Directed by: Justin Lin
Starring: Lucas Black, Bow Wow, Nathalie Kelley, Sonny Chiba, Brian Tee, Sung Hang
I flipped five years ago over the original The Fast and the Furious, a movie about Los Angeles' subculture of car racing and high-stakes hijacking. It was stupid but enjoyable because of terrific racing sequences and charismatic actors, especially a relatively unknown bald guy with big biceps named Vin Diesel. In 2003 came 2 Fast and 2 Furious, set in Miami. It was even more stupid, but still enjoyable for the same reasons, with the bald hunk character played this time by Tyrese Gibson.
Now we've got The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. The stupidity level has been jacked up to the stratosphere, with 100 cars destroyed in the making of the movie, but unfortunately director Justin Lin (Annapolis) somehow has managed to crush the fun factor out of the movie. Sure, there's lots of stomach-churning racing: This time it's "drifting" -- driving sideways on death-defying hairpin curves with tires screeching and gears grinding. The subculture is in Tokyo, a violent, gadget-obsessed megalopolis, where the car groupies are short-skirted, vacant-eyed zombies, and the whole city is so garish and soulless it looks like a juvenilized version of the robot-strewn streets of Blade Runner. But there's no bald hunk with biceps, and maybe that's why it's so darn boring.
Sean Boswell is a 17-year-old who's been racing since he was old enough to peek over the steering wheel. Played with a genuine Alabama accent by Lucas Black (Jarhead), Boswell is pleasant enough, if you like your heroes boy-like and topped with hair. In an incredible opening sequence, Boswell races an equally reckless teenager through a huge construction site, causing so much damage he's doomed to juvie. But instead, Mom (a lovely floozy who's the most interesting female in the movie, although she's in only one scene) manages to get him banished to the so-called care of his father -- a responsibility-shirking Air Force officer living in a cramped apartment overseas in Tokyo. At his new school, Boswell learns appropriate survival skills, such as shedding his shoes and wearing slippers in the classroom, bowing to his teachers and eating with chopsticks.
He flirts with Neela (Nathalie Kelley), a gorgeous orphan whose mother was a famous prostitute from Australia. Like Boswell, she is a gaijin, or outsider. Unlike him, she's been adopted by a family in the yakuza, the powerful Japanese mafia, to whom she feels gratitude but no kinship. The "godfather," magnificently outfitted in head-to-toe white cashmere, is played by none other than Sonny Chiba (Kill Bill Vol. 1), legendary anti-hero of Japanese martial-arts movies.
Boswell is befriended by Army brat Twinkie (rapper Bow Wow), who sells anything he can get his hands on. Twinkie introduces Boswell to the native racing maniacs, whose inventory of shiny, loud cars would rival the gross national product of several Third World countries. The greatest racer is Drift King (Brian Tee, Fun With Dick and Jane), a nasty psychopath who intends to keep sole possession of the lovely Neela. His rival is Hans (Sung Kang, The Motel), who takes Boswell under his wing, giving the wheels-deprived American kid the chance to race every souped-up vehicle he ever dreamed of. With Hans as the relentless taskmaster, Boswell becomes a driver skilled enough to take on Drift King.
And so the movie var-rooms on, through its sequence of ear-splitting, knuckle-biting, artery-thumping yet eerily emotion-free races. Ho-hum. Rated PG-13 for reckless and illegal behavior involving teens, violence, language and sexual content.
-- reviewed by Marcianne Miller