[30 September 2003]
PopMatters Film and TV Editor
Tyrese has got jokes. Who knew? As parolee Rome Pierce, seeming sidekick to Paul Walker’s bland blondie hero in 2 Fast 2 Furious, he’s the most entertaining object in sight. That is, aside from the superduperstudlyspectacular cars, overwhelmingly shiny, noisy, and wicked fast.
John Singleton’s $100 million sequel knows what it is and, no small thing, appreciates its revved-up viewers. As Singleton says on the commentary track for Universal’s DVD, he “had fun” making the movie: “Cars and girls, cars and girls, cars and girls, that’s what it’s all about.” With that in mind, he asserts, he wanted to make the cars in his movie “totally different” from those in Rob Cohen’s first version, so the cars are “thematic of the characters,” and the director might, as he phrases it, “put my stink on the whole thing.”
It’s all over the DVD, which features a host of extras, including six deleted scenes (called “lifts,” you’re informed, because they’ve been “lifted out of the film”; outtakes (Tyrese falling out of a car window, acting out for the camera, and the many efforts of various actors to speak their lines fast); a number of featurettes (“Tricking out a Hot Import Car,” “Supercharged Stunts,” and “Making Music with Ludacris,” which is MTV’s “Making the Video” episode on “Act the Fool,” renamed); and an “Animated Anecdotes” feature that pops up info at certain moments (“After jumping the Nissan Skyline off the bridge in the opening race, it was still able to drive once the tires were replaced”; you might file that under “good to know”). Plus, you get to “enter” the DVD via three different rides—Roman’s Car, Brian’s car, and Suki’s car, each with “exclusives,” meaning “spotlights” on the actors, details on the vehicles, and Mitsubishi-sponsored “Driving School” reels, showing how the actors drove and faked driving.
The film proper is comprised of a series of elegant, SF-looking, beautifully stunt-pumped, and edited races, one after another. And, as Singleton points out, each of these is broken down further; he says of the first contest, “Basically, each of the leg of the race, like this first part of the race is about acceleration; we’re tight on their eyes and seeing them trying to get up to speed, so that when you go wide… it makes everything else seem more powerful. It’s the juxtaposition, like Sergio Leone would do that really well. He would juxtapose close shots with wide shots. It creates a kind of jolting gestalt in the viewer.”
Singleton prides himself on being a student of films, and he’s been showing off that knowledge with increasing sharpness in his films. While you night imagine that a blockbuster action franchise wouldn’t allow for much art, he undermines such easy presumptions. Each race in this movie mixes “practical shots on the street,” CG, and controlled motion shots, as well as a twist, a trick that makes it woo-ha. At the end of one, the racers speed up to fly off a lifted bridge; in another, one car careens between a couple of stubborn 18-wheelers; and in another, Tyrese makes his first appearance in a desert “Speedway” contest, smashing all contenders with his tank of a car, painted so it has barracuda teeth grinning on its grill.
All this self-awareness gives 2 Fast an admirable edge over the melodramatic The Fast and the Furious. Brian this time is looking leaner, and his minimalist backstory is that he was fired for letting Dominic (Vin Diesel) walk away at the end of the first film (the LAPD kicked him out for a moral breach, only one of 2 Fast‘s inside jokes). As this next installment opens, Brian’s living on a houseboat and street racing in Miami for food money, hooked up by local gearhead Tej (Ludacris). This first magnificent race introduces a few other racers who eat Brian’s dust, including Suki (Devon Aoki, whom Singleton rightly describes as a live anime girl), with brilliant pink car and hot-pantsed pit crew.
After he wins that big bridge-jumping race, Brian’s picked up by the feds, and instructed by uptight Agent Markham (James Remar) that he’s returning to “law enforcement.” They need drivers to infiltrate the inner circle of dealer Verone (Cole Hauser). Because he’s got pages of charges arrayed against him (enough to send him to prison for real time), Brian agrees to the plan, but insists on bringing in his homeboy for the requisite tag-teaming. Hooray for joyous lunacy and for Singleton’s obvious affection for Tyrese (with whom he worked to terrific effect on Baby Boy ). Brian goes to find Rome at the aforementioned Speedway Jamboree, whereupon they display their history via a flash of macho posing and tussling.
As Singleton observes here, “There’s a lot of ways to do things in films, without dialogue, with gestures and looks.” This reunion scene is modeled on the Westerns he loved as a kid, with low angles, wide shots, lots of dust, and squinty eyes. When Brian attempts to reconnect with Rome by giving him “the brother nod” (on which, Singleton points out, he had to work with Walker), and Rome does not nod back, it’s on. The fight provides entertainment for Brian’s watcher, brought back from the first film, Agent Bilkins (Thom Barry), and helps to explain the boys’ friction. Rome’s a smalltime offender whose activities are currently curtailed by a lo-jack, and Brian, he’s a cop.
Roman brings appropriate rage, outstanding musculature, and welcome comedy to the proceedings, calling out bulky thugs as “Fonzie” and “Fabio,” stuffing fast food in his mouth because, as he notes, he might be headed back to prison where the food sucks, and besides, doctor told him he’s “got a high metabolism.” All this delivered with first-rate timing and endearing humility, along with a sense of irony—all more interesting than anything his wifty-boy partner offers. On being hired by Verone, Rome’s first move is to ask for some food, ‘cause, he says, “We hongry.”
Roman and Brian quickly revive their driving-based relationship, their never-ending parallel efforts to be “Alpha Mal”: as Singleton understands, the movie is about loving the cars, on beauty display (in the warehouse, they are “revealed”) and in motion (watching one tracking shot, Singleton notes a “bump” in the steadicam, a shot he “never got right”: “That’s my only thing I don’t like,” he sighs, “in the whole movie”). Observing Brian trying to impress vivacious fed Monica (Eva Mendes), staring at her in the passenger seat while driving, Singleton says, “I hope no one tries this on the street. It’s kind of like the big dick fate thing, you know.” And, here comes Roman to “punctuate it, at the end,” pulling up alongside the newbie couple at a stoplight: “He got that from me!”
The boys’ bonding rituals are standard issue, with some funk installed (mostly via soundtrack): reciprocal rescues, joint booty ogles, simultaneous whooping behind their wheels. Brian’s the white boy wonder around whom all the drivers of color gather to beat the systems (Verone’s overtly corrupt venture, as well as the cops’ pretenses), but Tyrese as Roman is this movie’s breakout star. When he strips off his shirt during one action scene, Brian calls it his “blouse,” delightfully. (Singleton reveals that Tyrese said he wanted to take off his shirt “somewhere in the movie, because he said, ‘If I’m going to do an action movie, action stars do two things: they run across the hoods of cars and they take off their shirts.’”)
The buddies have a rhythm, on and off the road. At the same time, they’re living in a formula world, with the girl between them. She and Brian have history, and he frets that she’s “sleeping with the enemy,” which she is, as she’s undercover with Verone. The nastiest moment evolving from their dancing around each other comes at the behest of a jealous Verone, who forces the boys to watch while he has Monica participate in the exceedingly harsh torture of a scuzzy local detective they’re plying for cooperation. As Brian and Rome wince and grimace, Monica applies herself, and this, more than anything else, makes Rome wonder if maybe his boy has his priorities skewed. You know he does. Rome is where the action is.