Movie and Film Reviews (MFR) Action The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift

Five years after “The Fast and the Furious” sped its way across the silver screen, the third installment in the franchise, “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift”, raced its way into theaters. After two successful entries into a series that most didn’t expect much out of to begin with, can this third iteration featuring an all-new cast, style of racing, and country gain enough traction to build upon the success of its predecessors or will it leave the series simply spinning its tires?

“The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” explores the illegal world of underground street racing in and around Tokyo, Japan. Unlike in the states, the primary style of racing over there is a much more difficult, and outrageous form known as drifting – where drivers’ skills are put to the test as they must navigate hairpin turns at incredible rates of speed. Joining the ranks of these racers is a convicted racer from the United States named Sean (Lucas Black) whose parents had hoped he would be able to start a new life in this foreign land. However, when racing is at the core of your very being, it’s hard to walk away when the temptation of high speeds is calling out to you.

Even though I had seen the first two films in this series, I found myself with little to no interest in seeing this third one. The only reason I could come up with for this lack of confidence in the film, was because I thought the second one was a little weaker than the first, even though it at least featured one returning cast member (Paul Walker for those that don’t recall) which garnered some favor; however for this film there appeared to be no original cast members returning from either of the previous films. So, in my opinion there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of potential for “Tokyo Drift” to actually be all that good. Based on the box office results for this film, I felt that my estimation for the movie was fairly accurate, and I was pretty sure I wouldn’t get around to watching it anytime soon, if ever for that matter. Then, there came along the recently released Blu-ray collection of the trilogy. Because I wanted to own the first two films on Blu-ray, and they were only available in a trilogy box set, I knew that I would end up with the third one anyhow. Which meant that since it was now in my possession, and I had already watched the other two, I may as well put this one into the player and see how it fares by comparison. Much to my surprise, “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” is actually a pretty good movie. Granted it’s not as good as the first film, and is perhaps a little below “2 Fast 2 Furious”; the film still did an admirable job of keeping me entertained to varying degrees from beginning to end.

Written by newcomer to the series, Chris Morgan (“Wanted”), “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift”, was a surprisingly well put together story, albeit with a few contrivances and convenient plot devices employed. I figured that if this series ever made it to a third movie it would most likely be tapped out in terms of story, unless they would be willing to resurrect some of the characters from the previous films and delve into them a bit more. However, I was wrong, because Chris Morgan wisely chose to shake things up dramatically to inject a new sense of life into a franchise that was running the risk of becoming stale in a hurry if the status quo remained intact. The inclusion of the new style of racing (which was incredibly fun to watch, especially for someone that hadn’t really seen it done before), having not just a new city, but an all-new country as the backdrop for the action, and making it more of a fish out of water-esque story opened up several new doors for the series to walk through.

Even though the story brought new energy to the series there were some problems that plagued the script along the way. For starters, the character of Twink (played by Bow Wow) seems to have an endless supply of goods which he sells to whoever has the desired amount of cash. This wouldn’t be a trouble spot for me, except that Twink is merely a high school student, and by all accounts shouldn’t have access to the amount of goods and services he has at his disposal. If the writer really wanted me to believe that Twink was capable of gaining access to all this stuff via stealing or whatever, then that is fine, but I believe that we should have seen this at some point within the story. Instead, his character came off as a little too unbelievable for my liking. Also, the whole plot point of sending Sean to Japan seemed like a big leap for me. Sure he’s apparently gotten into a lot of trouble over in the U.S., but having his mom just give up and ship him over to his dad (who doesn’t seem like he’ll be all that good of an influence) seemed a little too convenient of a way to introduce us to the world of drifting. I know it was necessary to get the character over to Japan, but it could have been achieved within the story any number of ways, and most of them would have been more successful.

The last problem within the story that I will discuss revolves around the drifting style of racing that the movie focuses upon. I appreciated that a new style was introduced (as I mentioned a moment ago); however, there seemed to be numerous times that the characters opted to drift (unnecessarily) rather than drive straight (as in the previous two films). This was especially evident during a car chase sequence where all the drivers were drifting around traffic and other miscellaneous obstructions, when if they had simply moved over slightly they could’ve just driven straight (or relatively straight), thus gaining more speed to outrun their pursuers. It was due to these weaknesses within the story that caused several lapses in believability, resulting in a somewhat diminished opinion for the film.

