Fast and the Furious, The: Tokyo Drift (United States, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Optimism springs eternal. I went to the third Fast and the Furious movie with the deeply held conviction that it had to be better than 2 Fast 2 Furious (or whatever that misbegotten turd of a second movie was called). I was right, but "better" does not equate to "good." Aside from trying my patience, the film offered one important lesson: never again attend a movie with the words "fast" and "furious" both in the title. I expect a racing film to be derivative. That goes with the territory. No one is seeing a Fast and the Furious movie for the plot. When it comes to eye candy, the film is on solid ground - it offers plenty of babes and cars (with the latter being more lovingly photographed than the former). However, it is unacceptable that the movie's action scenes (races and chases) are boring and incoherent. If the movie can't deliver on its most important asset, what's the point?

It would be possible to write a review in which I compared The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift to both Lost in Translation and Cars. I can assure you that parallels exist. The film features an American having trouble adjusting to Japanese culture and ends with big race. (Is that a spoiler? Isn't obvious that a Fast and the Furious movie is going to conclude with a little car-on-car action?) But even mentioning Lost in Translation and Cars in this review devalues them.

One of the flaws of Tokyo Drift is that it has too much plot for its own good, and not a scintilla of that plot is original, interesting, or surprising. The longer the period between races, the more impatient the viewer is likely to become, and that's even considering that the races aren't well staged. So we get the generic rebellious teenager, Sean (Lucas Black), sent to Tokyo to live with his estranged dad (Brian Goodman) rather than go to prison back home. In short order, he acquires a sidekick, Twinkie (Bow Wow); locates a potential girlfriend, Neela (Nathalie Kelly); makes an enemy of the wrong person, DK (Brian Tee); and is paired up with a mentor, Han (Sung Kan). Various unpleasant things happen, not the least of which is some of these performers trying to act, until we come to the race to end all races between Sean and DK. The prize is double barreled: the trophy girlfriend and the chance to race the guy making the super-secret, hush hush cameo appearance in the final 60 seconds. (For those who can't figure out who this is, check out the official website, which gives away the "surprise." It's hard to consider something a spoiler when it is featured as part of the advertising material.)

Before this film, I was willing to give director Justin Lin the benefit of the doubt. To my way of thinking, Better Luck Tomorrow more than counterbalanced the misfire of Annapolis. Now, however, I have grave doubts about the director. Tokyo Drift doesn't just represent an error in judgment; it's a complete failure, and Lin is one of the reasons why it doesn't work. It all comes back to the action scenes. These are filmed with what has become a frustratingly typical style: quick cuts from multiple perspectives. Yes, it coveys speed, but it also creates confusion. You have no idea what's going on. Everything is a frenetic blur, signifying only sound and fury. In the final race, half the time you don't know who's in front or whether someone is about to fly off the side of a cliff. Directors need to realize that film is a spectator medium, not an interactive one. During a race, the average viewer wants to understand what's happening, not be given whiplash by an overactive camera and a snip-happy editor.

In the entire credit list, I was familiar with only two names: Sonny Chiba, the Japanese veteran who appears in a handful of scenes (although he has more screen time than the super secret hush hush cameo guy) and Bow Wow, whose presence is easily forgotten because his character serves no purpose. Brian Tee plays the bad guy with enough venom that we want him to be impaled on a stake, have his innards ripped out while he watches, then be drawn and quartered and set on fire. (This does not happen; the film is rated PG-13.) Sung Kang, as Han, lets us know what Mr. Miyagi might have been like if he was young and cool rather than looking suspiciously like the guy who ran Arnold's on Happy Days. Nathalie Kelly is making her feature debut, which isn't hard to guess. At least she has a cute accent. Then there's lead actor Lucas Black, who made me see Paul Walker in a more positive light.

There's something odd about Tokyo Drift. It fetishizes cars in a way that's almost unhealthy. When the vehicles appear in the same scene as a bunch of scantily clad Asian babes, the camera is drawn not to cleavage but to carburetors. When Sean first enters Han's hideout, his attention is not arrested by the party girls but by the cars. In the first two Fast and the Furious movies, sex and automobiles are linked. Here, the latter takes priority over the former.

The strength of the central idea explains how this series could lose both its stars (wink wink nudge nudge) and remain viable. That's because The Fast and the Furious isn't about anything more profound than fast cuts and furious edits. For me, excitement comes from interesting characters in dangerous storylines. For those who like The Fast and the Furious, these things are irrelevant. It's all about eye candy and the quick tease. It's not over fast enough.

Fast and the Furious, The: Tokyo Drift (United States, 2006)

Director: Justin Lin
Cast: Lucas Black, Bow Wow, Nathalie Kelly, Brian Tee, Sung Kang, Brian Goodman, Sonny Chiba
Screenplay: Alfredo Botello, Chris Morgan, Kario Salem
Cinematography: Stephen F. Windon
Music: Brian Tyler
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures
Run Time: 1:40
U.S. Release Date: 2006-06-16
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1