Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion): ‘2 Fast 2 Furious’
by Ben Martin
Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)
If you had told me when I initially saw the original The Fast and The Furious at age twelve that it would inspire a massive franchise, now dubbed The Fast Saga, I wouldn’t have believed you. Nevertheless, it did just that, spanning eight sequels and one spin-off (thus far). I’ll be racing a quarter-mile at a time from the beginning of this franchise to its current finish line of F9, slated for release June 25th. This time around, we’re running to Miami without Diesel for 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)!
When The Fast and The Furious (2001) grossed over $207 million worldwide at the box-office, and became a huge home video hit, Universal Pictures was keen on speeding into a sequel. Ideally, the studio wanted this follow-up to re-team the leading men from the previous film. Thus, Universal reportedly commissioned a couple of screenplays — both written by Gary Scott Thompson (co-author of the previous installment) and the duo of Michael Brandt and Derek Haas (Wanted). One of these scripts was contingent on Vin Diesel‘s return, while the other did not feature Diesel’s character of Dominic Toretto at all.
Upon reading some incarnation of one of these screenplays, Diesel turned down the chance to retuen and the $25 million payday that would come with it, citing that he thought the story was ridiculous — which is undeniable. Frankly, I don’t know if I buy this two-prong approach as you could conceivably do the screenplay we get in this movie either way. In any event, Diesel chose to attach his then rising star to a vehicle that would re-team him with The Fast and The Furious director Rob Cohen, xXx (2002). (A flick that proves Diesel can’t use the stupidity of a story as a genuine reason to turn down the film in review.)
With Diesel and Cohen off trying to give audiences an “extreme” spy flick, a new director was needed to push this follow-up into second gear. Enter the inspired choice of Academy Award Nominated John Singleton (Boyz n’ The Hood); a filmmaker who not only brings clout, but who was also in the mainstream era of his career, having rebooted Shaft (2000) a few years earlier to marginal success. Beyond his obvious skill set, Singleton was a great choice thanks to his appreciation for the first film. Not to mention, the director would help put the pieces for the movie into place.
Namely, Singleton helped find the second lead of this film to buddy up to Paul Walker‘s Brian O’ Conner. Having just worked with rapper/actor Tyrese Gibson in what turned out to be his final urban drama, Baby Boy (2001), a couple of years prior, the director knew his leading man could bring charisma to a supporting role, and indeed he did. Speaking of rappers-turned-actors, the character of Tej in this film was initially intended to be Edwin (Ja Rule) from the previous picture. But, Rule chose not to return as he felt he should only be in starring roles at the time. As a result, a different rapper-turned-actor, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, was cast in the role instead. Which, I think, is a more intelligent move all-around as Ludacris has a screen presence. Whereas Half Past Dead (2002) proves Ja Rule should not be on-screen for anything beyond a cameo. Aside from casting, Singleton would also bring a very different Miami-influenced flavor to the sequel as a whole.
The ridiculously, albeit fittingly titled 2 Fast 2 Furious finds former LAPD officer Brian O’ Conner (Walker) living on the run from the law in Miami, Florida, where we see that he’s become a much better driver. As a result, Brain’s making money by winning street races organized by his pal Tej (Ludacris). Alas, Brian’s freewheeling lifestyle comes to an abrupt stop when the authorities finally track him down. In exchange for a clean record, our hero is pulled into a joint operation between U.S. Customs and Miami P.D. to bring down drug kingpin Carter Verone (Cole Hauser).
While Customs already has Agent Monica Fuentes (Eva Mendes) undercover inside Verone’s organization, they still need more evidence, which is to be procured in Verone’s latest transportation scheme involving fast drivers in even quicker cars. Of course, Brian will serve as one of these drivers, alongside his newly recruited childhood friend Roman Pierce (Tyrese), who will receive the same deal as Brian in exchange for his cooperation. Together, this Fast and Furious pair will drive any way they need to in their undercover operation!
Among the entries in this franchise, this one gets a bum rap. And, for me, there are two big reasons for the sophomore installment’s reputation. The story, as summarized above, is just plain dumb. This crime plot involving a weak sauce version of Scarface is just vague enough that you probably won’t think about it. Alas, if you give this caper the slightest amount of thought, it’s nonsensical — even more than in the original film! Not only does law enforcement clearly have enough to nail Veron, but we also never actually see the drivers functioning as drug mules, which is what they would be doing for the world’s dullest (as portrayed by Hauser) drug lord. I know this flick can’t go too deep into the drug trade due to its PG-13 rating, but they could at least apply some logic to that particular underworld and the way it operates.
Of course, logic was seemingly never a concern for the story considering it all hinges on something that would never happen. I am, of course, referring to the fact that two law enforcement agencies, yet again, recruit Brian O’ Conner despite him completely bungling his first undercover assignment in the original film. Speaking of Brian, all the natural SoCal charisma that Walker brought to the role last time is absent here for the most part as the actor seems to be reading cue cards any time he isn’t in a car. Then again, maybe that’s just because there isn’t as much for Walker to work with here. Unlike its predecessor, 2 Fast 2 Furious and its story are structured like a racing video game. In other words, it is not about the cutscenes; it’s about the driving set pieces.
Now, usually, that would be a problem. But in the case of this flick, all the cars and action — absurd though they may be — are exceptionally entertaining! So much so, in fact, that it makes up for the story here (or lack thereof). This sequel moves beyond the original quarter-mile straightaway street races and goes for all-out craziness with cars in various settings. Such was intentional on Singleton’s part as he wanted to kick the races and the car stunts up a notch. In doing so, the director said he took inspiration from anime, particularly Speed Racer (1967-1968), and the Gran Turismo video game series. Both influences of which are very evident in all these set pieces. In addition to the action, Singleton and cinematographer Matthew F. Leonetti (Star Trek: First Contact) bring a whole new visual style to a sequel that’s heavily influenced by its Miami setting, with plenty of neon for extra measure. Just as The Fast and The Furious captured east L.A. visually, 2 Fast 2 Furious does the same for Miami.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t praise the last aspect that makes this sequel work — the majority of its supporting cast. While Walker, Hauser, and Mendes are as stale as week-old bread on the discount rack, the supporting cast livens things up! Tyrese and Ludacris, in particular, steal every scene they’re in with their respective natural screen presences, as do the rest of the supporting players. Heck, they even make Walker’s performance feel a little less stiff. Like the ensemble of the original film, these folks have a natural chemistry that can’t be faked.
Based on the lengthy criticisms I lobbed at 2 Fast 2 Furious, it’s clear that it is not a perfect picture. However, it is entertaining junk food for your brain and a visual feast for your eyes! Is 2 Fast 2 Furious superior to its predecessor? No, not by a long shot, but it is a helluva lot more fun! More importantly, though, this follow-up sets the template for much of the series to come — new locations and visuals to complement it, ever-growing ensemble casts, and increasingly insane race and stunt set pieces. Thus, 2 Fast 2 Furious is a foundational Franchise Expansion! No doubt, there will need to be a balance found between the original and this second effort. But without this sequel, I doubt we would ever have what’s to come. Well, that is after a little drift into Tokyo.
2 Fast 2 Furious is available on all home video formats.
F9 will be released in theaters June 25th
Next time, the franchise goes abroad for a soft reboot of sorts with The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)!
Looking back a quarter-mile at a time:
The Fast and The Furious (2001)