THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


In The Fast and the Furious, Paul Walker played Brian OíConnor, an undercover cop infiltrating L.A.ís street racing community. At the end of the film, he allowed wanted man Dominick (Vin Diesel) to go free, thereby thwarting part of the investigation. The sequel 2 Fast 2 Furious finds OíConnor now off the force and living in exile in Miami. He still races, though, as we discover when he eagerly accepts an invitation from mechanic friend Tej (rapper Ludacris). The cops show up just as the race concludes, and OíConnor is arrested.

Once the police find out who he is, they invite him to take part in a sting operation being conducted in association with the feds. A notorious crime kingpin named Carter Varone (Cole Hauser) with ties to street racing is hiring speed demons to transport laundered money around Florida. They already have an undercover agent named Monica Fuentes (Eva Mendes) sidling up to Varone; now all they need is to have a couple inside drivers to make sure the cash never enters Varoneís hands. OíConnor agrees to help, but only if he can choose his driving partner. That person is Roman Pearce (Tyrese), a childhood friend-turned-adversary who is currently on house arrest.

It takes some convincing to get Roman to help, but the prospect of a clean criminal record does the trick. There is an uneasy alliance between him and OíConnor, which dissipates the longer they work together. They are soon united in their desire to see Varone go down. After proving their skills during a test run, Roman and OíConnor are instructed to drive halfway across Florida, pick up a large bundle of cash, and return it to Varone. Additionally, they must determine whether or not Monica has ďflippedĒ and begun working for Varone instead of against him.

If 2 Fast 2 Furious proves anything, itís that losing Vin Diesel (who refused to take part) didnít kill the movie. Paul Walker holds the screen just fine on his own, and the film should be a boost for Tyreseís acting career. The R&B singer may lack Dieselís intensity, but heís got charisma to burn. Both actors do well within the confines of what is essentially a mindless car chase flick; Tyrese also brings a welcome sense of humor.

As before, there is a car fetish mentality at work here. The automobiles are all suped-up hot rods of various makes and models. The soundtrack buzzes with roaring engines, shifting gears, and squealing tires. Director John Singleton (Boyz N the Hood) continues the original movieís style of shooting the races in an exaggerated, over-the-top manner that is like a jolt of adrenaline to the audience. The words ďfastĒ and ďfuriousĒ are well applied to the racing sequences.

For about 2/3 of 2 Fast 2 Furious, I felt like I was enjoying it about as much as I enjoyed the original. The problems came in the final third. My first (and more ethical) concern was in the portrayal of police. During the grand finale, OíConnor and Roman are chased by a group of Florida cops who donít realize they are working for the feds. The only way to bring Varone down is to somehow elude the police and carry on with the mission. They do this by causing (on multiple occasions) police vehicles to violently crash into each other. Now I know this is not a movie upon which to place a lot of logical expectations, yet I was (slightly) bothered by this anyway. The racers apparently think itís better to put the safety of innocent police officers in jeopardy than to simply nab the bad guy another day.

My other problem is that the ending (pardon the pun) runs out of gas. The original movie held its street racing theme throughout and gave us a final chase scene that was the pinnacle of the film. 2 Fast 2 Furious starts to take its silly crime plot too seriously, thereby abandoning the racing angle. The story ends with a handful of ridiculous stunts and a shootout. What I really wanted was one final, spectacular race like the one that capped the original. Adhering to the street racing theme is what made the first film special; this one ends just like any generic Hollywood action movie. Itís not a horrible ending, just a little below what I expected.

I feel that my star rating of 2 Fast 2 Furious requires some explanation. I do not think this is a bad movie; as I said, I enjoyed most of it. But because of a small objection to the portrayal of cops and a somewhat flawed ending, I ultimately felt the sequel was ever-so-slightly inferior to the original. I gave The Fast and the Furious three stars; since this one is not quite as good, I donít feel itís appropriate to give it the same rating. Therefore, Iím dropping it down half a star, which places it in that nebulous zone of movies over which Iím essentially non-committal. But maybe this isnít a film that benefits much from a star rating. What it really needs is a qualifier, so here goes: Is 2 Fast 2 Furious worth seeing? Well, yes, but only if youíve seen all the better movies (The Italian Job, Finding Nemo, X2) now in release.

( 1/2 out of four)

2 Fast 2 Furious is rated PG-13 for street racing, violence, language and some sensuality. The running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes.

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