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(2003) (Paul Walker, Tyrese Gibson) (PG-13)

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Action/Adventure: An ex-cop and an ex-con join forces and partake in illegal street racing while trying to bring down a powerful criminal.
Brian O'Connor (PAUL WALKER) is a former undercover L.A. cop who lost his job after letting his mark escape. He now spends his time in Miami's underground street racing circuit racing with the likes of Suki (DEVON AOKI) and others for Tej (CHRIS "LUDACRIS" BRIDGES) who controls the local scene.

Brian is called back to active duty, however, by Federal agents Markham (JAMES REMAR) and Bilkins (THOM BARRY). They're trying to nab Carter Verone (COLE HAUSER), a powerful criminal who's involved in peddling drugs and laundering money. Although they have an agent, Monica Fuentes (EVA MENDES), deep undercover within his organization, they've yet to pin anything on him other than a connection to the illegal street racing.

Brian's only demand is that he get to pick his partner for this newest sting and he chooses former childhood friend and ex-con Roman Pearce (TYRESE GIBSON). The demolition derby driver isn't happy to see Brian, however, since he spent the past three years of his life incarcerated due to his former friend's duties.

Nevertheless, and with the promise that both of their records will be cleared should they succeed, the two audition to become drivers for Verone's business. From that point on, they try to bring him down, all while participating in some wild and dangerous races and chases.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
Like much of nature (species or types of trees, birds and lakes, etc.) and manmade products (versions of cars, hot dogs, TV shows), movie sequels are logical since they're a "natural" progression from what came before them. They contain most of the same makeup that constituted the original, but are different enough that they're not a duplicate and thus can stand - to varying degrees of success - on their own.

I wouldn't necessarily call it cinematic evolution, but considering that the characters, basic story and fan base are already in place, I can see why such films are so attractive to the Studios. Why then, can't movie reviewers critique such films in a similar fashion?

For instance, I could take my review of "The Fast and the Furious," change a few things here and there (but keep the same structure and basic components), and use it to review "2 Fast 2 Furious," thus making my life easier since most of the work is already done.

See? I've already started by changing the opening of the review, but kept the same degree of sarcasm toward this sort of film. And since this sequel to the surprise 2001 hit features most of the same elements and suffers from the same problems as its predecessor, I should be set.

Such a move is tempting considering that very little new thought has been put into the story or characters (not that there was much of that in the original). Instead, and is usually the case with sequels, all of the focus has been placed on making it "bigger and better" than the first time around.

Considering that all of the racing and chasing sequences in "TFATF" pretty much blurred into one jumbled mess of nitrous oxide, shiny cars and shapely women, it's hard to make an accurate assessment of the degree of the same in this film. Yet, little of the vehicular action that's on display here really did anything for me.

Perhaps you need to be into the scene of urban street racing to appreciate the offerings, but the various races and chases - with loud sound effects and lots of editing - still pale in comparison to what others have previously captured and/or created on film. Screenwriters Michael Brandt and Derek Haas (both making their feature film debut) have made a few changes to the underlying story structure. Yet, it's pretty much of the throwaway variety like the first time around and contains some fuzzy logic.

The picture, however, does contain two notable differences from its predecessor. For one, director John Singleton ("Rosewood," "Boyz N the Hood") has replaced Rob Cohen behind the wheel. While that might lead some viewers to expect perhaps a bit more depth and/or polish to the proceedings, the film could have been directed by a no-name filmmaker as far as anyone can tell.

The more obvious change is the absence of the appropriately named Vin Diesel. Although he wasn't the intended star of the first film, he and his onscreen charisma certainly stole the spotlight from lead actor Paul Walker ("Joy Ride," "The Skulls").

In keeping with the "same, but a bit different" philosophy, the filmmakers have replaced one bald, but muscle-bound bad boy with another in the form of model turned actor Tyrese Gibson ("Baby Boy"). Like Diesel before him, he has a palpable presence on the screen and he's the best thing the film has to offer. He and Walker engage in the standard bickering buddies pairing that's fueled countless action flicks. While obviously not remotely original, that does provide for some occasional, but briefly humorous moments.

Cole Hauser ("Tears of the Sun," "White Oleander"), however, is completely flat, monotonous and instantly forgettable as the main villain, while Eva Mendes ("Training Day," "All About the Benjamins"), Devon Aoki ("XX") and the rest of the women don't have much to do other than stand around as eye candy for the target audience.

James Remar ("What Lies Beneath," "48 Hours") and Thom Barry ("Rules of Engagement," "Major League: Back to the Minors") play the Federal agents behind the scenes (and could have been lifted from any number of related films), while recording artist Chris "Ludacris" Bridges gets the second most interesting role as the local purveyor of street racing.

In keeping with the notion of recycling but slightly altering my previous review of the first film, I'll conclude with the following (which might just also end my review for "3x as Fast, 3x as Furious" should it be made).

Whatever the case, "2 Fast 2 Furious," a.k.a. "2 Much, 2 Loud, 2 Dumb," has enough action to satiate fans of this sort of vehicular mayhem, and Tyrese certainly makes it easier to watch. Nevertheless, neither of those points can compensate for the problems and shortcomings that this recycled effort offers. The film rates as a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed June 3, 2003 / Posted June 6, 2003

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