John Singleton is a very adept director, who was able to infuse some style and good humor into such doubtful material as the 2000 remake of “Shaft.” But even he can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s offal. “2 Fast 2 Furious,” the sequel to Rob Cohen’s surprise car-racing hit, is certainly as glitzy and visually smooth a ride as one could want (and much louder than anybody could desire–the soundtrack is positively deafening), but on the narrative side it’s running on fumes by the time it reaches the first lap around the track, with a script so thin and derivative that it’s difficult to believe that it took three scribes to pound it out. As its bland, blonde hero Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) remarks to his partner Roman Pearce (Tyrese) early on, “It’s getting thick real quick.” The picture certainly does.
In the previous flick, O’Conner was a callow undercover cop in Los Angeles who infiltrated the world of street racers to track down a gang of fast-driving thieves led by a tough but charismatic fellow whom he eventually came to respect so much that, at the end, he let him get away scot free. “The Fast and the Furious” starred Walker, but it was really Diesel-powered; the cop paled beside the figure of the seductively simmering crook. This time around Vin is absent, his salary demands undoubtedly having gone into the stratosphere in the interim, and so a new chum (as well as a different task) have to be concocted for O’Conner, now a disgraced ex-cop hanging out among the street folk in Miami. He’s tapped by a federal task force to bring down a vicious local crime lord, Carter Verone (Cole Hauser); this serpentine slimebag’s precise business isn’t made clear, but he’s about to leave town with a pile of ill-gotten cash. O’Conner is promised a clean slate if he’ll win a slot as a Verone’s driver and lead the feds to the spot where he can be nabbed with the loot. But Brian needs a partner–and the one he chooses is his childhood pal Pearce, an ex-con who for a thoroughly manufactured reason blames him for his arrest. What results is a by-the-numbers story in which the two guys have to learn to be buddies again while bringing the slimy Verone down. And in a further predictable wrinkle, their contact is a femme agent named Monica Fuentes (Eva Mendes) who just happens to be–gasp!–Verone’s mistress! And wouldn’t you know, O’Conner becomes interested in her! The writers have tried to spruce up this musty plot with a couple stab-in-the-back twists–and, of course, a lot of largely irrelevant car chases (as well as a last-act diversionary tactic that’s completely ridiculous, having no purpose but to excite the audience with large numbers of speeding vehicles)–but it all ends up, just as you’d predict, with a desperate effort on the part of our heroes to save the damsel from the clutches of the leering villain. In this instance, of course, an absurd auto stunt is involved.
Singleton brings all his expertise to bear in an effort to give “2 Fast 2 Furious” some glamor and energy, but the result isn’t much beyond the level of a repeat episode of “Fastlane.” It’s sleek and colorful but glib and obvious, and for all the speed it’s pretty lethargic. Walker tries to affect a street-savvy persona (rather at odds with the behind-the-curve fellow he played in the last installment), but still looks more like an unshaved beach bum than a low-down grifter. The result is that relationship between O’Conner and Pearce never comes across as remotely credible. Despite the fact that they constantly refer to each other as “bro” or “dude,” the idea that these guys would ever have run together is simply preposterous. Tyrese, who starred in Singleton’s “Baby Boy,” once again shows that the camera warms to him, but he doesn’t bring any real sense of danger to Pearce; as written the character calls on him to be more Chris Tucker than Ice Cube. Mendes slinks about adequately enough and looks great in a bathing suit, but doesn’t connect with Walker, and Hauser makes a boringly sleazy bad-guy. The rest of the cast, including Chris Bridges (who uses the nickname “Ludacris” and wears a comb in his hair nicely), don’t make much of an impression.
Technically the picture is certainly a slick job, and you have to admire the work of the stunt drivers, even if the choreography of the races and chases isn’t always kept ideally clear. Matthew Leonetti’s cinematography is notably fine. But the surface sheen only accentuates the emptiness of what lies beneath it. “2 Fast” + “2 Furious” = “4 Pity’s Sake, Spare Us No. 3.”