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(2006) (Lucas Black, Nathalie Kelley) (PG-13)

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Action/Drama: A teenage American outsider is sent to live with his dad in Tokyo, but quickly finds himself traveling in the fast lane when he gets involved with some young gangsters who are into street racing just like him.
Sean Boswell (LUCAS BLACK) is a 17-year-old troublemaker and outsider who has no problem mixing it up with the jocks, especially when it comes to illegal street racing. When he's busted yet again, this time for resultant property destruction, his mom (LYNDA BOYD) has no alternative but to send her son to Tokyo to live with his estranged military father, Major Boswell (BRIAN GOODMAN), who demands that he give up his racing ways. Feeling even more like an outsider -- known as a gaijin here -- he isn't happy, although he's pleased to see the pretty Neela (NATHALIE KELLEY) in one of his classes.

Twinkie (BOW WOW) - his new American friend and fellow classmate -- warns Sean to stay away from her as she belongs to D.K. (BRIAN TEE), a young but volatile gangster who works for his Uncle Kamata (SONNY CHIBA), a real-life mafioso. But it's in Sean's nature to be confrontational, so having been given a car by D.K.'s more laidback associate Han (SUNG KANG), the American ends up competing against the lead gangster in a parking garage race where the drivers must drift (slide) through the turns. Sean loses, but he gains Han's respect, and the gangster soon has him running errands and such to pay for the damages Sean caused to his car during the race.

But he also teaches Sean the valuable drifting technique and the outsider finally starts to feel like he's fitting in, although he refuses to stop being friendly with Neela. All of which only infuriates D.K. even more, eventually leading to heated conflict both in and out of their race cars.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
The beauty -- from a manufacturing perspective -- of new model years in the automotive industry is that improvements can be made to previous offerings, including making them sleeker, faster and even sometimes smarter. If all goes well, the result is that buyers of the previous models will want to purchase the latest version.

With movies, there aren't new "models" (a.k.a. sequels) each year -- thank goodness, although I have to say I'll take the 1976 Rocky over the upcoming 2006 model. Depending on how successful the previous versions have been, the latest ones can get significant upgrades, especially when they're of the action variety. Smarter, however, isn't one of the things usually associated with any latest sequel, and that's certainly true of the 2006 Fast and the Furious model.

Faster and slicker but still just as dumb as its predecessors, "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift," as the name obviously applies, moves the action to the land of the rising sun. All but jettisoning any story connection to the 2001 and/or 2003 film (except for an ending cameo that hints an upcoming model might go back to being diesel fueled), the film has a new lead to go along with its new locale, but maintains its testosterone filled, brawn over brain attitude.

Geared for teen and twenty-something males who like their women just as fast as their cars, the film has a fun opening race scene, but otherwise becomes redundant once the title racing style -- "drifting" (meaning sliding across the road or any other surface as if hydroplaning in a controlled fashion) -- is repeated ad naseum and that pesky thing known as drama keeps kicking in.

Gone is the undercover cop character played by Paul Walker who’s been replaced by the teen troublemaker with a need for speed dude embodied by Lucas Black. Best known as the southern kid opposite Billy Bob "MmmHmm" Thornton in "Sling Blade," the now grown up actor still has that distinctive drawl and has mastered the brooding look, But as a compelling lead, he's an empty vessel.

Not that it really matters, though, as the film is all about showcasing the fast cars and lots of young, attractive and shapely women wearing skimpy attire, all the better to show off their own curves. Save for the one token female who actually has speaking lines, they're emptier than Black, but as eye candy they do pass the litmus test. As does the "guy thing" regarding whether the film compels you to drive faster immediately after seeing it (it does).

While not even in the same league as the best flicks regarding their car footage (think of the first two "Mad Max" films, "Bullitt," "Ronin" and even the "Transporter" films as ones that are a blast to watch), the footage here is passable. But as earlier stated, it starts out with a figurative and literal bang (as Black and a jock rival race through a subdivision that's completely under construction), but then gets stuck repeating the same tricks as the racers "drift" through parking lots, curvy mountain roads and more.

It's fun at first, but quickly wears out its welcome through its inherent repetitiveness. Then there's the fact that director Justin Lin ("Annapolis," "Better Luck Tomorrow") feels compelled to use far too many edits in an incorrect and unnecessary attempt to add even more visual horsepower to the proceedings.

When he and screenwriters Alfredo Botello, Chris Morgan and Kario Salem take their feet off the pedal to give the cars a break and try to introduce some drama, however, the film completely stalls. There's material about Black's habitual need to get into trouble and being sent off to live with his estranged military father, but that subplot never gets out of first gear. The "love story" part where Sean becomes interested in that token female -- played by Nathalie Kelley in a way where any pretty girl could have been substituted in the role with no noticeable effect -- similarly lacks any sort of get up and go.

Then there's the obligatory antagonist played by Brian Tee (yawn) and the funny sidekick/hustler embodied by Bow Wow (double-yawn), but at least Sung Kang brings some interest to his more laidback and somewhat philosophical gangsta character. I'd rather have seen the film be about him, but again it doesn't really make any difference as the characters and drama are relegated to the backseat.

At one point, Sean explains his dumbed-down, bad boy racing mentality by saying that he's a guy and that it's in his DNA. Which apparently also holds true for this film series. Decent when firing on its racing cylinders but otherwise empty and too slow when the cars are MIA, "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" rates as a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed June 13, 2006 / Posted June 16, 2006

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