Saturday, August 27, 2016

Curiouser and Furiouser: A Fast and Furious Watch - Part 2: 2 Fast 2 Furious

Here we are at our second part of my 7+ part Fast and Furious watch.  Just to recap:  I have never seen any of the Fast and Furious movies before and I have actively attempted to avoid spoilers/ plot details of these films.

Well I have to say, just off the bat, that I enjoyed this movie FAR more than the first installment.  The writing was much tighter, the characters had more motivation, and there was actual humor which really helped elevate the movie considerably.  The biggest standout was Tyrese Gibson, who brought a lot of great energy and vitality to the film.  It was not a “good” movie, per se, but rather it felt like an overlong episode of Burn Notice which isn’t a terrible thing as far as movies go.  

Car go vroom vroom 
Our story begins with a street race in Miami.  Already this is a good thing.  The first movie started off with the random heist that wasn’t explained for over a half an hour if you recall, so starting off with just regular run of the mill street racers already draws you into the story a little more.  First thing I noticed was a character putting up signs that said “Road Closed.”  Just this little detail now explains why there are no other people around on the streets, which was one of my biggest complaints of the first movie.  Another thing I noticed was that while the first movie focused heavily on the engines of the cars, their horsepower, etc, in this film the car gimmicks were what were highlighted most significantly: huge stereo systems, crazy lights, smoke, lasers, hydraulics.  These were all elements that the first film didn’t focus on in the slightest.  I am curious whether the developments in car culture changed between 2000-2003, whether the writers simply decided these elements were what would draw in viewers, or whether they simply had more money for cars.  The cars themselves “looked” better, the shots during the street race were more dynamic.  Looking it up online, the first movie had a budget of only $38 million, while 2 Fast 2 Furious had a budget of $76 million.  It is also directed by renowned filmmaker John Singleton.  The increase in budget and the name director really show, even in the first few scenes of the film.  This actually feels like a real movie and not something that somebody cobbled together.  

How freaking cute is this car?!
The street race is organized by Ludacris.  I know his character must have had a name in the movie, but let’s just call him Ludacris.  Apparently one of the racers backed out, so he puts into a call to a “guy” he knows to finish out the race.  The guy is Paul Walker as Brian who apparently WAS affected by the events of the first film as he is off the police force and racing for money now.  In the race are a couple of assholes and Suki, a cute Japanese girl with a hot pink car who has an all girl crew and is my favorite. The race begins and there are quick cuts to close ups of racers eyes, hands as they change gears, fronts of cars.  The CGI/ green screening is at times laughably bad, but at least Singleton knows how to keep viewers engaged with dynamic shots and well structured scenes.  The race is a bit more gimmicky than any in the previous movie, and somehow Ludacris’ character manages to raise a bridge for the cars to jump off of?  The cars are going preposterously fast: upwards of 160mph on city streets and are filmed as if they were starships travelling in outer space, with the world warping along outside their windows.  In fact, every time cars go this fast in the movie, I call it
Paul Walker did not, in fact, go plaid
“Ludacris speed” which is a completely stupid Spaceballs pun that I found myself using at least 5 times in the course of watching.   Paul Walker jumps off the bridge like freaking Dukes of Hazzard and then lands unscathed, winning the race as viewers most certainly were aware he was going to do.  Later in the film, as Paul Walker and Tyrese jump off of a ramp onto a moving boat, they actually do make a Dukes reference.  This is a movie that kind of knows what it is, which is more than I can say for the first film.  

As soon as he steps out of his car, Brian locks eyes with Eva Mendes, who was again playing a character whose name I did not pick up on in the 104 minutes of the film and so I will call her Eva Mendes.  Then the police arrive, far faster than they ever did in the first movie.  These Miami police are WAY more competent than LAPD and have some kind of magical EMP grappling hooks that shut down cars.  Paul Walker is dragged into the police station and then the FBI dude from the first movie and the guy who played Dexter’s dad sit him down for a chat.  Since Dexter takes place in Miami, and Harry Morgan was in fact an officer in the Miami police department, I spent much of the film speculating whether the characters were the same.  Let’s just say they are.  Anyway Dexter’s dad and FBI dude tell Paul Walker that if they work for them as a CI doing (something?) they will let him off for all his street racing shenanigans.  Paul Walker takes the deal but insists that if he is going to have a partner, it won’t be Officer Dipshit they are trying to pair him with but a guy he knows back in Barstow.

Cut to a place that looks only vaguely like Barstow and Tyrese Gibson”s character Roman in one of those races where cars like smash each other that I think has a name but whatever.  The fact that
Tyrese is the best edition to this series
Tyrese Gibson is from Barstow, California I think was probably one of the most preposterous things about the movie.  I actually looked it up and according to the 2000 Census, Barstow, California had a population of 22,891 with only 2,698 of those African Americans.  And I am expected to believe that one of those was Tyrese Gibson I guess.  Uh huh.  Barstow is a piece of shit and Tyrese would not be caught dead there, but I digress.  Anyway Tyrese is recently out of prison and pissed at Paul Walker because he was a cop even though, as we learn later in the film, Paul Walker was not actually responsible for putting Tyrese in jail.  He punches Brian in the face almost immediately after seeing him, continuing the well-honored tradition of people punching Paul Walker in the face.  

