Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Speed Needs No Translation. Yes, and apparently, neither do any of the characters, as everyone in Japan speaks perfect English. Even to one another. When the door is closed. But that’s just the beginning of the fun to be had with the gleefully retarded 3 Fast 3 Furious: Redneck Rampage, a film that far and away is a return to form for the franchise, yet still fails miserably to recapture the guilty pleasure spirit of the original.
This time out, the series commits the cardinal sin of sequels, by telling a story that omits every recognizable face fans of the series may be familiar with. And yet, this is one of those rare occasions in which it works, because all anyone cares about is the cars anyway. Right? But that doesn’t mean that the story they have to tell is particularly good. Quite the contrary, the story is pretty fucking lame, but simple enough that you never actually have to think about it or get involved enough to care. Cars, baby. The Cars.
But let me get this out of the way. I had fun with FatF:TD. It’s crap, there’s no denying that, but there’re just enough cool items of interest to make this worthwhile watching once. But I’ll never set out to watch it again. It’s just one of those films.
First off, to be fair to the film, I’ll talk about what I loved about it – because there were two items in particular I loved. Chiefly the character of Han, played brilliantly by Sung Kang. Not only does he prove to be the only character of interest in the film whatsoever (unfortunately he’s not one of the leads), but he proves to be one of the coolest character I’ve seen on the screen in a while.
The guy’s a true anti-hero, a classic Bogart-esque criminal who is constantly cooler than everyone else around him, is given some of the best and most telling dialog in the film and does what he does for a reason. While he seems very detached most of the time, it is in that cool Look, I know I’m a badass so why even bother to prove it to you Punk sort of way. Sung Kang just oozes cool and even under the toughest of circumstances maintains his composure without taking it to a cheesy B-Movie trying to be a badass level. He’s so cool in fact, that he feels a bit out of place, like he belongs in a classic John Woo crime film, not some low rent cheap thrills crapfest like this. I quite simply loved every moment this guy was onscreen and that delight helped pass the time through some of the pretty terrible scenes book ending his.
Secondly, somewhere along the line someone suggested the single most perfect geek casting choice of a minor character that this film could have had. Hey, we’ve got this Tokyo Godfather Yakuza boss character. Who should we get for it? How about Sonny Fucking Chiba?!? Hell yeah! If Justin Lin does anything right with this film outside of Sung Kang’s character, it is his use of Sonny Chiba. The set up of his appearance, the build up of his arrival and every fucking scene Chiba appears in is so god damned cool that nothing could wipe the geek grin off my face. Hearing Chiba’s very distinctive ominous broken English that seemed to resonate through the bass amplifiers in a way only James Earl Jones or Johnny Cash can ever accomplish, was pure bliss – instantly elevating the film another notch. Sadly the film used him for all the character was worth, which wasn’t enough to fully salvage it.
And while we’re discussing the few positives this film has to offer, the race/chase scenes in this actually work fairly well. Lin made a solid decision in dumping the lame CG speed streak lines, which worked well in the original, then were completely overused to ludicrous amounts in John Singleton’s sequel. Instead, Lin films almost all of the chase scenes under street lights, tunnel fluorescent lighting and in parking garages – allowing the reflections of the lights themselves to serve as streak lines. The aesthetic works, and he competently sets up some fun race/chases that work well for the series, but never quite meet the same level as seen in the original. While there are some daring stunts, nothing quite touches that classic 18 Wheeler scene.
Unfortunately, that’s all that FatF:TD has to offer. The problems begin with the choice of Justin Lin himself who, if he’s proven anything with his three feature films (but specifically this and Annapolis), it is that he either has no grasp on how to make a “macho” film or has no desire to – deciding instead to make films that should be filled with manly characters, but instead just aren’t. The original FatF was entirely about Machismo. Hell, you can’t even pick up the dvd in your bare hands without be slathered with testosterone. The second film tried really hard to be macho, but instead tried too hard, leading to one of the most overtly gay action films since Top Gun. Thus it was but a Macho, Macho Man. This time, Lin confuses being manly with being an unrepentant asshole.
Leading to the films biggest problem – our hero, the lead. Unfortunately Lucas Black is going to take the brunt of blame for this when really it’s not his fault. The problem here is that the hero is nothing but a douche bag gearhead who’s mouth constantly writes checks his ass can’t cash. And it all comes from the story and dialog, not just the way Black delivers it. There’s nothing likable or sympathetic about this guy at all. He’s just an asshole who doesn’t know when to keep his fucking mouth shut. So he gets beat down, repeatedly, and deserves every beating he takes. This guy is a mullet and a Camero short of every beer drinking asshole you knew in High School. BUT HE’S THE FUCKING HERO. The fact that they cast someone with that thick a southern accent only amplifies the problem. And no, he never learns his lesson. And no, being that big a punk ass bitch never pays off.
In fact, the only reason you might be remotely rooting for him is because the guy he manages to piss off is only a slightly bigger asshole than he is. Aside from that, he’s an entirely worthless character who just manages to get other people hurt or killed for his own glory. And once offered his big heroic turning point he doesn’t learn anything about what a fucktard he’s been, but rather just that it’s time to stop running and time to own up to his problems. Of course, there’s only one logical solution to those problems. Challenge the guys who want to kill you to a race.
Thank god our villains are just as fucking stupid as our hero, or else the movie would have ended with Black lying face down in a gutter with a bullet in the back of his skull.
This is the other major problem with the film - The complete lack of a plot that is above that of your average high school comedy/drama with crime and a street racing in place of the big dance off. Seriously. The entire plot involves the “Troubled kid” coming to town, making googley eyes at the girlfriend of the “Big Man on Campus” only to get his ass whooped for it and spend the rest of the film learning to use the forc…I mean, drift so he can avenge his initial schooling. It really never gets any more complicated than that. Jesus, even 2 Fast 2 Furious was more complicated than that.
Wait! He has to learn how to drift in order to win the big race he challenges the villain to at the end? Does that mean…? Oh hell yes. That means a Montage!
The remainder of the film’s problems all stem from the lack of characterization outside of our two major assholes and the single cool guy caught between them. There’s a love interest that is just silly and undefined. Plenty of extras who simply stand around Lucas Black without a line, and occasionally hand him an important car part or tool to soup up his monster with. A Father/son relationship that feels more like an excuse to have a redneck in Tokyo than a real story arc. And despite Justin Lin’s apparent efforts to make a film that treats Asians fairly as opposed to the ethnic stereotypes we’re accustomed to seeing on film, the only black character in the movie (or all of Japan, apparently) is a street hustler and a thief. That’s mighty white of ya, Justin.
Really, this is a silly fucking movie with a few shining moments of greatness. Had this film been about the Han character taking the total douche bag under his wing and showing him how to be a man, then this would have been a worthy addition to the Fast and the Furious franchise. Instead, this only manages to rank 2nd in the series because part two was so unbelievably, unintentionally funny.
But if you're the type of person that says "fuck all that, Bring on the fast cars, Asian girls in non-existent shorts and a blaring soundtrack" - well, you won't be disappointed. There's plenty of that on all fronts to keep you entertained.
Recommended only for those easily impressed by shiny cars moving fast or anyone willing to sit through 95 minutes of crud to see 10 perfect minutes. Like I said, I had fun, but only because I was willing to sit through it for Sonny Chiba and Sung Kang. If that doesn’t sound like a worthy enough reward for your time and money, you’ll just have to live without being a true completist.
Until next time friends, smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em. I know I will.