Helming this third venture into the high-octane series is director Justin Lin (“Annapolis”). Lin brings a somewhat more grounded sense to this film than what was showcased in the previous film under the direction of John Singleton. The majority of the action seemed to be done using real cars, with little CGI enhancement being employed. The second film used plenty of real cars as well, but numerous sequences displayed obvious CGI usage in place of the real deal. With “Tokyo Drift”, director Justin Lin appeared to stretch himself a bit more as a director, getting away from the straight-forward, generic camera style he used in his previous American film “Annapolis”. For a movie such as “Tokyo Drift” to really fit in with the rest of the series, it requires that a little more flair be brought to the camera work, and Lin came through surprisingly well. He offered up a slick piece of American cinema that fits in perfectly with the tone and feel of the previous two films, while establishing the movie as a standalone entity within the franchise.

The cast for this film was comprised of numerous young acting talents, some more capable than others at their craft, and based on most of the cast member’s limited experience, I really didn’t expect much out of them either. As you can see by now there were several factors that led to me viewing this film with rather low expectations. Anyways, leading the cast is actor Lucas Black (“Jarhead”) who gives a decent, although flawed performance as Sean. With a slight southern drawl, that is inconsistent in thickness throughout his entire performance, and a few instances where Lucas portrayed a somewhat down home country charm when attempting to woo the ladies, there weren’t too many layers or points of interest to be found in his character. Truth be told, Lucas was probably the weakest cast member performance wise, showing nary a hint of emotion beyond a slight smirk or chuckle here and there, which does cause a bit of a problem due to the fact that his was the lead role.

Thankfully, many of his supporting cast members were there to help mask his shortcomings as an actor. Rapper turned actor Bow Wow (formerly Lil’ Bow Wow) has become quite the decent performer with roles ranging from TV appearances (“Smallville”) to several feature films (“The Johnson Family Vacation” and “Roll Bounce”). Out of all the roles I have seen him in, I think that his character of Twink in this film, is probably the most interesting, and likely the most fun to play. From his eccentric taste in cars (an Incredible Hulk themed car), to his penchant for finding virtually any and every possible good that his customers requested, almost nothing about Twink was normal. Even though his character pushes the limits of believability in places, Bow Wow does his level best to keep the character as grounded as possible, and delivers a solid performance in the process.

Alongside Bow Wow was actor Sung Kang (“Live Free or Die Hard”) as Han, a talented drifter, who befriends and trains Sean in the ways of drifting. Sung created a very interesting character in Han, by having him be as much of an outcast among the Asian community of street racers as Sean was being an American in their midst. I liked the way Sung always played Han as if he longed for a way out of the illegal street racing world he almost seems trapped by, and the way he looks at his “friends” in that world shows a clear contempt for some of the actions they take in order to get ahead. His was a character that was all about honor both on and off the track, and out of all the cast he was probably the most interesting of characters on display.

Aside from the three characters mentioned above, the remainder of the cast was relegated to either quasi-cameo appearances or merely one-dimensional antagonists. Most of the cast whether in a more developed role or not-so developed did a good job with their respective characters. Besides Lucas Black, who perhaps with acting classes could do much better work, the cast worked out very well, and managed to keep the movie’s story interesting without relying solely on the racing to propel the film from start to finish.

“The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” was an energetic and fun ride that I’m sure introduced many of us to a new style of racing, but if you’re like me you still preferred the other way instead. The film attempted to stand on its own as a movie without tying directly into what had come before it. In that respect, I feel that “Tokyo Drift” was a success of a movie; however, it sustained a much weaker box office than the previous two films, so perhaps this drastic of a change-up in a single installment wasn’t the best of choices for this film’s sake.

As a side note, the title for this movie seemed a bit too long in my estimation; couldn’t we have just stuck a number 3 on the end of the original title and called it a day? That’s all I’m saying.

“The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” is rated PG-13 for violence and language.

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