They bring Roman in to talk to him about the plan which is to infiltrate this gang of drug dealers.  The
Barf! This car his hideous
FBI has an unlimited budget for street racing cars and they get two for Brian and Roman, though they look sort of shitty and I think the characters kind of think they look shitty too because they complain about them a lot.  Then they go and infiltrate the drug dealers or whatever.  Oh and Eva Mendes is also a cop and she’s like the drug dealers girlfriend undercover or something.  And she wears a very professional shirt that is held together with shoelaces.  The head drug dealer is played by an actor I don’t know and whose name I also don’t know so I called him Douchy Doucherton.  

There are a bunch of street racers there and they have to go and get something out of his car in an impound lot as a test to see who is the best driver for reasons that are not readily made clear.  Except no that wasn’t really true because Douchy owned the impound lot and it was just a test.  What I found most fascinating was that while Brian had apparently been living in Miami for some time, Roman just arrived there and yet he seems to know his way around the city enough to get to the impound lot without getting lost.  He would be a really great Uber driver.  I digress.  Anyway, the FBI see Brian and Roman racing away on this task and instead of thinking they are doing their jobs, Dexter’s dad thinks they are running away in their cars for some reason and then goes to the impound lot almost breaking their cover.  Dexter’s dad is a terrible cop.   Roman shoots at him to get him to go away and it works because they get the packet out of the car. When they make it back to check in with the cops, Roman eats Harry Morgan's burrito which was the most hilarious thing on the planet. Apparently he likes burritos as much as Paul Walker loved sandwiches in the first movie. When they go back to the drug dealer’s house, Roman once again asks for more food, even surrounded by dangerous drug dealers. Roman is like constantly eating in this movie.  I love him.   

Douchy invites them to this exclusive night club where they go and Douchy starts torturing this dude which was super graphic and not what I expected from a light little action flick.  Gross.  The douche boss is also a total misogynist even in a movie that features scantily clad ladies bending over cars. He’s pissed at Eva Mendes for flirting with Paul Walker I guess.  Ugh, what a dickbag. Anyway before that like as soon as Roman walks in, he says he has to piss and at this point I am wondering if Tyrese even
Oh right he also sets this car on fire.
Tyrese does a lot this film
knows that he is in a movie.  Apparently.  He is just so damn blunt and I love it.  What is actually really fantastic about Tyrese’s character is that his behavior totally makes sense in the context of someone who was recently released from prison and was lacking in the niceties of social graces for 5 years.  There is even a scene later on in the film where Brian asks him why he is always eating and he talks about how food was so horrible in prison and he never knows when he will be back so he tries to take advantage of every piece of food in front of him.  It was such a moving and deeply heartfelt expression in a movie about dumb cars going fast.  What I really appreciated in this film was the way that characters were given real motivations like his, that we really understood what was happening and why a lot of the time.  It seems like a simple thing, but the bond between Vin Diesel and Paul Walker just felt so artificial compared to the natural rapport between Walker and Tyrese.  Also I never quite understood why Vin Diesel was doing these huge thefts.  It seems like he could make decent money just street racing/ fixing up cars/ a little petty theft as Ludacris does.  Something about these little details just helps.  

However, what DOESN’T make sense is Brian and Roman’s relationship with Ludacris’ character.  At one point they ask him and his friends for help to remove the tracking devices in their cars, and then they ask him and his friends for help pulling off this elaborate scheme to switch cars so they can steal the money from the drug dealers and run away from the cops simultaneously and rig up some ejector seats and stuff.  I understand why they need Ludacris’ help.  What I don’t understand is why Ludacris and his crew would be helping them when he could both get in trouble from the drug dealers AND the police.  I guess he and Brian and friends, but their friendship wasn’t as strongly established enough for me to believe that he would go to bat for him like that.  Does Ludacris know that Brian is/ was a cop?  It feels like there was a scene missing.  They seemed more like casual street race buddies and not collaborators.  

You know I compared this movie to Burn Notice in my very first paragraph and I really think the comparison is apt.  The end of the film felt exactly like the end of a crazy Burn Notice episode too, with the car jumping off and landing on a boat and all kinds of crazy shenanigans.  This flick was fun.  I actually enjoyed it quite a bit.  Significantly, there was a lot of humor and that bumped the enjoyment factor considerably.  Also helping was the fact that Tyrese and Paul Walker had a lot of chemistry, and that the plot moved a lot more rapidly.  We weren’t waiting around forever for things to actually start moving, and the writers/ director just had a better handle on the story.  However, thinking of Burn Notice again, I am just struck how much this movie and its predecessor would have worked better as a TV show where relationships could be established more gradually.  In fact, if Fast and Furious was a USA show I am sure I probably would have seen it by now.  I’ve heard that the 3rd film, Tokyo Drift, is a real dud.  Not really looking forward to that, though hopefully it will at least be laughably bad.  If the other F/F movies 4-7 are as good or better than #2 I am actually kind of excited to see what happens next.  Just based off the first I wasn’t really feeling it, but now that I have a better idea of what these stories could be, I am looking forward to the ride.

Stray Thoughts:

  • Suki’s car has like a little anime character helper that appears?  Super cute but like what?  
  • Totally forgot to mention that Paul Walker lives on a house boat.  I don’t know how I could have neglected to mention this.  
  • This movie felt like a video game at times, which was totally ok
  • There have been a TON of TV shows/ movies set in the Miami area, Miami Vice first and foremost.  Burn Notice to me is the film’s most obvious parallel because the characters are not quite in the government/ working for the government except when they are and they have a bunch of shady friends, but the setting has lent itself to a lot of great action/ drug dealer/ cop/ car chase type things.  Burn Notice actually premiered 5 years after this movie, so maybe THEY were inspired by IT!  
  •  Speaking of Miami.  YEEEEAAAAAAHHHH

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