous, bursting with joyous swagger with just a soupcon of vulnerability, Roman and his presence and energy and antics make the movie watchable. His sit-and-spin move? Hilarious. His gasoline spray bottle trick? Marvelous. His little collar popping dance? Delightful. His conjecture on henchman salaries? A joy. He tries to swipe a cigar cutter from the big bad guy just because he doesn’t like the dude, and preserves his and Brian’s cover by shooting at a customs agent. The movie that brings him into the world may not be particularly auspicious, but he sure is.
            But more than just introducing beloved recurring characters, the significance of 2F2F is that it introduces recurring characters. It expands the first movie to a proper universe, providing a framework, where all sorts of previous associates may lurk, waiting to be called upon as “the only one for the job.” Eventually, the series’ great appeal would be in seeing these familiar characters embroiled in crazier and crazier situations, and I don’t think there would have been sufficient longevity if those characters had remained just Dom, Brian, and Mia.
            That’s all meta-value, though, and it doesn’t change the fact that, independent of a broader series, the movie isn’t great, and is often rather bizarre. The opening race looks and feels cartoony as in weightless, lacking in gravity, but then that aesthetic is pulled away from, taking the energy along with it. This is, in fact, the movie’s greatest crime—it doesn’t amp up the action from what came before, in fact it’s a significant throttling down, with the big action climax being a car jumping onto a yacht (with significant CG aid). Before that, there’s a straightaway freeway chase, and Brian has to sort of but not really dangle out a window to remove a car-killing harpoon, but it’s pretty underwhelming, not a candle against Vince and Brian actually dangling off the semi-truck as it careens down the highway.
            This lack of gravity spills over to the story too, which is 70’s kung fu-esque in its rote-ness (“law enforcement recruits guy with arcane skills to infiltrate drug lord’s organization”), which would be a virtue were the action better, but as noted it is not. The villain, Carter Varone, is lame, lacking in the cold menace and danger of TFATF’s Johnny Tran, which is a bit of a problem because Varone is supposed to be a drug running kingpin, and I’m pretty sure Johnny Tran is just a rich guy with armed hangers-on. There’s similarly none of the flirty, defiant fun of Mia in Monica, and abruptly Bilkins, the angry FBI heavy of the first movie adopts the Gary Busey role of kindly paternal handler so Markham can be the mistrustful agent who callously disregards Brian and Roman’s lives. There should be gravity in that, but again, Markham is too cartoony—the dude straight up orders them into a known ambush so the case against Varone can be made. On the whole, the movie is just lacking in the incidental details that made the first movie work.
            Except, that is, when it comes to Brian and Roman. The two have a history and a contentious camaraderie and a rapport, and they get the little details to support it. They play little alpha dog trumping games, and crack on each other’s tastes and ways. Within the first minute of Roman’s introduction, they’re in a hilariously uncinematic slap fight in the dust. “Oh shit!” Brian exclaims when Roman comes after the goon he’s grappling, knowing full well that Roman isn’t going to bother disentangling the two before hauling the goon from the car.
            Roman just makes everything better.

I Laughed: 

Soundtrack Lowlight: Actually, nothing really stands out as especially awful on this soundtrack as nu metal receded into the used CD stores of history, so I’ll go with the bland and weird score, which isn’t exactly ambient or hip-hop, but is, again, bland.

Car This Not-Quite Care Guy Would Take: I mean, it’s cliché, and it’s mocked, and in the movie it doesn’t actually do anything, but it is a Ferrari.

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