“Whatever happens next, just let it go.”
Words of wisdom from ex-cop Brian O’Connor, as he warns FBI agent Bilkins about the fistfight that’s about to go down. Sure enough, as if he can see the future, Brian winds up squaring off against ex-con Roman Pearce less than a minute later, the two trading blows over … well, over who knows what. Ancient history, I suppose. And, really, it’s barely even a fight. It’s a few notches above roughhousing, the kind of scrap that anybody with siblings knows all too well. They wrestle on the ground, smacking each other with open hands, pinning each other and shouting wildly. “You still fight like shit!” Brian yells, cramming his fingers against Roman’s face, writhing for power, neither one of them willing to deliver too much pain.
In other words, the idea of family is alive and well in 2 Fast 2 Furious, even if Dom Toretto is not. He’s not dead, mind you, but he’s not here, and who the heck knows how well he’s doing. Wherever he is, I miss him. My great concern entering 2 Fast 2 Furious, watching it for the very first time now as I’m binge-watching the entire Fast and the Furious franchise, is that I would be too distracted by Diesel’s absence to enjoy this particular ride. And while I definitely felt a Toretto-sized hole in this movie’s heart, I think I was able to enjoy it much more now than I would have had I watched it in 2003 for the very first time — because I have the benefit of knowing what’s next, if only loosely.
Knowing that Dom and his gang (or at least some of his gang) will be back a few movies from now, I’m able to appreciate 2 Fast 2 Furious for what it is: a detour, a diversion, a bit of a hollow joy ride. There’s a lot less heart and soul here than in The Fast and the Furious, without a doubt, but as Roman might say, these pockets ain’t empty — not completely, anyway.
Two pieces of Brian’s past haunt him here in 2 Fast, and he’s looking to clean his slate. He betrayed a friend in Dom, even if he eventually helped him evade authorities; and in doing that, he blew up his entire career. Now, in Miami, Brian has a chance at redemption. He can make up for his professional failure by helping the FBI and U.S. Customs Service bust a big, bad drug runner, and he can repair an old friendship with Roman, his childhood best friend, the Vince to his Dom. It’s not a direct mending-of-the-fences with the on-the-run Toretto, but it’s a start.
I’m not sure that’s a reading that would have mattered much when the film first premiered. I would be too distracted by how far away we’ve veered from the street-level simplicity of The Fast and the Furious, the multi-faceted family dynamic that’s in play. Because even though there’s a lot to dig into with Brian and Roman’s history, that’s pretty much the extent of the film’s substantive relationships. Don’t get me wrong, I greatly enjoyed Ludacris as Tej Parker, but I don’t exactly care about him; he’s fun, like Ja Rule’s Edwin in the first movie, but not much more than that. I felt no emotional connection with anyone else in Tej’s world, either, even if I enjoyed seeing Devon Aoki, Amaury Nolasco and Michael Ealy as Suki, Orange Julius and Slap Jack, having enjoyed the hell out of each of them in other movies and shows over the years. But beyond that, nothing about them makes me care the way I did about Letty, or Jesse, or even freaking Vince.
I’m able to appreciate 2 Fast 2 Furious for what it is: a detour, a diversion, a bit of a hollow joy ride.
It doesn’t help that I couldn’t give a rip about Carter Verone, the Miami drug lord played by Cole Hauser. He’s the most vanilla villain humanly possible, devoid of charisma and true menace. Granted, the scene where he threatens to let a rat chew through a crooked cop’s stomach was pretty fantastic, enhanced by the fact that said cop was played by the terrific Mark Boone Jr. of Sons of Anarchy and Batman Begins fame. (Suddenly, Batman’s whole “Swear to me!” shtick is looking pretty tame.) Outside of that scene, though, Verone is a meathead and little more. He creates elaborate tasks to test Brian and Roman along the way, setting them up to procure a package that winds up just being a cigar, only to size up their ability to handle his operation — and then he proceeds to take one or two puffs of the cigar before dumping it on his lawn. What a waste! And what a dud.
Really, then, there’s not much here beyond the Brian and Roman dynamic, and some admittedly terrific car chase scenes. The aforementioned cigar race provides some legitimately intense moments, but nothing tickled me quite as much as the opening race, with Brian driving his car directly over Slap Jack’s as they sail over a bridge and across a gap. It’s like playing Mario Kart, and tossing back a green shell at your opponent right as you drive by, completely wrecking his game while you cruise through the finish line. Great stuff.
Again, in 2003, watching 2 Fast 2 Furious for the first time, I would have been wildly annoyed about the end of the Toretto story, the unnecessarily convoluted plot, and the lack of any emotional investment outside of Brian and Roman’s friendship. (The fact that I haven’t even mentioned Eva Mendes is telling; she’s fine as Monica Fuentes, but little more than a damsel in distress, until she finally gets the chance to hold a shotgun up to Verone’s face. If only she’d pulled the trigger; that would’ve knocked this movie up a peg or two, for sure.) I would have wanted to hit the button on that ejecto seato, cuz. But knowing that Brian’s relationship with Roman is a factor in future movies, knowing that Dom will return some day soon, I was able to enjoy 2 Fast 2 Furious for the mind-numbing ride that it is.
In fact, I’m walking away from 2 Fast 2 Furious with the opposite feeling I felt on finishing The Fast and the Furious. With the first film, I was kicking myself for missing out on something special for so many years. With this film, I’m actually glad I’m late to the game, because I have five more Fast and Furious films immediately in my queue, just waiting for the binge ride to continue. Without that, I’m sure I’d give 2 Fast 2 Furious a hard thumbs down. Instead, I can safely say that while it’s not 2 good, it’s not 2 bad, either.
The real test, of course, is whether or not I can maintain that positive outlook when both Dom and Brian are out of the picture. Onward, then… to Tokyo.
Next: Tokyo Drift (March 30)