After totaling his car while racing a school bully, Sean (Lucas Black, "Friday Night Lights") is sent to Japan to live with his estranged father to keep him out of vehicular trouble. Immediately after he arrives, Seas meets up with a school buddy (Bow Wow, "Like Mike") and is introduced to a race world called "drifting." Finding himself seduced by the glamorous Yakuza life that thrills him and the gangster's girlfriend (a frighteningly vacant Nathalie Kelly) he desires, Sean struggles to find a way out of danger and save his own life.
Losing star Paul Walker to avoid a big payday, the "Furious " franchise had the opportunity with "Tokyo Drift" to reinvent itself as pop entertainment with little more grit and nourishment to please the hordes of teenagers who worship at the altar of these films. Instead, middle-aged hipster producer Neal Moritz ("XXX," "Stealth") voted to simply get a Walker look-alike and amp up the already agonizing plastic thrills that made the first film depressing and the goofball 2003 sequel unwatchable.
The recipe for "Furious" hasn't changed one inch for "Tokyo Drift." This is still a three-ring circus of hot wheels, short skirts, and horrific acting, but this time around the budget is smaller, the ensemble filled with (rightfully) unknowns, and the enchilada is swallowed whole by its misogyny. Seriously, would it kill the series to find a female character that isn't just set dressing and fodder for jailbait upskirt camera angels?
Moritz, for a reason that I don't want to investigate too deeply, has brought in director Justin Lin ("Better Luck Tomorrow," "Annapolis") to helm the sequel. Lin hasn't shown the ability to even assemble a static scene of dialog much less orchestrate ten-minute-long car chases swollen with special effects. Working from a script that's hopelessly filled with head-slapping dialog, and a lead actor cursed to sound like Gomer Pyle's illegitimate son for the rest of his life (Black is the opposite of what typically constitutes a compelling male lead), Lin has no choice but to bathe "Tokyo Drift" in noise.
Yakuza money dealing and halfhearted love interests aside, "Tokyo Drift" is mainly about how deafening each new squealing car sequence can be. Backed by what sounds like the greatest hits of Dance Dance Revolution, Lin spanks the audience into the world of drifting, but fails to let us get a solid gander at the balletic properties that make up this subculture of stunt driving. Everything is lost to the visual gunfire of quick edits and shaky cameras as Lin frantically tries to drum up a boiling point for Sean's racing adventures, or perhaps he's covering up his inability to put a single scene together with even a thimble of grace. Either way, it makes my eyes bleed.
Drifting itself isn't all that tantalizing a subject to circle a film around to begin with. Having lived through many a Minnesota winter, call me unimpressed to see a bunch of toy cars swerving wildly around city streets. Around here, it's commonly called "morning rush hour 30 car pileup." Not nearly as catchy a title, I know.
When "Tokyo Drift" isn't trying to smother your senses, it's unintentionally hilarious. There's a villain who prefers to be menacing simply by glaring through his eyelids, a rather unenlighting snapshot of Tokyo nightlife made up of chirpy camera phones and funky food, and enough homoerotic tension filling up the frame that Lin stops just short of having a Sean do push-ups for the camera to keep the testosterone alive and kicking.
However, the simple absence of Paul Walker makes "Tokyo Drift" aces over the last film, "2 Fast 2 Furious." As Moritz chases an even younger audience with this sequel, his template for trendy four-wheeled midway thrills is wearing thin. How much clatter can an audience stand before they wince in pain and turn in shame? I guess we'll find out if a fourth installment (promised at the end) comes calling.
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