Review by Mark Walters


Okay, I get it.  The kids these days are into street racing.  The faster the car goes, the cooler the driver, right?  At least that seems to be an underlying message in movies like THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS and it's sequel 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS.  The first film was fairly entertaining, and seemed to do an effective job taking us into that world.  It's star Paul Walker returned for the second installment, which to date I have never seen.  Now there's a third outing, featuring all new characters, and a rather unique setting.

 The film opens introducing us to Sean Boswell (Lucas Black), a cast out student in a rich kid-heavy American high school.  When an impromptu car race against a cocky jock goes horribly wrong, Sean finds himself looking at a possible jail sentence.  He is sent to live with his Navy father (Brian Goodman) in Tokyo, Japan.  Upon attending a new school there, Sean meets another student named Twinkie (Bow Wow) who has quite a few connections, and a beautiful classmate named Neela (Nathalie Kelley).  It isn't long before he discovers an underground racing movement, which many of his schoolmates are involved in.  He discovers that Neela belongs to the star racer DK (Brian Tee), and Sean finds himself sucked into it all by one of DK's friends named Han (Sung Kang).  But this racing world is much different.  Everyone is into something called "drifting", in which cars are used to skid and slide their way through courses, rather than just drive in straightforward fashion.  Sean's father doesn't approve of his son going right back into racing, and threatens to kick him out if he doesn't shape up.  But matters get worse when DK begins to develop some serious animosity toward this new kid on the block.  If Sean hopes to keep up with his new adversaries, he must learn the art of drifting, which may be much more challenging and dangerous than anything he's ever done.

 This is certainly not a thinking man's movie, but it's pretty darn entertaining nonetheless.  Director Justin Lin (ANNAPOLIS) handles the fairly simple story with great pacing and effective intensity, and it all makes for a pretty enjoyable ride.  The stars here are mostly unknowns, with the exception of Bow Wow, and Lucas Black, who many know best as the little hick kid from SLING BLADE.  I was initially concerned about Black's noticeably thick Southern accent, but he actually does a fine job playing the underdog hero.  In many ways he's more effective as a lead than Paul Walker was in the first film.  Despite him being less than aggressive when not behind the wheel, he's the kind of character you want to see win.  Bow Wow also does a good job of playing Sean's buddy, even though it's more than a little unusual that a character like that would be in Tokyo at all.  One new face to look out for is Nathalie Kelley, who is absolutely stunning.  She only has select moments of good character development, but a face like that is bound to be in many more films.  Sung Kang is one of the best characters in the film, as the somewhat confused Han.  He actually the most layered character in the film, and very likable as a result.  Brian Goodman has a few nice moments as Sean's distant father, even if he's essentially playing the exact same character he portrayed in ANNAPOLIS earlier this year.  Brian Tee comes dangerously close to overplaying the villainous DK.  His mugging for the camera gets to be a bit much, but as a bad guy he still works.

There's a nice extended cameo by the great Sonny Chiba as DK's powerful uncle, and a rather fantastic cameo by a very familiar face at the end of the film, which unfortunately is being greatly spoiled in the movie's TV spots.  I particularly enjoyed the various moments of culture shock that Sean encounters when first hitting Tokyo.  It's that kind of "fish out of water" storyline that makes underdog stories work.  The racing scenes are nothing short of phenomenal.  Where the first film implemented several special effect shots to convey the extreme situations, this one keeps it real with its action.  Almost all of the car stunts were actually performed by professional drivers, and it adds a nice layer of realism that ultimately helps make the film so exciting.  I think like many I was skeptical that this film was even worth doing, but in the end it's a really fun movie, and (hopefully) the perfect way to end the series.  In fact it may just be the best of the trilogy in terms of overall satisfaction.  Granted, I haven't seen the second installment, but from what I've heard I didn't miss much.  If you like fast cars, or just exciting movies, this is one of the better films you'll see this year... believe it or not!  It's kind of like THE KARATE KID, only with cars.  Ralph Macchio would be proud. score - On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being best, I give THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT a 8.

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