How do you review a movie that seeks to be nothing more than serviceable? Such is the problem with 'The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.' The third in the series of car porn excellence that are the 'Fast and the Furious' films, it neither aims high nor aims low. Rather, it just aims to please. As with any genre, there are the high water marks and the bottom feeders, but 'Tokyo Drift' just sort of hovers somewhere in the middle. Which makes it almost impossible to hate, or to love, and certainly to critique. All you can say is whether or not it gets the job done.
The surprise is that 'Tokyo Drift' actually delivers. It is the thrill ride the adverts promised -- a pastiche of the best parts of the first two 'Furious' flicks, splashed with a bit of Japanese "ethnic flavor" and, of course, lots and lots of vehicular collateral damage. It is also made without any apparent personal passion on behalf of its makers, nor an overriding aesthetic style that would signal the arrival of a major new auteur. Asian director Justin ('Crossover,' 'Better Luck Tomorrow') Lin, making his first big-budget Hollywood franchise picture, surprisingly brings little authenticity to 'Tokyo Drift' (which it certainly could have used to differentiate it from its predecessors). Still, it's a fun, professional, polished and slick entertainment. As a fan of car porn, I wasn't disappointed.
With the Paul Walker character of the first two 'Furious' flicks now long gone (apparently, 'Into the Blue' beckoned), 'Tokyo Drift' introduces us to a new hero, Sean Boswell (Lucas Black). He's a misfit southern hick who, after a "three strikes and yer out!" infraction with the law, is displaced to Tokyo to live with his father. But cocky Sean will be given a quick dose of character-building chrome sniffing, when he butts head with the local Drift King (Brian Tee) and his racing buddies Han (Sung Kang) and Twinkie (Bow Wow). (Sadly, the character of Hostess Cup Cake, to have been played by Chad Michael Murray, was dropped for budgetary reasons.) Thrust into the world of "drift racing," which involves skidding your car around deserted city streets like Mario Kart on acid, Sean wrecks the Drift King's car and worse, accidentally kills a friend. Before you can say, "Scared Straight!", Sean turns his back on the lifestyle, but not before setting out to win one big final race to pay back the Drift King -- and more importantly, make the transition from childish hoodlum to a responsible, MADD-approved licensed driver.
Okay, I kid just a little bit. But 'Tokyo Drift' is one of those funny movies that tries to impart a moral lesson while exploiting the audiences' desire for the very thing it is supposedly warning them against. Speeding is bad, kids -- especially on deserted Japanese streets at midnight when your driving a stolen car at 225 mph -- and a life lived recklessly, and without ambition, will quickly lead you down a dark path. As Sean learns the hard way, breaking the law has consequences. Of course, he also looks great doing it, as does everyone and everything in this movie. The 'Fast and the Furious' movies have always created an alternate universe so appealing you can't help but be sucked in by all the fabulous blankness. It's a world that is almost surreal, filled with gorgeous people and hot cars and where, apparently, everyone pools together their lunch money to combat soaring gas prices. There are consequences and moral laws here, but the style and sense of fun is so overcranked that all the teen-pop moralizing goes down as easy as an episode of 'Knight Rider.' If nothing else, 'The 'Fast and the Furious' flicks are the most entertaining PSAs in history.
Not that any of this is really a criticism. 'Tokyo Drift' is a film that by design is not to be taken seriously, and knows perfectly well it is formulaic. As even Lin admits in this disc's supplements, all of the "interstitial" drama is recycled and familiar, entirely on purpose. 'Tokyo Drift' is made for teenage boys, and is just the latest in a long line of cinematic rites of passage. Is it the fault of teens in 2006 that they get 'Tokyo Drift' instead of 'Rebel Without a Cause?' (Hey, when I was fourteen, I thought 'Roller Boogie' and 'Breakin' were the greatest movies ever, because that's what I got stuck with.) So much for film criticism -- 'Tokyo Drift' is the kind of movie that is impervious to such brickabrats. The trick to enjoying something like this? Just dive in, don't think, and enjoy the ride.
'The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift' makes its high-def debut on HD DVD, and predictably it looks fantastic. Like both of the previous 'Furious' flicks, 'Tokyo Drift' is incredibly bright and intensely colorful -- just the kind of stuff that screams demo material. And Universal has not let us down, with an excellent 1080p/VC-1 transfer that should earn its place in showrooms across America for years to come.
If I could use only one word to describe the visual look of 'Tokyo Drift,' it would be "day-glo." Color reproduction is excellent, with hues vivid yet free from burn-out or oversaturation. Cleanliness of the source material is superb, with not a single blemish noticeable. Blacks are spot-on and contrast terrific. I was quite impressed with how well this transfer handles all the shiny chrome and metallic surfaces -- the image is always very sharp but not overly-edgy, and artifacts such as jaggies and halos are not an issue. Depth and detail to the picture is almost uniformly stunning, with that "you are there," picture perfect quality that high-def is all about. 'Tokyo Drift' is definitely up there with the best transfers I've seen on HD, period.
It is tough with bombastic flicks like 'Tokyo Drift' to not use silly superlatives. "Crashes right into your living room!" and "Rev up that receiver, baby, for the ride of your life!" both spring to mind, but neither are really adequate to describe the thrill of listening this soundtrack at full blast. Okay, maybe that is a bit overdoing it. But 'Tokyo Drift' was the first time I cranked up an HD DVD and actually got a complaint from the neighbors.
