Writer: Chris Morgan
Sean Boswell: (played by) Lucas Black
Major Boswell: Brian Goodman
Neela: Nathalie Kelley
Twinkie: Shad Moss
D.K.: Brian Tee
Han: Sung Kang
Uncle Kamata: Sonny Chiba
This sequel really isn’t. As originally filmed, there were none of the actors/characters from the first two movies in the franchise in this movie (my reviews of those two movies are available here and here). In fact, early test screenings did so poorly, the studio wanted Vin Diesel to make a cameo appearance in the hope of boosting the box office. Diesel agreed on the condition that Universal give him the rights to the Riddick franchise, which he ultimately made independently. Once again, Diesel showed himself a smart man.
The first two movies in the franchise engaged in just about every cliché beloved of juvenile males, with the exception of a hero who was a juvenile–in the worst sense of the word–male. This movie rectified that state of affairs with Lucas Black playing Sean Boswell. Paul Walker–amazingly–was thought by the studio to be too old for the part.
The movie opens in what passes, in this cinema universe, as an American high school, where our hero saunters, smirking and leering, around groups of other smirking and leering boys and girls. Apparently there are no classes or adults present in smirking and leering high, so the kids all just hang out, and our hero flirts with the cheerleader girlfriend of the prototypical bully/jerk rich kid who just happens to drive a Dodge Viper to school. As such things always go, this devolves into a race in a new development where our hero beats the rich kid, but destroys much of the new construction and rolls his car enough times to power Los Angeles for a month from the kinetic energy released. Of course, no one is seriously injured and we have the obligatory scene at the police station with a very disappointed mom.
Mom, who appears to be about three years older than Sean. isn’t too disappointed. After all, Sean is an undereducated, utterly irresponsible, smirking, leering, non-too-bright, no-prospects one-man criminal wrecking crew who has done just this sort of thing many times before, racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars–perhaps millions–in damages. So of course, he’s allowed to leave the country rather than face any charges. That’s the way such things always happen, isn’t it?
And where does Sean end up? Tokyo, Japan to live with his military father, Major Boswell. Interestingly, the only time we see his father in a uniform, which appears to be something of a mixture between Marine and Navy uniforms, he is wearing the bars of a naval lieutenant. Oh well. It’s the car details that matter.
Our anti-authority and responsibility hero goes to a Japanese school and has to wear a uniform–how mortifying–and within minutes meets a Japanese girl–Neela, played by Nathalie Kelley–but she’s not even remotely Japanese looking.
Sean meets the cool but shady black character–in this movie “Twinkie” played by Shad Moss. Twinkie is a hustler who sells merchandise beloved by teenagers. Twinkie takes Sean to a parking garage where he meets D.K (Drift King) played with frowning pseudo menace by Brian Tee. D.K. is the nephew of a local Yakuza boss, Uncle Kamata, played by Sonny Chiba. D.K. considers Neela his property and so DK and Sean end up racing.
But oh no! Sean has no car, and his dad Major/Lieutenant Boswell warned him about racing. So of course, Han, played by Sung Kang, a sort of associate of DK, loans him a car, and off they go drift racing in a multi-level parking garage.
Drift racing? That’s the plot element that gives the movie its name. It’s nothing more than the technique of allowing a car to drift sort of sideways while cornering at speed, and is apparently the epitome of cool and sub-manly macho in Tokyo. It also reduces new and expensive tires to smoldering piles of trash within minutes, but hey, when you’re a no-money, no-prospect, undereducated juvenile delinquent, what’s a few thousand for a set of tires?
Race summary: DK wins handily; Sean destroys the car and several parked cars, running up a tab easily in the tens of thousands.
Han, because Sean ticks DK off, befriends him, and involves him in the underworld of Japanese crime, and it’s all in good fun and kind of humorous. Of course in reality, Sean would have his head cut off and tossed in the nearest patch of ocean, but he’s the hero and he just occasionally gets banged around a bit, which allows him to smirk and leer a bit more, and spit out a bit of blood, to demonstrate how tough he is.
We finally meet Uncle Kamata, who dresses with silly hats like a 1930’s gangster when he comes to tell DK that Han is ripping off the Yakuza, so this sets up a scene where DK comes to Han’s hideout and tries to shoot Han, which sets off a massive car chase with loads of drifting/tire squealing/smoking through downtown Tokyo.
Along the way, Sean has become an expert drift racer–you could see that one coming, couldn’t you?–and to try to fix everything, walks into Uncle Kamata’s lair, and instead of being sliced into sushi, gets Uncle Kamata to agree that he and DK will race, the winner winning Neela, and world peace and a Nobel Peace Prize–OK, I’m exaggerating a little on that last one. But I mean, why not? Isn’t that the traditional Yakuza way of settling disputes?
Sean and his father and buddies build a racecar in about 30 minutes from a total wreck of an ancient Ford Mustang Major/Lieutenant Boswell just happened to have. It is probably the single worst vehicle possible for that kind of racing. The suspension is ancient and unsophisticated, the center of gravity is far too high, etc., etc., but by race night, it looks ready to be sold at auction for a million or so.
The final, climactic race takes place down a ridiculously winding mountain road, and guess who wins and gets the girl?
What’s that you say? What about Vin Diesel? The final, final race scene takes place with Sean, now the drift king, holding court when he is challenged to a race. Settling into his car, he glances to his left and there’s Diesel. They engage in a bit of snappy patter wherein Diesel intimates that he knew Han–oh yes, he got killed in the wild chase through Tokyo–from before, they peel off the line and fade to final credits. Diesel is onscreen for perhaps a minute and does not appear in the credits.
As with the first two movies, the driving sequences are generally well done and photographed, but there is even less point to any of them in this movie than in the first two. Mercifully, there is only a single, Star Trek, nitrous oxide, going-to-warp sequence. After the first 25 close ups of Japanese cars drifting sideways, leaving half of their tires on the pavement, it gets a bit old.
The degree of suspension of disbelief required to accept this movie is beyond belief. Japanese police are notorious for having no constitutional niceties to observe. They are ruthless and omnipresent, but there is not a single policeman anywhere in this movie, except in one brief scene where Han tells Sean the police don’t bother to chase racers. Riiiiiight.
Adults pop in from time to time, but only to spoil the cast’s fun or to fill stereotypical roles like the tromboning teacher in Charlie Brown movies. These kid’s role models are other kids whose only motivation is hustling, racing, and hanging out around hustlers and racers, yet somehow, all have expensive cars, clothes and consumer electronics.
Character development? The cars undergo more development than the actors. Not a single character changes in any significant way. At the end, Sean is still a leering, smirking, undereducated twerp whose only purpose in life is to keep Japanese tire manufacturers in business. There is not a single moral lesson to be taken from this script, and the plot is so predictable I could have written the entire script after seeing each of the main characters for only a few seconds. They were that predictable.
Any actor asking the director “what’s my motivation in this scene?” would surely have been told: “smoke tires! Drive fast! Run into things! Leer! Smirk!” And so they did.
Production values were professional, and more than 100 cars were reportedly destroyed in making this movie. The weakest of the entire franchise, the production budget was $85 million, but the movie made only about $24 million domestically. However, it has taken in about $158 million worldwide.
As a critic, I strive to praise that which is uplifting and valuable and to encourage that which is not to be better. Sadly, there is nothing here to improve. Adding 25 words of dialogue here or there would double or triple the dialogue in most scenes. So wasteful, destructive, and utterly irresponsible are the characters–they’re actually depicted as criminals–there is no way to salvage an uplifting theme.
I paid five dollars for this DVD at the local WalMart. WalMart and I paid too much.