Who knew? Tyrese has got jokes. As parolee Rome Pierce, seeming sidekick to Paul Walker’s bland blondie hero in 2 Fast 2 Furious, he’s easily the most entertaining object in sight. That is, aside from the superduperstudlyspectacular cars, all shiny, noisy, and wicked fast.
John Singleton’s $100 million sequel knows what it is and, no small thing, appreciates its revved-up viewers: it’s comprised of a series of elegant, SF-looking, beautifully stun-driven and edited races, one after another; all are more ingenious than the CGI-ed tumbling-crashfest in The Matrix Reloaded. Each includes a special little twist, a trick that makes it extra-clever and woo-ha: at the end of one, the racers speed up to fly off a daringly lifted bridge; in another, one car careens between a couple of stubborn 18-wheelers; and in another, well, Tyrese makes his first appearance in a “Speedway” contest, smashing all contenders with his tank of a car, painted so it has barracuda teeth grinning on its grill. Too funky.
All this self-awareness gives 2 Fast an admirable — and admittedly surprising — edge over Rob Cohen’s original, which, if you recall, took itself too soapy-seriously. Brian’s mooning over Derek Jeter’s one-time girl was so soulful and all those betrayals were such drama. Equally unmissed here is Vin Diesel, then Mr. Breakout, now Mr. Priced Out of Part Two. Brian this time is looking leaner, and his minimalist backstory is that he was fired for letting Dominic/Vin walk away at the end of the first film (come again: the LAPD kicked his ass out for a moral breach, only one of 2 Fast‘s insidey japes).
So as the new film opens, Bri’s living on a houseboat and street racing in Miami for food money, hooked up by local gearhead Tej (Ludacris, who gets bonus points just for making Bill O’Reilly’s hate-list). This first magnificent race introduces a few other racers who must, of course, eat Brian’s dust, including Suki (model Devon Aoki), with brilliant pink car and hotpantsed pit crew, whose major function appears to be looking cute in chaps. Post-race, the kiddies all scatter in order to get Brian in position with a slew of feds, headed by uptight Agent Markham (James Remar). They need drivers to infiltrate the inner circle of Big Bad Dealer Verone (Cole Hauser with too much tanning makeup). (Just why Big Bad Dealer needs drivers who go really fast and cause mayhem is not exactly clear, but it’s not exactly important either.)
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 ridiculousness 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 brief spate of macho posing and tussling, providing entertainment for Brian’s infinitely patient watcher, brought back from Round One, Agent Bilkins (Thom Barry), and setting up their ostensible friction: Rome’s a smalltime offender currently compromised by a lo-jack, and Brian’s a cop… even if he isn’t anymore.
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 Big Bad Dealer, Rome’s first move is to ask for some food, ’cause “We hongry.”
Their twofer driving routines entail the expected bonding rituals: reciprocal rescues, joint booty ogles, simultaneous whooping behind their wheels. As their first wrastling in the dirt scene suggests, these boys love each other lots; yes, Brian’s the white boy wonder around whom all the drivers of color gather to beat the systems — Verone’s overtly corrupt one as well as the law-and-order one — but who knows. Maybe next time out, Brian’s gone and Rome and Tej have it going on.
The main reason this seems possible is that Brian is less attentive to the boy-boy-action that powers buddy films (especially interracial buddy films) than he might be. Sure the guys are straight, but they also appreciate one another’s skills and beauty. They say they grew up and “played in the dirt” together, but they’re from different planets, which makes their friendship all the more charming (if implausible). When Rome strips off his shirt during one action scene, Brian calls it his “blouse,” so delightfully. They have a rhythm. So it’s that much more disappointing when Brian loses his head. As Rome points out, Brian — his bro — is repeatedly distracted by the nearest dark-haired girl.
In this case, it’s Monica (Eva Mendes), a vivacious fed undercover with Verone’s operation> She and Brian have history (not exactly clear how), and he frets that she’s “sleeping with the enemy,” which she is. 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 h has Monica participate in the ingeniously harsh torture of a scuzzy local detective they’re plying for cooperation. As Brian and Rome wince and grimace, girlfriend applies herself, and this, more than anything else, makes Rome wonder if maybe his boy has his priorities skewed. You know he does. Rome’s where the action is.