If not exciting, than it is at least intriguing to see what a major director is going to do when handed formulaic, substandard material. If the news that John Singleton was going to tackle '2 Fast 2 Furious,' the 2003 sequel to 2001's sleeper smash 'The Fast and the Furious,' was not an announcement on the level of, say, Stanley Kubrick doing 'Jaws 5,' it still was a bit of a head-scratcher. Singleton had made his name doing more serious, socially conscious fare, such as 'Boyz 'N the Hood,' 'Higher Learning' and 'Rosewood,' and he is, after all, the youngest filmmaker ever to be honored with an Academy Award nomination for Best Director for 'Hood.' Even his big-budget 2001 remake of 'Shaft' felt subversive, as if he wasn't so much slumming as integrating his gritty, indie aesthetic with a more commercial, iconic property.
Singleton doing '2 Fast 2 Furious,' however, just felt like a sell-out. Quite frankly, at the time the gig came his way, he certainly needed a hit. ('Shaft' was not a blockbuster, and his follow-up, 'Baby Boy,' was seen by next to no one.) Rather than take an obvious cheesy, derivative franchise and turn it on its ear, Singleton instead reveled in its cliches and conventions, seeming to treat the film more as technical exercise than anything overtly personal. Not that there is anything wrong with a director having a little fun, but '2 Fast 2 Furious' feels so identi-kit that it could have been directed by anyone.
The plot is essentially a remake of the original 'Furious.' Paul Walker is back as Brian O'Conner, who, after the events of the first film, has been booted from the police force. But when the feds get wind of a street-racing plot by criminal mastermind Carter Verone (Cole Hauser) to smuggle hot cars, they call Brian back into action. Hooking up with his bitter ex-con pal Roman Pearce (Tyrese) and undercover agent/Victoria's Secret model Monica Fuentes (Eva Mendes), this mismatched trio will have to put aside their differences -- and crash a lot of cars -- to take Verone down.
'2 Fast 2 Furious' so straddles the line of camp that the joke almost seems intentional. Singleton directs the film like a comic book, with the words "Pow!" and "Crash!" practically superimposed over the screen. The plot is incidental, the action so outlandish and unrealistic it is impossible to suspend disbelief, and even the film's body count is treated like a joke, as both good and bad guys are run over and flattened like a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. Even the performances are larger-than-life riffs on a single characteristic. Walker (clearly fulfilling a contractual obligation) is the frat guy gone good. Mendes sashays around like the window dressing she is, but with a self-aware wink. And Hauser milks every silly bad-guy line like he's auditioning for the villain role in a James Bond movie. Only Tyrese seems to be taking his jaded ex-con seriously, but even he seems to collapse under the weight of this post-modern house of cards and goes jokey by the time of the film's overblown car-crash finale.
Undoubtedly, '2 Fast 2 Furious' is a fun ride. Like the other 'Furious' flicks, it's good car porn, with enough stunts and action to make it as well-oiled a machine as any big-budget Hollywood blockbuster. And this is certainly a fantastic-looking movie, with so many beautiful people and glamorous locales that it's hard to be bored. It is just tough not to feel a tad disappointed with Singleton at the helm. A bit more personal investment in the material and more well-constructed script may have elevated '2 Fast 2 Furious' beyond the level of a very, very guilty pleasure. It's a junkyard movie from a filmmaker who has done better, and undoubtedly will again. I just hope the paycheck was worth it.
'2 Fast 2 Furious' maintains the visual tradition upheld by the other two flicks in the franchise. The cinematic equivalent of day-glo vomit, you're not likely to see colors as unreal as this in any other movie. Yet I think '2 Fast 2 Furious' just may be the best transfer of the bunch -- more detailed and natural than 'The Fast and the Furious,' but benefiting from more detailed and brightly-lit daylight sequences than 'The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.'
'2 Fast 2 Furious' again gets a 2.35:1 widescreen transfer presented in 1080p/VC-1 video. It does look rather fabulous. The incredibly vivid colors are again the most dominant feature of the presentation. I don't think I've ever seen hues this unreal, yet they are reproduced more solidly than the first 'Furious' flick. Teetering on the edge of being overpumped, bleeding and chroma noise are miraculously kept in check. The film looks like a rainbow but it's the most natural of the three 'Furious' flicks on HD DVD.
All other aspects of the transfer are excellent. The source material is very clean, with not even the slight veil of film grain that permeated 'The Fast and the Furious.' Blacks are rock solid and contrast just about perfect. There is nary a shot in the film that does not look wonderfully detailed and three-dimensional. If nothing else, nighttime scenes can look a tad bit softer, but they still trump just about any other HD DVD release out there. I was also impressed by the "picture window" effect of the image -- this is another of those transfers that sometimes looks so real it doesn't feel like video. Topping it all off is a lack of any compression artifacts or posterization. Even the heavy filter effects used in some scenes don't result in any anomalies -- color gradations always look smooth and natural, and even the most fast-action scenes are free from macroblocking. Great stuff.
