Past of the Furious: 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS Tests if the Franchise Can Run Without Diesel

As a celebration of both their 20th anniversary, and the upcoming release of F9, Past of the Furious is a series of retrospectives going through the Fast and/or Furious film franchise, one by one, movie by movie. Together we will discover how a series that began about stealing DVD players became a modern-day GI Joe riff and Universal Pictures’ third biggest franchise ever (only behind Jurassic Park and Despicable Me/Minions).

After the surprise success of The Fast and the Furious, production was quickly circled up around what a sequel could be. A script was written and presented to all key returning parties, but soon negotiations with Vin Diesel broke down, putting the whole production to a stand still. Refocusing the franchise on Paul Walker’s shoulders. The other major piece of the puzzle was finding a new director. (Cohen also turned down the project to work on xXx, another Vin Diesel vehicle.) Luckily, there was a surprising director who had expressed interest in the franchise: Boyz n the Hood’s John Singleton.

Singleton, often cited as responsible for bringing depictions of South Central Los Angeles to major motion pictures, was a huge fan of the original Fast and stated that he was disappointed that he didn’t think to make a movie about the LA car culture, a movement he himself participated in. So when an opportunity came around to work on the sequel, he was quick to advocate for himself to helm the film. He also was responsible for the hiring of Tyrese Gibson, who had just worked on the film Baby Boy, as well as Chris “Ludacris” Bridges in his first major role. Both actors would later become F&F mainstays.

The strangest part about Singleton’s sole directing credit in the franchise is the setting of the film. After being so taken by the depiction of LA car culture in the previous film, the action in 2 Fast was moved across the country and set in day-glo Miami. It could be argued this gave the movie a plausible deniability for why Diesel’s Dom is missing in action.

Whatever the reason, the choice gave the film a clean break to tell a story barely related to the first film, the only tie being Brian O’Conner himself. After going AWOL at the end of the previous film, we catch up with Walker in Miami, participating in the underground race scene there before being recruited by his former boss in the LAPD, now an FBI agent looking for ringers to go undercover to bust a drug cartel. Brian recruits his old friend Roman Pierce (Gibson) and enlists the help of unorthodox mechanic Tej (Bridges) to take down drug kingpin Carter Verone (Cole Hauser).

Unlike the first film in the series, 2 Fast received a very frosty critical reception, including two Golden Raspberry nominations for Worst Sequel and Worst Excuse For An Actual Movie, and while it outgrossed the first movie ($236 million versus $207), it also cost nearly twice as much. As such, the film was mostly seen as a disappointment by Universal and led to a scramble to retool and reconsider what exactly the value of the franchise was. Even amongst fans of the series today, 2 Fast 2 Furious’ ongoing legacy is mostly as “the bad one” and for its hyperbolic title, a weird stop-gap between the table setting of the first film and the Lin/Morgan set of films.

But what do we think about it?

Justin Harlan

When I was home from college after my freshman year, a movie about street racing suped up Honda Civics was released and led to a surge of stolen Civics at the mall by my house. My friends wanted to see it, so I checked it out with them at the Loew’s Superplex and thought it was okay. It was Point Break in cars… so I kinda just never bothered with the rest of the films.

A good excuse (like Jay’s weekly Fast & Furious series) was needed for me to finally dive into the rest of this franchise. And, with this, my first watch of the first sequel… I’m pretty glad I did.

First and foremost, it was a very John Singleton movie. For me, that’s mostly a good thing. Then, it’s a pretty solid win when you tack on the solid interplay of the two leads, the fun race and chase scenes, a nice dose of Ludacris, and a familiarity of that early 2000s vibe.

In other words, it may not be a world beater but I’m in and ready for this ride.

Rod Machen

The original F&F installment was hit enough. Keeping this show on the road using the newly hot Paul Walker (and the smoking hot Tyrese) seems like an easy decision. While 2F2F was directed by John Singleton, this is no Poetic Justice; it’s a franchise movie all the way. With the action moved to Miami, by way of Barstow, 2 Fast basks in the humid South Florida sun with all the tanned mamís one would expect.

After having recently watched Dazed and Confused, seeing Cole Hauser as the too-serious bad guy was a little hard to stomach, as was the relationship between the two leads which could best be described as awkward bro-frenemies. Eva Mendes shines as an undercover agent, and James Remar is James Remar. I’ll be interested to see where things go from here, as there’s certainly momentum for more hard-charging, high-octane adventures still to come.

