June 21, 2006

Movie Review: The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift

"On the wrong side of the law....." Those words, and words similar to them have appeared in countless film trailers over the years. They have almost become a joke, how many times have you heard them and let out a chuckle? I know I have, and I know I did when I saw the trailer for this. Shortly after the chuckle, I had to wonder why they would make a third entry in this series of dubious distinction. Of course the answer is simple, money. Throw some rodded up imports on the screen and watch the teens flock to the multiplex. Now it is time to admit, in case you hadn't already guessed, I joined the flocks and took this movie in over the weekend.

I admit to being curious. I enjoyed the first two movies, for what they were. Both of them were flashy and fun superficial exercises, featuring some good car stunts. That right there is their claim to fame, as neither have had a terribly engrossing story, nor have they been known for the acting performances contained therein. I wondered if this one would continue the trend of over the top car antics, full of the whiz bang, and lacking in the cerebral.

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift does not disappoint if you were looking for a popcorn muncher, brain dead from start to finish. When I walked out of the theater I had a smile on my face. I fell for it, hook, line, and sinker. The flash, the pace, the colors, I fell for it. I was successfully duped into enjoying this film. Maybe not duped, but I definitely liked it despite the lack of a story.

A funny thing came to mind, as I was watching the movie, I was suddenly reminded of Stick It. You remember, it was that movie about a teen girl who is forced into a gymnastics academy because of damage she caused at a construction site, by her estranged father after her mother decides she can't handle her. Tokyo Drift follows a teen boy who is sent to live with his estranged father in a country he doesn't want to go to, after he causes considerable damage at a construction site and his mother can't handle him. The similarities are incredible. The main difference, one is targeted at teen girls, and the other at teen boys.

Lucas Black plays Shawn, a perennial troublemaker who, after an exciting and destructive race, is shipped to Tokyo to live with his father. It doesn't take long before Shawn gets himself into some trouble in the Land of the Rising Sun. After we get the requisite moments of culture shock we get down to business. First up, fall for the wrong girl, you know, the main bad guy's girl. She comes in the guise of the nice girl who has her own reasons for being with the bad guy, without being bad herself. Next, pick up a comic relief sidekick, the kind of guy that can get in trouble so the hero can stand up for the little guy. Third, get involved with the bad guys, while retaining the good guy cred. This is all by the book stuff.

The thing to remember here is to not think too hard about the story. There is very little explanation for the things that happen. The plot just chugs along to link the car racing scenes together, and on that level it works. It is completely exhilarating watching these souped up cars do their thing. I am sure that there is considerable CGI enhancement during these races, but they are put together very convincingly. I was sucked in the intake valve and taken along for the ride.

The thing that I enjoyed the most was the setting. I, of course, have my reservations about the accuracy of the Asian culture as portrayed, but I enjoyed what was given. The cultural differences combined with the change of scenery helped draw me in.

Justin Lin directed the film, and it is definitely a step up from his last effort, Annapolis, but neither hold a candle to his excellent Better Luck Tomorrow. Lin does prove to be adept at delivering exciting car races, keeping the pace frenetic, while keeping everything under control. It would have been easy to let the race control the pace, but Lin hangs on and keeps the action easy to follow.

The acting was serviceable. Lucas Black does an decent job as the lead, but is upstaged by the duo of Sung Kang and Brian Tee. Kang plays Han, the better of the two bad guys who takes Black's character in, while Tee is DK, the true bad guy of the piece. Both of them have a lot of charisma, despite being saddled with a weak script. Bow Wow co-stars as the comic relief and is saddled with the unfortunate name of Twinkie, I kid you not. Nathalie Kelly plays the love intereset, Neela (Futurama anyone?), she is an attractive young woman, but isn't really given much to do. I also have to mention that Sonny Chiba plays a Yakuza boss, there is a guy with some impressive screen presence.

Bottomline. I liked it, what else can I say? It is loud, flashy, and in your face, and I bought it. The whiz bang suckered me in and took me on a wild ride. This may end up being my favorite of the series. I left the theater full, but with the knowledge I would be hungry again in an hour. Let me close by saying that there is a great cameo that I am glad was not spoiled for me by one of the commercials, it works so well when you don't see it coming.

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