The third installment in this hopped-up, high-octane series featuring beauteous bodies (both human and automotive) jettisons the plot device of the first two, in which Paul Walker’s cop went undercover to catch some bad guys, in favor of a simpler “Rebel Without a Brain” scenario. The twist from the 1950s formula is twofold. One is that the car-race visuals take advantage of every technical advance made in the intervening half-century; the metal-on-metal choreography is spectacular. The other is that it’s been relocated from Kansas or Nebraska to Japan, where the neon tunnels of the capital can perform a shining dance against the chasses of the speeding autos.
The premise is that southern bad-boy Sean Boswell (Lucas Black, sporting a drawl so heavy it borders on caricature) is shipped off by mom (Lynda Boyd) to his father (Brian Goodman), a Navy officer living in Tokyo, after he’s been involved in a reckless drag-race that’s pretty much annihilated an under-construction subdivision. (Compare this to the recent opener in “Stick It,” except there it was done with bicycles.) He immediately falls in with local “drift” racers–a technique that involves skidding cars sideways not only around street corners but down confined spaces like parking garage ramps. He’s adopted by ultra-cool American expatriate Han (Sung Kang), a gang member who operates in league with surly, preening DK (Brian Tee), the champion “drifter” who runs illegal operations in the area by reason of the fact that his uncle is yakuza boss Kamata (JJ Sonny Chiba). Sean is also attracted to Neela (Nathalie Kelley), DK’s Asian-Australian squeeze, immediately earning him the champ’s enmity. And he gets a buddy in the form of their school’s army-brat hustler Twinkie (Bow Wow). Before long Sean is helping Twinkie sell his contraband merchandise while becoming a trusted lieutenant to Han and making googly eyes at Neela, which naturally brings down DK’s wrath. In between the purple patches of dialogue–Neela’s recollections are quite bad enough, but the really risible monologies come from Han, who, despite the fact that he’s Japanese, sounds like he’s reciting fortune cookies–Sean also learns to “drift” with the best of ’em.
Maybe a person who’s never seen a movie before could be surprised by where “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Draft” is heading, by who’s going to bite the dust along the way, and by the way in which it’s all going to be resolved (even though the fashion in which the script glamorizes the idea of yakuza “honor” is still pretty contemptible–these are, after all, among the most brutal, vicious gangs in existence). But you still have to admit that though the movie is the most formulaic sort of testosterone-driven junk, it’s served up expertly by director Justin Lin (“Better Luck Tomorrow”) and his associates–cinematographer Stephen F. Windon, editors Dallas Puett and Fred Raskin, the large effects team, and the equally massive sound department and army of stunt personnel. If you’re into seeing souped-up race cars fly around city streets and mountain roads, smash into one another, explode, and go through other forms of eye-catching tricks, or if you just ooh and ah over the glistening cars in show rooms and auto extravaganzas, this is a movie that will appeal to you.
On any level more cerebral than that, though, the picture offers little. The script is rudimentary, with dialogue that doesn’t get much beyond the adolescent (and at times into the absurd when Han waxes “eloquent”), and the acting is, too. As “Friday Night Lights” demonstrated, Black has certainly bulked up in the decade since “Sling Blade,” and assumes the pose of a cocky twenty-something more than adequately–he has the look of a younger Mark Wahlberg–and while the part doesn’t demand much beyond the barest emotional responses, he carries it off decently enough. The others do basically one-note bits of shtick–Bow Wow the fast-talking smoothie, Kelley the beautiful but fragile damsel, Kang the cool-as-a-cucumber but angst-ridden loner, Tee the scowling but insecure thug, and Chiba the hard-as-nails but honorable mobster–but fill the undemanding bill. And though from a technical perspective the movie is slickly made, even its best feature–the grandiose car chases–get wearying after a while, particularly since the soundtrack volume, abetted by Brian Tyler’s thumping score, is so high and the special effects grow more and more obvious. Fans will undoubtedly appreciate a comic epilogue that uses a surprise guest to tie this entry to the original “F&F.”
Like the earlier movies in the cycle, “Tokyo Drift” moves in fits and starts, but the more revved-up, energetic portions will satisfy viewers who go in for this sort of mindless, gas-powered action. Others are advised to bring along earplugs, which may help in the dialogue scenes, too.