Ben Mineo

2 Fast 2 Furious has a reputation as the worst of the franchise, a quick cash in on the popularity of the original, but without the star. Although it falls short of the esteemed heights of the first film, I really enjoy it. This movie introduces a future MVP to the series, Roman Pearce. Director John Singleton brought in Tyrese, the star of his excellent 2001 film Baby Boy and introduced him as Brian’s old friend and current demolition derby champion. It is the chemistry between Paul Walker and Tyrese that for me provides the necessary spark for this entry of the franchise. Their goofball synergy makes for a lighter tone that keeps the standard crime movie plot from getting stale.

Singleton pumps up the car action a little bit from the first movie, albeit aided by obvious CG that occasionally mars the street racing bits. There’s plenty of good here, from nighttime races that look like starfighters traversing hyperspace to the grappling hooks that seem to find their way into so many action scenes in the franchise. We also have an excellent supporting cast highlighted by Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and Eva Mendes and a very creepy Cole Hauser.

What holds 2 Fast back is of course the absence of Vin Diesel, the emotional core of the franchise and secret sauce that elevates the best of these movies out of the realm of simple fun action flicks. But as Brian O’Connor would say “pockets ain’t empty, cuz” — there’s more than enough fun here to make 2 Fast 2 Furious worth your time.

Ed Travis

I’m a fan of Vin Diesel’s bullshit. That mentality has led me to watch films like The Last Witch Hunter and Bloodshot without any major regrets. But that mentality had, until now, also caused me to avoid watching 2 Fast 2 Furious. And you know what I’ve learned? It can be nice to be free from Vin Diesel’s bullshit.

I shouldn’t be so surprised to count myself among the world’s newest fans of 2 Fast 2 Furious. After all, John Singleton, God rest his soul, was a damn fine director. And the cast assembled here, as lacking in “The Deez” as it may be, is stellar. When you’ve got all time great character actor Cole Hauser as your villain and James Remar and Eva Mendez classing things up, you know you’re doing something right. But none of that matters without the easy charm and chemistry of Paul Walker’s Brian and Tyrese’s Roman. Singleton gave Tyrese his big cinematic break with Baby Boy and here we see a dramatically grounded (if still silly and charming) Roman that’s more or less unrecognizable from the pure comic relief Roman of the later films in the franchise.

Walker, with all his “bros” and loose fitting white tees and Converse, is effortlessly, boyishly charming here, and one can see, retrospectively, how the franchise lived to fight another day with Brian as the anchor instead of Dom.

That said, just as Roman is somewhat unrecognizable from this film to the latter films, so too is the entire enterprise almost a different genre entirely than its later entries. A genuine street racing film without a blockbuster budget, 2 Fast 2 Furious almost feels quaint in comparison to today’s franchise.

If I’m being honest I highly enjoyed 2 Fast 2 Furious from top to bottom. John Singleton brought a kinetic joy to the races, drew out the star power of his leads (including Ludacris whom I haven’t mentioned yet and who genuinely makes an on screen impression while also crafting a banger of a theme song for the movie), maintained a cohesive narrative that was never boring, and even laid some honest groundwork for The Family that is to come.

Jay Tyler

The biggest fault with 2 Fast is that it is fairly uninspired, which I realize is a weird judgment to place at the feet of a Fast movie. But where as the first film had the dual stories of Brian performing a robbery sting while also basically falling in love with Dominic (and his sister too, I guess), 2 Fast feels more like a paint by numbers follow-up, stringing slight excuses to go from set piece to set piece. But for all of it’s flashy and well executed acton, the heart in this one is somewhat flat.

But there are a lot of things that do work, chief among them being Walker and Gibson having equitable if different chemistry to Walker and Diesel. Overall Paul Walker feels more comfortable here, attempting to establish himself as the new undisputed face of the franchise. He’s more relaxed, flashing winning smiles and simply allowing everything to orbit around him now. Gibson meanwhile is all grimaces and machismo, preferring to flex his way through every obstacle, reminding you how hungry he is. This is so at odds with his later persona, of the guy who barks bravado but is the first to beg out when things go sideways. And while he functions well as that within the larger family ensemble, I miss shades of this confident, fiery Roman.

Overall though, 2 Fast feels precisely like what it is: a follow-up to a surprise success that isn’t entirely sure what people liked about the first one. At times it feels more like a TV pilot than a major motion picture, establishing a new cast of characters for future installments. And while some will return, they are in such dramatically different contexts and shades that this almost feels like an alternate reality. We are still in the tinkering stage of the Fast Saga’s existence, unsure what the beast is. Luckily those in charge had different ambitions than competent but expendable cop dramas.

Our Next Pit Stop: And now for something completely different, as we shift from crime drama in the US to the teen-based melodrama in Japan for the most stand-alone film in the franchise, The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift. And not only do we meet a fan favorite character, but two major behind the camera staff are added that will foundationally change the Fast franchise into what we know today.

Next post Which Mitchell is the Best Mitchell in THE MITCHELLS VS. THE MACHINES?