Starring Lucas Black and Zachery Ty Bryan. Rated 14A.
It seems a trifle odd that Hollywood has put out three movies about cars for the summer audience””four, if you include An Inconvenient Truth. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift is the one that distinguishes itself from Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby by not being a comedy starring Will Ferrell, and from Cars by being live-action and not having any sympathetic characters. But like Cars, its key moment comes when the callow rookie driver learns the powerful secret of “oversteer” : the opposite-lock turn, or drift.
Drifting is an exciting art because it makes the car run diagonally, like a fat dog. It also helps cars keep much of their speed through tight turns, which helps good drivers to win races and thins out the number of poor drivers.
Tokyo Drift embodies another obscure art form: the making of movie sequels. The original The Fast and the Furious was a melodrama””Point Break with cars””starring Vin Diesel and Paul Walker. Its success did much to raise the profile of both import-car racing and Paul Walker's abs. 2 Fast 2 Furious dumped Diesel and added much homoerotic sparring. It was also a hit, as was the somewhat less flamboyant motorcycling variant Torque, with Ice Cube and Martin Henderson.
Returning to four-wheel racers, series producer Neil Moritz moves the show to the night-racing scene of Japan. This is a logical decision, due to the success of similarly themed video games like Need For Speed: Underground, Midnight Club, and Initial D. Veteran sequel observers might also detect a resemblance to another teen series: Grease, which also featured boring romantic subplots and high-school kids of remarkable elderliness.
Moritz has also shifted the series toward a new lead, Lucas Black. A hulking presence with a thick Alabama accent, Black joins the Tokyo automotive underworld with curious ease, the cultural barriers surmounted by a sidekick (the game Bow Wow) and by the tendency of all characters to speak English. This is an oddity on par with Black's early unfamiliarity with drifting, a staple of dirt-track racing throughout the American South.
Fortunately, the movie is all about driving stunts, not narrative logic. If you like squealing tires, squealing J-Girls, and the whole import tuner scene, you will enjoy this movie. You will still prefer Initial D, which has clearer race choreography and much weirder characters. Initial D nerds will thrill to an “86 Corolla” reference, while grindhouse fans will dig the buildup for Sonny Chiba's character, the local Yakuza boss. He's a charming killer””just like this movie, which ends with a long disclaimer that essentially says that if you're a kid, you shouldn't have watched it.