Someone once described the "Fast and the Furious" films to me as simply Hollywood indulging in some 'auto-fellatio'. Of course that person didn't realise that terms means an entirely different thing and so when I revealed the truth they were left a little confused.
Nevertheless hot cars are a major thing to some people, and the F&F franchise has proven there's a large and relatively untapped market out there for horsepower on a cinematic scale. Those NASCAR dads will probably be the only ones who'll appreciate "Tokyo Drift", the third entry in a franchise many were surprised went beyond one.
The original 'Furious', essentially a low-rent clone of "Point Break" with cars instead of surfing, looks like high art compared to its two follow-ups. Nevertheless of the two, Justin Lin's 'Tokyo' surprisingly beats John Singleton's glossier yet utterly insipid "2 Fast 2 Furious" in terms of quality by the slimmest of margins. Lin, rather than applying a 'bigger is better' mentality, he retools the series with a location shift, a new spin on the racing scenes, and a more low-rent straight forward approach to storytelling.
The result however remains the same as the last one - a couple of intense and well done race scenes inserted into a truly dull generic movie about a coming of age foreigner driving his way to the top. Lin makes good use of his Japanese locale throughout and shows off both the brighter public and darker back alley aspects of modern day Tokyo, even if he doesn't exactly get some aspects of the culture quite right. His filming of the race scenes are intense and well-paced without the audience ever really losing an idea of where the cars are in relation to each other due to overzealous editing. Thus the film relies a lot more on real and believable stunt driving than FX-enhanced, laws of physics-defying over the top action - only a good thing as far as I'm concerned.
Sadly in the non-torque powered scenes, Lin plays it far too straight and pedestrian. Rather than offering something with a bit more meat, we're treated to a pretty tame and generic story in which our lead, the dour and heavily accented Lucas Black, races against the best man in the sport in his newly adopted country and of course comes out on top. There's a touch of yakuza crime lords, another hot but utterly bland mixed race female lead, you're standard sidekicks (in this case Bow Wow being less annoying than usual), the occasional lesson on racing terminology, and of course the standard redemption storyline.
All these elements can work given the right amount of time, care and spirit from those involved. Don't expect any TLC here though, the script is utterly dumb with a couple of real quotable stinkers, logic that makes only to itself, and uninteresting characters who make you long for the days of Vin Diesel. Acting is as wooden as a rainforest, yet a notable drop in the budget has at least forced the filmmakers to shoot with a workman-like straightforward necessity than trying to be overdone stylish. The score is also an interesting and eclectic mix at times.
Then again who comes to these films wanting that sort of stuff. People see 'Furious' films for the hot waif like girls strutting around next to hi-tech or hi-power autos. Some may dislike the lack of polish or the somewhat slowly paced first half of the picture, but they're the only ones who'll at least get something out of this. There's been worse films this Summer, movies that have aimed higher and fallen further, yet should playing it so bland and safe really be considered a virtue.