'2 Fast 2 Furious' is another aural assault, the kind of soundtrack you crank up to impress your friends with how cool your home theater setup is. Like the characters in the movie and their cars, it is all about peacocking, which makes it again surprising that Universal did not pony up for a new Dolby TrueHD track for any of the 'Furious' flicks. Granted, the Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround track (encoded at 1.5mbps) included here is pretty killer, but I still wanted more.
Perhaps it is because I watched '2 Fast 2 Furious' last out of the trilogy, but I've started to become immune to all the sonic overkill. Certainly, the sound design of '2 Fast' is on par with both 'The Fast and the Furious' and Tokyo Drift.' There is nary a dull moment when the surrounds are not somehow engaged. The racing scenes are, predictably, way over the top. Motors rev, metal clanks and characters scream at each other -- all blaring from all five channels. Imaging is excellent, with movement of sounds around the 360-degree soundfield transparent. Even minor aural details are clear and distinct.
However, especially compared to the first 'Furious,' the quieter passages of '2 Fast 2 Furious' are a little dull. Rob Cohen, who helmed the original, smothered even simple dialogue scenes in R&B/industrial music, so '2 Fast 2 Furious' seems a bit subdued by comparison. (There are actually scenes where we can hear people talk to each other!) Atmosphere doesn't really exist, per se -- sounds are either loud, louder or loudest. The meager score is also muted in the mix, such as the nightclub scene midway through the film, where director John Singleton uses slow motion, some percussive effects and score to generate tension leading up to a grotesque torture scene, yet it all feels a bit flat in the mix. '2 Fast 2 Furious' only really comes alive aurally during the racing scenes -- but then, does anyone watching this movie really care about anything else?
Like its comrades in the 'Furious' franchise, '2 Fast 2 Furious' gets another feature-laden HD DVD release. Unfortunately, all of the extras are just ported over from the previous standard-def DVD release, so most of this stuff feels dated.
The best extra by far is the screen-specific Audio Commentary with Director John Singleton. I'll admit that I was pretty cynical about Singleton taking on the sequel, but on this track he is quite passionate and lively -- going into considerable detail about the film's high-octane action scenes and his stylistic approach to a rather formulaic concept. Unfortunately, Singleton appears to lose interest near the end, with far too frequent gaps of silence. However, this is the only supplement on the disc where you'll find any truly in-depth information about the making of the movie. And if you watch it combined with the Animated Anecdotes -- aka a pop-up trivia track with various (if pithy) fun facts -- it makes for a nice compendium of behind-the-scenes and production info.
The remaining extras are a bunch of featurettes and minor vignettes which don't add up to much. It also doesn't help that all of the video-based extras here are culled from the same on-set interview material, leaving it pretty fluffy.
"Inside '2 Fast 2 Furious'" should have been a solid making-of documentary, but running a mere 9 minutes, it barely scratches the surface. Universal has also tacked on six short (1- to 2-minute) "Spotlight" vignettes, each an interview with a cast member (Paul Walker, Tyrese Gibson and Devon Aoki) or a making-of segment on one of the film's tricked-out cars (The Evo III, The Spyder and The S2000). A bit more informative on the technical side of things are the five-minute "Supercharged Stunts" and the three-part "Actors Driving School." Nothing we haven't seen on any of the other 'Furious' discs, here we learn that car crashes are dangerous and require stunt people to shoot. Kids, don't try this at home.
Next up is a three-minute collection of Deleted Scenes and additional Outtakes. Singleton and Editor Bruce Cannon also offer an introduction and explanation of each segment. Everything here is an expanded version of an existing scene or a character bit, but then that's the least interesting part of '2 Fast 2 Furious.' The quality of the scenes is also rough as all come from AVID dubs, complete with timecode and raw production sound.
Rounding out the package are two featurettes culled from the DVD release of 'The Fast and the Furious,' both also featured in the HD DVD release of that film. "Tricking Out a Hot Import Car" runs 19 minutes and is hosted by Playboy Playmate Dalene Kurtis. She is joined by stunt coordinator Craig Lieberman, who shows us how a "hot car" is pimped out. Kurtis is, like, really smart, and says she "loves hot guys with hot cars." Truth be told, though, this is actually kind of interesting stuff, despite the tasteless pandering to the T&A crowd. Last and least is the uninspired "Turbo-Charged Prelude to '2 Fast, 2 Furious.'" Shot exclusively for the "Tricked Out Edition" of the 'Furious' DVD, this "electrifying" short is supposed to bridge the original flick with the sequel. However, what is essentially a montage of Walker driving in a car feels more like a long outtake than a narrative short film. Pretty forgettable.
'2 Fast 2 Furious' is a fairly predictable sequel, but it delivers on the bottom line -- you want great car chases, you got great car chases. It is also another fine HD DVD effort from Universal. An often stunning transfer, aggressive Dolby Digital-Plus surround track and plenty of extras make this one a nice upgrade over the standard-def DVD release. Though lacking a Dolby TrueHD track and any genuine HD bonus content, it will still give your HD DVD home theater a real workout.