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June 16, 2006 | Comments ()


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On the Highway to Cinematic Hell

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift / Phillip Stephens

Film Reviews | June 16, 2006 | Comments ()


Up until now I had the pleasure of avoiding the delightful little franchise billing itself as The Fast and the Furious. From what I gathered, the previous two installments were nothing but melanges of the dumbest fantasies ever to blast through the synapses of the male brain: loud, souped-up cars; daft bravura; buxom sluts; and exploding things. To no one’s surprise, the same holds true even as the action is transplanted to Tokyo in this asinine third installment.

This time around the film features Sean Boswell (Lucas Black), a definitive bad-boy hick who gets himself bounced from town to town due to his penchant for racing. Sure enough, in the opening scenes Sean crosses paths with a cheerleader who takes an interest in him and announces it by presenting like a mandrill (legs akimbo in order to give him a nice glance of panty). Neanderthal boyfriend then takes umbrage with this atavistic assault on his alpha status, and the two agree to a ritual duel of vehicles with the cheerleader’s silky virgin body as the tribal guerdon; they race in a suburban development project, destroy their cars, and get booked by the cops.

Due to a little-known clause in the state constitution of Arizona (or wherever the hell this was), Sean’s punishment is to be exiled to Japan. Within a matter of days, he’s shipped off to his father’s house in Tokyo and enrolled in a local school, never mind that he doesn’t speak a word of Japanese. Sean meets and befriends Bow Wow, who we know is black because he promptly begins selling things in nearly every scene he’s in. Sean and Bow Wow then seek out the requisite racing forum, which here seems to be a multilevel parking garage where local hoodlums practice the ancient Japanese art of “drifting” — essentially, driving in close quarters and making the car fishtail wildly from side to side. No, it doesn’t make any sense, but why start now? Sean, having learned nothing, tries to flirt with a big-shot’s concubine and has his mettle challenged by a smug Yakuza brat, after which he’s involved in this whole kit ‘n’ caboodle of subversive crime and racing.

I never thought I’d say it, but Jerry Bruckheimer’s got nothing on this franchise. From the underground circuits of teenagers who race $100,000 cars to the ludicrous claim that having those cars slip around on the road is a niche form of the sport, Tokyo Drift has only a tangential relationship with reality. And the misogyny! Good Lord! Every single woman in the movie is a vapid, chesty pawn who finds the baldest usage of masculinity arousing and is passed back and forth by the competing males as victory tender.

I can’t rightly say I’m disappointed in a movie that was a deserved write-off from the start, but two things here are wasted where they would’ve served better elsewhere. Lucas Black is not a greatly talented actor, but his everyman qualities, combined with an unapologetic Alabama drawl, make him interesting in the right context. Set against the monumental stupidity of Tokyo Drift, he just looks like a bland redneck who, while not as grating as Paul Walker or Vin Diesel, is also no more engaging. Secondly, a Tokyo backdrop is not something you should squander. As the largest metropolitan area in the world, Tokyo is a fascinating jungle of concrete and neon with endless waves of humanity and ubiquitous technology. Watching events unfold amidst this setting almost makes the film worth the effort until 600 Nissan product-placements flash across the screen.

After my hesitant approval of See No Evil a few weeks ago, I’ve probably forfeited every ounce of credibility I might have in regard to what is sheer, mindless entertainment and worth watching and what is sheer, mindless entertainment and should be maligned, but I’m going to weigh in anyway. Both of these films harbor no artistic pretenses; no claims to be anything other than visceral dumping grounds. But there’s a difference between celebrating stupidity with a sense of humor and celebrating stupidity for its own sake. And quite frankly, admitting you like something like Tokyo Drift is akin to admitting you’re a stereotype — a moron with a masturbatory obsession of cars and one-dimensional women. Please, tell me we can do better.

Phillip Stephens is a movie critic for Pajiba.

Edit, 6-17: Well bugger me silly with a shared needle! No less than five minutes after this article was published on Friday, my inbox was barraged with poorly-spelled taunts, death threats and Wikipedia links informing my person that this drifting nonsense is quite real and widespread. To that I can only respond with a fat journalistic “Whoops!” and a reassessment in which Fast and the Furious is judged to be this generation’s Ben Hur.



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