Did you know that if your teenager does something illegal, and you don't want to see him put in juvenile hall, you have the option of deporting him instead? It's true! And I learned it from watching "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift."
This is the latest film in an increasingly stupid series of movies about the underground drag racing scene, in which young men drive tricked-out cars at insane speeds through city streets and are subsequently surprised and/or outraged when they are killed in fiery crashes and/or arrested.
It is a series that seems to suck the life force out of good directors, first John Singleton in "2 Fast 2 Furious," and now Justin Lin, whose debut film "Better Luck Tomorrow" was excellent. Very little of Lin's modern, Fincher- and Scorsese-inspired visual style is evident here, and he seems resigned to telling his implausible, logic-free story in the most pedestrian manner possible.
The story is that Sean Boswell (Lucas Black), a thrill-seeking American teen, is sent to live with his estranged father after yet another round of reckless driving and destruction of property charges threaten to send him to juvie. Dad (Brian Goodman), a military man, lives overseas, and when Sean arrives there, the film includes this caption: "TOKYO, JAPAN." This is helpful because otherwise, we wouldn't know which Tokyo we were dealing with. "Tokyo, Ohio?" we might think. "But then why is everyone Japanese?!"
Major Boswell warns his son not to involve himself in any shenanigans or tomfoolery, not to mention monkeyshines or high jinks, but less than 24 hours after stepping off the plane, Sean is not only racing again, but he's racing a car that doesn't belong to him, wrecking it, AND incurring the wrath of a local yakuza-connected thug called DK (Brian Tee) by flirting with his girlfriend Neela (Nathalie Kelley).
The car Sean wrecks belongs to Han (Sung Kang), and why Han lent his expensive racing vehicle to someone he's just met whose racing ability he has no knowledge of is unclear. But as a result, Sean has to repay the debt by working for Han picking up and delivering things as part of an operation ultimately run by DK, though Han (and by extension Sean) is skimming off the top.
It's needlessly complicated, as you see, considering the movie's real purpose is to be car porn: show some pretty cars doing amazing things and call it a day. All that "plot" and "dialogue" just gets in the way, you know? The film does meet the car-porn standards, though with a few crunchy racing scenes (which Lin directs proficiently) and numerous loving shots of lightweight, beautifully rendered cars glistening in the moonlight.
The screenplay (written by THREE people, Alfredo Botello, Chris Morgan and Kario Salem) has an impressive number of truly bad lines, of which I will cite just two. First, in the opening sequence that leads to Sean's arrest, he is arguing with another testosterone-laden, car-loving teenager about a trivial issue, leading the other boy's bimbo girlfriend to say: "Why don't you boys let your cars do the talking?" (She subsequently proposes the terms of the race: "Winner gets me.")
Second, in Tokyo, when Sean once again runs afoul of a hot-girlfriend-having car fanatic, DK warns him: "Stay away from her, or the only thing you'll be driving is a wheelchair." We overlook the syntactical error -- one doesn't really "drive" a wheelchair, does one? -- because English is not the speaker's first language. But still.
Much of the film is harmlessly generic, but in its last half-hour it plumbs new depths of dumbness that markedly lower its overall score. The film is so enamored of the racing lifestyle -- and so sure its audience feels the same -- that racing becomes the motivation for every character in every situation. When Sean wants to settle a business dispute between himself, DK and DK's mafia uncle (Sonny Chiba), his solution is a race, with the loser (him or DK) forced to leave town forever. Uncle accepts this plan EVEN THOUGH IT MAKES NO SENSE. And while Sean's father has understandably been opposed to his activities, he eventually comes to accept high-speed street racing as a perfectly viable way of solving one's problems, a resignation that strikes me as laughably unlikely.
The film ends with a disclaimer, written in legalese ("contained herein"), reminding the numbnutses who thrive on this sort of film not to Try This At Home. Of course, the warning comes after 104 minutes of footage meant to show how awesome it is when a regular non-professional teenage driver becomes a drag racer, so its effectiveness is questionable.