Without star Paul Walker and with a whole new group of protagonists, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift is not so much the third Fast and the Furious film but a spin-off. Tokyo Drift provided a golden opportunity for the filmmakers to reinvent the franchise with more grit, brains and better actors. Alas, the producers instead took the lazy way out; hiring a wooden Walker-esque lead actor and merely sticking with the awful series formula. The only twist is that, instead of an undercover police officer infiltrating a gang, this story concerns a bunch of high school teens who look closer to 30 than 18. And to adopt a new angle, the filmmakers amped up the racing scenes by building them around a new, popular style called “drifting”. Apart from that, this sequel is by-the-book in both its construction and its all-round awfulness.

After participating in an irresponsible race which resulted in injuries and property damage, Sean Boswell (Black) is given the chance to avoid juvenile detention by being sent to live with his career-Navy father (Goodman) in Tokyo, Japan. While the move was intended for Sean to stay out of vehicular mischief, he immediately befriends classmate Twinkie (Bow Wow) who introduces Sean to a gang of illegal street racers specialising in drifting. Behind his father’s back, Sean begins to study the art of drifting with help from veteran racer Han (Kang). Sean gets a lot more than be bargained for, though, when he falls into the bad graces of the self-proclaimed “Drift King”, or DK (Tee). Added to this, Sean has eyes for DK’s babe of a girlfriend Neela (Kelley), which puts his life in even more danger.

Perhaps the stupidest thing which sticks out in this moronic film is the erroneous suggestion that an American teenager can avoid facing time in juvenile hall if he moves to another country. At least the filmmakers didn’ rehash 2 Fast 2 Furious by turning Sean into an undercover snitch for the cops, but come on – is this really the only thing they could come up with instead?! More mind-numbering stupidity arises throughout the film, especially in relation to Sean’s father. When Sean initially arrives in Tokyo, his dad immediately lays down the “my way or the highway” law, but nevertheless the young lad manages to stay out late, party with friends and associate with criminals as much as he wants without his father questioning him or doing anything about it. Instead, Sean’s dad temporarily disappears from the film, only to re-emerge towards the end to have a change of heart, support his son’s racing proclivities, and even come to accept dangerous street racing as a perfectly viable way to solve problems. What the fuck is this shit?

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift is additionally plagued with clichés. It’s as if screenwriter Chris Morgan wrote a list of clichés and tried to incorporate as many as he possibly could. Clichés covered include: underdog looking to prove himself, outsider in a new school, girl with a heart of gold who needs to be saved, wise-cracking (African American) best friend, and even underworld gangsters. Plus, there are tonnes of beautiful women (the casting call for extras must’ve specified “no fat or ugly chicks”) and the soundtrack is full of loud rock and hip-hop. Indeed, everything outside of the racing scenes was lifted from dozens of other, superior motion pictures. Of course, since the Fast and the Furious movies are car porn pictures, what matters is the racing and the hot cars, but we still have to endure all the in-between stuff to get to the meat and potatoes, so would a little bit of effort be too much to ask for?

At the helm of the film was Justin Lin, marking the franchise’s third director after Rob Cohen and John Singleton. Bad scripting can be overshadowed by solid directing, but alas Lin was not up to the task, as he depicts the subculture of drifting and fast driving with rapid-fire editing and frenetic cinematography. The sequences are more coherent than something like Quantum of Solace, but a lot of details are lost amidst the disorientating filmmaking. Perhaps Lin was trying to amplify the intensity as much as possible, or maybe he was trying to disguise his directing incompetence. Even despite a huge budget and a modern Hollywood sheen, the film’s racing sequences simply cannot hold a candle to more old-fashioned films like Bullitt or The French Connection. Lin’s work here is somewhat enjoyable, sure, but too “clean” compared to the grittier action films of yesteryear. The only thing that works here is the catchy soundtrack. Buying the soundtrack CD would be a better investment than buying the film on home video.

All-round, the characters are cardboard cut-outs. In fact it’s surprising that none of them blew over as a result of the breeze from the speeding cars. Plus it’s difficult to care about the characters since they are all immature jerks – and none of them grow, mature or undergo any sort of arc during the picture. With Paul Walker not returning, Tokyo Drift was an excellent chance for the series to finally get a lead actor who can actually act. Alas, Lucas Black is even worse than Walker; his performance is unbearable, with a grating American drawl and irritating dialogue delivery. On top of being hopeless with the material, Black also looks far too old to be the high schooler he plays. Nathalie Kelley had minimal acting experience before starring here as Neela, and this is frequently obvious – she’s the dullest love interest of the series. Meanwhile, as Han, Sung Kang comes off as a nice enough guy, but he has all the screen presence and charm of a cactus. Bow Wow and Brian Tee fare even worse. Perhaps the only acting bright spot is Sonny Chiba (a legendary martial arts star), who’s fun to watch as a cartoonish Yakuza stereotype. It’s a shame, then, that Chiba’s role is so small.

Without any of the franchise’s recognisable stars, it’s a surprise Tokyo Drift didn’t go straight to home video. But although it received a theatrical release, it’s no better than a direct-to-DVD film. While there are a few fleeting moments of intensity, there’s not enough to recommend here – most of the picture consists of empty, ineffective character moments and borderline indecipherable action. Plus, with the intolerable Lucas Black in the lead role, the film is an agonising chore to get through. And unfortunately for us, the Fast and the Furious franchise is lucrative enough for Universal that there’s no end in sight for the series – the film was followed by the oddly-titled Fast & Furious in 2009.