Artist: Movie ReviewTitle: The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift (Film)Rating: 3 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Edwardo Jackson
After the Oscar-Felix odd couple of Walker and Tyrese sank what never should've been a franchise anyway with 2 Fast 2 Furious, imagine my bemused horror that Neal Moritz et. al were up for a third installment, albeit one set in Tokyo (cool) but featuring Bow Wow (so not cool). Once again, imagine my bemused horror when, of all things, I genuinely LIKED this movie. Buckle up - it's the law.
Starting with a sexy little suped up challenge that gets him shipped off to his transient Navy father's (Brian Goodman) crib in Tokyo, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (Universal Pictures) follows the misadventures of Sean Boswell (Lucas Black), a twangy, rebellious teenage street racer who's moved around more than U-Haul, thanks to his legally unsanctioned driving habits. Befriending fellow gaijin Twinkie (Bow Wow), the school's black market goods hustler, Sean is hipped to the dangerous, hyper-slick brand of Tokyo street racing called drifting, where one uses braking as a way of controlled, accelerated hairpin-tight maneuvering. After running afoul of DK (Brian Tee), the reigning Drift King, by falling for his mysterious, Aussie-accented, gaijin girlfriend Neela (Nathalie Kelley; more - much more - on her later), Sean is seduced into the wannabe yakuza lifestyle by DK's lieutenant Han (Kang) via the lures of sex, cars, and, yes, sexy cars. Defying a racing ban by his father, Sean apprentices under Han to learn the required skills of drift racing that will come in handy for a (wait for it...you guessed it!) showdown with the Drift King himself. Would you be surprised if the winner gets the girl, too?
Well, here's a surprise for you: Tokyo Drift is the quintessential testosterone-soaked summer movie. All gas, no brake, F&F screeches out of the garage with a rough and tumble opening that returns this rejuvenated franchise to its roots: hot chicks, hotter music, and the hottest whips this side of Pimp My Ride. With Lin exposing us American gaijin to a Hip-Hop saturated, raccoon make-up, under-30 Tokyo that's a Fodor's guide cross-pollinated with softcore Asian porn, F&F brings just enough story to get us from racing set piece to racing set piece while actually giving a damn about these characters (no small feat-see 2 Fast 2 Furious). The Chris Morgan (Cellular) script balances just enough James Dean anti-establishment youth ("Life is simple - you make choices and don't look back.") with character motivation and development (cue the afterschool special messages of personal responsibility and growing up) to ground the action in a semblance of reality. Capturing the vibrant kinetic energy of drift racing and the stylish urbanity of Tokyo, Justin Lin accesses his inner Michael Bay, addicting us enough with the speedy, visual elegance of a midnight
drift race (and the psychology behind it: Says Neela, "There's no past, no future, no problems...Just the moment."). Even a ham-fisted but sometimes thrilling musical score by Brian Tyler can't derail Lin's innate coming of age story skills that were exhibited so effectively in his indie debut Better Luck Tomorrow but rather
underwhelmingly in the anemic Annapolis.
Boasting a handsome cast that's as sleek as its cars, F&F gives Lin a lot with which to work. You have Lucas Black's boyish knucklehead, forever with something to prove as the perennial outsider, who grins his way with tangible, amicably gaijin glee whenever possible. Watching his gearhead Sean see the parking garage full of cranked up
race cars is akin to watching the Cookie Monster make a trip to Mrs. Fields. The highly overrated Bow Wow FINALLY shows us something worth watching - it only took him five movies, right? Sung Kang plays a perfect blend of "I've got it all under control" pseudo-cool as Han, an insider who will always consider himself on the outside looking in. Brian Tee's DK is appropriately evil - not just because the script demands a villain, but also because this villain is the most dangerous kind: the spoiled rich boy villain. So DK, with his menacingly attractive glares from the George Clooney School of Acting (chin down, look up), is hateable, but understandably hateable.
And then there's Nat. Eminently watchable, Nathalie Kelley comes out of nowhere as
tasty-accented Neela (literally - this is the well-dimpled one's only IMDB credit) with her multiracial, olive skinned looks and sinfully engaging eyes. Causing car geeks and jocks alike in the theater to swoon, Kelley is a bangin', cinematic version of a rush hour car
wreck: you just gotta stop and take a look.
But Asian ingenues aside, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift gives what should've been a dead franchise a tune up, if not a ferocious new engine altogether. Stacked with an amazing, unexpected second act complication that truly does raise the plot and emotional stakes, F&F is destined to become one of the sleeper hits of the summer, sure to best the nine figure worldwide perfs of its predecessors through sheer burnt rubber alone. The script extols the value of knowing who you are and where you belong. Tokyo drifts back home to the fast (and the furious) lane.
Edwardo Jackson (ReelReviewz@aol.com) is an author and LA-based screenwriter, visit his website at www.edwardojackson.com