Expert film discussion from completely unqualified people


March 30, 2015

A promising series takes a huge step backward.

In this seven-part series, Rob watches the "Fast and Furious" films for the first time. Check out Part I here and Part II here

Congratulations, Mr. Movie Studio Man! Your sequel was a big hit! Time to gather the troops for another go-round. This is officially a franchise. What's that? The stars don't want to return? The success has gone to their heads? But you're the one who MADE them! Damn their egos. Alright, no worries. We've still got the cars. Someone make something up. It's spin-off time.

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

"Fifty percent of something is better than a hundred percent of nothing."

I'm trying to decide if there is a single change that could have saved Tokyo Drift from mediocrity. More Sonny Chiba would be one. Taking the characters out of high school would be another. Making Han an actual character would have been great. I should blame myself, I suppose. After 2 Fast 2 Furious, I was expecting another step up in adventure and insanity for the Fast series. Sadly, Tokyo Drift suffers from the same issues as The Fast and the Furious: Needless melodrama, weak characters, and a crippling sense of self-importance.

So our new Pretty White Guy Protagonist is Sean, a troublemaking good ol' boy who's gotten himself into one too many scrapes. After nearly crippling a high school rival in a car race, he's sent to live with his father in Tokyo. Sean is a truly awful protagonist. His entire personality reads like a studio test audience note: How else are we supposed to know he's an American unless we make him a reckless, skirt-chasing cowboy with a Southern drawl? How else will the audience know this is a West vs. East culture war? Anyway. Despite his repulsive, moping personality, he makes friends with Twinkie, the Sass-Talking Black Sidekick. He's completely useless, and his inclusion in the film does little aside from fulfilling some sort of contractual agreement between Bow Wow and Universal. He introduces Sean to the Tokyo drifting scene and then fucks off to hit on Japanese schoolgirls. Drifting is kind of badass, actually. Asian racers apparently got bored driving from Points A to B and decided to make their cars fly through the cunning use of the handbrake (science, bitches). Sean embarrasses himself in his first race against the "drift king" DK, but manages to endear himself to one of DK's caporegimes, Han. Han teaches Sean to drift so he can face-off against DK because movies have to have a climax. Whatever.

The big problem with Tokyo Drift is that it feels like a product being sold to children by a condescending marketing team. Why are these characters in high school? Because this film's audience is. Why is Sean so insufferably angsty and off-putting? Because this film's audience is. The plot is an adolescent power fantasy that immediately alienates any audience member over the age of 15. The adults in this film are mean and don't understand how cool the kids are. They should just get out of our way, man. Notice the "don't try this at home" title card at the end of the film? And you're telling me this film isn't corporate bullshit designed to sell Mountain Dew to teenagers? Where the fuck is Roman? Bring that guy back.

I should mention that Tokyo Drift does have a few elegant moments and tries to sneak in a theme or two. Sean and his love interest Neela are outsiders who don't belong anywhere. They (ahem) drift through the world, living only for the few minutes of freedom that racing provides (Wasn't that Dom's philosophy in Part I?). Drifting is a metaphor for the search for identity. Got it. Considering that the only way Sean grows or changes at all is through his drifting skills, I guess this theme is paid off. He gets the girl, his father's approval, and a place in the world. Sure. You know, Tokyo Drift could have easily been shaped into a decent coming-of-age story if the actors weren't all clearly in their late 40s. Or if we gave a shit about any of these people. This series works best when we can just project ourselves onto Vin Diesel and watch cool stunts. Stop trying to make these characters into sympathetic human beings, studio. You're bad at it.

New director Justin Lin paints Tokyo with lovely colors and can clearly shoot action. Get used to drifting, though, because you're going to see it a lot. From the same angles. Over and over. Aside from that, the action scenes are fairly boilerplate: Closeup of driver, gearshift, pedal, speedometer, repeat. There's a completely meaningless shoehorned-in moment where Sean uses the red button to drive really fast. I guess they were contractually obligated to include Nos, but it has nothing to do with the story. Whatever. These shortcomings are no real fault of the film itself. They're just incredibly disappointing after the joyous romp of 2 Furious. That film was alive. This one may as well have been direct-to-video. 

Tokyo Drift was a significant disappointment, but the little continuity nod at the end (no spoilers) reminded me that I'm 100% in with this series. Predictions for Part IV? Well, I know that the original cast returns, so I'm going to carry over my initial predictions for Part II: Brian has to face-off against Bad Racing Guys and recruits Dom and his Good Racing Guys to help out. Someone call John Singleton and make this thing good.  


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