Do you remember all the heh-heh-uh-oh industry speculation a couple of years back that really good animation would one day replace the need for live actors? Well, vrooom, baby: In 2 Fast 2 Furious, really speedy cars already have.
Oh, there are nondigital handsome and buff young men and women involved in the story — a sequel to the zippy-trash 2001 box office phenomenon ”The Fast and the Furious” that moves the nighttime world of outlaw street racing from L.A. to Miami (where the climate is equally friendly to bare flesh, whew). There’s the tattooed, well-muscled, gleaming-toothed model-singer Tyrese playing a quick-witted ex-con who’s even quicker behind the wheel, slithery Eva Mendes as an undercover agent cozying up to Cole Hauser’s brutal, cigar-clipping money launderer, and a few other crudely sketched plot placeholders with equally flashy chassis. But cardboard cutouts of mannequins wheeled across the set on casters would have served just as well: Between that first guilty-pleasure-size hit (which made Vin Diesel a certain kind of turbo-headed star) and this 2 Potentially Lucrative 2 Refuse second rally, all pretense of interest in the human beings strapped into the drivers’ seats has been dumped like a stolen Yugo.
Even more than director Rob Cohen’s original (which paused goofily every now and then for tortured soliloquies on the thrill of the race), ”2F2F,” under the cut-to-the-chase direction of John Singleton, strips the package known as the Mindless Summer Movie down to its barest components of wheels, skin, and a pulsing soundtrack. Every girl is a hottie with buns of steel, and every guy, regardless of race, is a homey who tacks a ”bro” onto the end of each declarative sentence.
But the cars — sorry, weekend warriors and hobbyists, you’re on your own here with the oohing and ahhing over technical specs; I just know they’re painted the bright colors of jelly beans — are the only stars. And when the drivers change gears in their pursuit of even…more…speed!, each close-up shot of fearless hand gripping phallic stickshift and clump-kicking boot pumping clutch pedal is accompanied by a happy, grinding, you-are-there rasp of sound effect. An aficionado of this kind of experience doesn’t pay attention to the story so much as let the glittering and throbbing sequences of light and sound do their narcotic job. That’s what fast and furious audiences want, isn’t it?
That’s what I want, at any rate, if the alternative is a movie that pretends I’m supposed to care about the latest adventures of cutie cop Brian O’Conner. Because, as fans of the original (and I was one) will remember, O’Conner, played by Paul Walker, was the least interesting entrant in the race, And here, the dull, grinning pinup policeman is the only character back for more. (It’s not Diesel I miss, it’s Michelle Rodriguez; I was hoping to hear the ”Girlfight” star growl the word ”skank” again, and model-actress Devon Aoki’s vogue-ing poses as a chick racer are no substitute.) Off the force, with Florida light playing nicely and ”Miami Vice”-ly on his blue eyes and gold-streaked hair, O’Conner gets dragged into an undercover operation to frame Hauser’s kingpin that requires much fancy driving, for which he recruits an old speed-demon friend, Roman Pearce (Tyrese), as a partner.
Like its predecessor, ”2 Fast 2 Furious” has a good-natured and realistic sense of its own junky weightlessness; unlike so many other self-important sequels to casual sleeper hits, the story by Gary Scott Thompson (who wrote ”The Fast and the Furious”) and the script by Michael Brandt and Derek Haas don’t try to penetrate street-racer psychology, sticking to surface observations about as deep as a coat of spray enamel. If anything, the components of Singleton’s production are each a little sleeker, better packaged, and dumber than those of Cohen’s more innovative, lower-rent one. And for all the flash of Miami flesh (much cleavage but no nudity), and for all the macho talk among the dudes, sex — and sexiness — is tucked away even more prudishly than it was when Diesels roamed the earth. The bad guys are jokes (although one baroquely sadistic torture scene uncomfortably suggests otherwise). The good guys don’t take their work seriously. Cheerfully devoid of fury and stupidly satisfied with their closed-track lives, the crazy, half-naked, gear-stripping kids at this summertime hot-rod jamboree are as wholesome as the demolition-derby drivers at a county fair.