First, the bad news. For some reason, Universal has not included a Dolby TrueHD track on the disc, even though this is the format's first double-sided, dual-layer HD-30/DVD-9 HD DVD/DVD combo disc. I suppose with all the high-def extras included (see below), the studio just couldn't fit it in? Whatever the case, we do get a Dolby Digital-Plus track (encoded at a very healthy 1.5mbps) that certainly delivers the goods. Would a Dolby TrueHD track have been superior? Highly likely. But just accepting what's here, I find it hard to complain.
The overall force and volume of this soundtrack, if played at a decent level, can be fierce. Predictably, it is all about the cars and the crashes. The heft and depth to the dynamic range across the entire frequency spectrum during these scenes is reference-quality for a Dolby Digital-Plus track. Fine sonic details and shadings to individual effects are readily discernible, which is not often the case with these big action mixes, where subtleties often get lost in the din. Dialogue, too was a surprise. It is rooted firmly in the center channel and always prominent in the mix -- much to my shock, I was not reaching for my volume knob, trying to manually adjust levels to compensate.
Surround use is also excellent. Discrete sounds are deployed to the rear channels almost constantly, from the roar of the tires and the crowd noise, to standout uses of dialogue and score. Pans are excellent with imaging as transparent as you're likely to hear on a Dolby Digital-Plus track. There are even a few very cool 360-degree "wipes" as the cars do their drifting routines. Totally cool stuff, and again, if you pump this one up loud, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more fun soundtrack out there on HD DVD.
As stated above, 'The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift' is the HD DVD format's first HD-30/DVD-9 double-sided, dual-layer combo disc. And as such, it is loaded with all the same extras as the standard-def release, as well as the most unique HD bonus content yet seen on either next-gen format. I'll have more on those later, but even just counting the "standard" goodies, it is a very fine package on its own.
First up is an audio commentary with director Justin Lin. Thankfully, Lin is far from pretentious. Though almost overflowing with enthusiasm for his cast and fellow filmmakers, perhaps to a fault, he imparts plenty of production details and is honest about his film's modest ambitions. Even he admits taht the story is largely a threadbare in which to hang a bunch of cool car racing sequences, and Lin also discusses some of his more interesting aesthetic decisions, from choosing to shoot all of the "drifting" sequences without the benefit of CGI, to casting a non-Asian in the role of Lucas Black's girlfriend. No, this track will not suddenly convince you that 'Tokyo Drift' is a great movie, but it certainly made me a fan of Lin. I look forward to what he does next, and only hope he gets offered some better material.
Up next are no less than six featurettes, which combined run about an hour. "Drifting School" is probably the most fun, with lots of humorous footage of the cast wiping out, and proving that the kind of driving seen in the 'Furious' flicks would be impossible for mere ordinary humans to perform without the aid of stunt drivers, rapid editing and special effects. "Trick Out to Drift" and "The Big Breakdown" are more formulaic, spotlighting the various cars used in the film, as well as dissecting the film's centerpiece car crash scene, here dubbed "Han's Last Ride." Unfortunately, "Cast Cam" is a disappointing. Though it includes plenty of cast-shot behind-the-scenes footage, we rarely have any idea who is holding the camera, and nothing they photograph is all that interesting.
The remaining two featurettes focus on the real-life sport of drift racing and Japanese culture. "The Real Drift King" interviews Keiichi Tsuchiay, perhaps the world's greatest living drift racer. In fact, Tsuchiay, who also served as stunt driver on the film, is so good he couldn't make some of the stunts look amateur enough to match the character's level of inexperience. "The Japanese Way" is the last featurette, and focuses on shooting a big-budget street racing pic in a country that is not all that hospitable to issuing little things like permits. So many funny incidents ensued, like they filmmakers attempting to outfox the authorities during unauthorized late-night shoots. "The Japanese Way" is probably the most entertaining vignette on the disc.
Next up are nearly a dozen deleted scenes and/or scene extensions. Lin drops in for some commentary, and I actually like a few of these. Characters get a bit more fleshed out -- as you would expect, no big action scenes that were cut -- and I enjoyed the expanded interaction between The Drift King and his minions, which I think would have enhanced the film. As for the quality of the scenes themselves, they are presented in fairly good standard-def video.
Lastly, we get a promotional music video for "Conteo" by Don Omar, though I forgot the song completely within seconds of it finishing. And par for the course for Universal these days, there is no theatrical trailer included, on either side of the disc.
'The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift' is really a film that is immune to reviews. You either like your car porn, or you don't. Though not as fresh or as much fun as the original 'Furious,' I did prefer 'Tokyo Drift' over the more serious '2 Fast 2 Furious,' and it is certainly a fun if empty-headed thrill. As an HD DVD, 'Tokyo Drift' this is a landmark release. Not only do we get the usual top-notch transfer, first-rate Dolby Digital-Plus track and plenty of standard-def extras, but Universal has really pushed the boundaries of HD content. The new "U-Control" interface takes the "In-Movie Experience" one step further, and if this is a sign of things to come, HD DVD fans are in for a wild ride indeed. This one is worth a rent just to see what the next-gen format is capable of.