This year is the 25th anniversary of the release of the first Jurassic Park. For most of us at Cinedelphia, it is a film that has defined what we look for in a summer blockbuster. So what better time than now to revisit the last 25 years of summer blockbusters and pick our favorites? View the criteria and full introduction here, and the whole series here.
18. 2 Fast 2 Furious (dir. John Singleton, 2003)
I will always remember Paul Walker’s hot-wired performance in Running Scared and his flinty turn in the criminally underseen Pawn Shop Chronicles. These films, both directed by Wayne Kramer (no relation), showed his range and the chances he took as an actor. They focused less on his looks or his driving abilities. And I greatly appreciate his performance in The Hours, a film he was promoting when I last interviewed him, shortly before he died. However, I also enjoyInto the Blue (2005), a dumb caper film—and total guilty pleasure for fans, like me, who sometimes just want to watch Walker wet, tan, and shirtless for two hours.
Of course, the Fast and Furiousfranchise will forever be Paul Walker’s screen legacy. I saw the first film at a screening before it came out and enjoyed it for the solid B-movie it was. I admired the multiethnic cast, the curvy plot twists, and—while I don’t drive—the fancy sports cars careening fast and recklessly. I was pleased it became a box office hit.
After the first F&F, Walker released Joy Ride, a nifty thriller and Timeline, a disappointing sci-fi film. His career might have stalled were it not for 2 Fast 2 Furious. This sequel had Walker reprise his role as Brian O’Conner, a now ex-cop being recruited to go undercover and stop a criminal. It was surprisingly successful—making $50 million on its opening weekend and ranking 15thon the box office charts for 2003.
2 Fast 2 Furious showcased Walker playing cocky and swaggering but also cool behind the wheel. He was effortlessly charming.
Walker’s co-star from the original, Vin Diesel, bowed out of the sequel, which, for me, enhanced this entry. Walker got the opportunity to star and play against someone new. Moreover, it let the baggage from Brian’s complicated relationship with Dominic Toretto from the first film take a backseat here. In fact, none of other original cast members appeared in this sequel. Even Walker skipped the next entry, Tokyo Drift, however, the original cast all reunited for 2009’s Fast & Furious, and the multiple, subsequent sequels.
2 Fast 2 Furious opens with a high-octane race through the closed streets of Miami at night. It’s a thrilling sequence, and like many of the race scenes in the film, had me gripping my armrests. (While I don’t drive, I am also, admittedly, a terrible passenger).
Brian wins the race, but he gets caught by the police (after a chase, natch) and is forced to go undercover to capture Carter Verone (Cole Hauser), an Argentine criminal. Brian rejects the partner he’s been assigned, opting instead to get his friend Roman Pearce, (Tyrese Gibson), who is restricted by an ankle bracelet after three years in jail, to be his sidekick. Their initial reunion involves the guys wrestling homoerotically in the sand outside a demolition derby rink where Roman lives and races. The testosterone on display here is like a shot of the nitrous oxide that powers the film’s cars and sure to prompt audience members to check their seatbelts are fastened.
The brah-mance between Brian and Roman is why 2 Fast 2 Furious is my favorite film in the franchise. The macho dude bro game of one-upmanship between these two gearheads revs this film’s engine. When Brian does the “stare and drive” with Monica Fuentes (Eva Mendes), Roman claims, “He got that from me.” When Roman gives Brian the finger while driving, Brian shows off by driving backwards. And then there’s the scene where Roman takes his shirt off to show his six-pack abs—er, to protect his hand and break open a car window. (Brian, of course, uses the vehicle’s door handle; the car was unlocked). Brian, bemused by the action, tells Roman to “put his blouse back on.”
These exchanges, however, are not why 2 Fast 2 Furious was so popular at the box office. It was the cars. Even the Universal film logo turns into a tricked-out hubcap. The flimsy plot is just an excuse to hang the film’s racing scenes, from the exciting first sequence with four drivers competing against each other (and a surprise obstacle), to a later scene in which Roman and Brian must best “Fonzi and Fabio” in a race for their sports cars, or a high-speed chase down I-95.
There is more, but the pièce de résistance, of course, has Brian jumping and landing his sports car on Verone’s boat. It’s completely ridiculous, but so too is much of the film, including a torture scene involving Verone placing a rat on Detective Whitworth’s (Mark Boone Junior), naked chest to make the dirty cop agree to his nefarious plan. (I hate rats more than driving, but I do appreciate this over-the-top approach).
Both Brian and Roman have problems with authority, which makes them great antiheroes. They will go undercover to get their records cleared, but they will flaunt the law in the process. (I love how they confuse the cops regarding which cars they are driving). As Brian observes, things are “getting thick real quick.” Sure, some of the double crosses are as easy to see coming as a traffic sign, but director John Singleton focuses on the energy not the mechanics here.
2 Fast 2 Furious is a zippy little action film, boosted by Walker’s easygoing presence and Tyrese’s comic support and chiseled abs. The actors don’t take things too seriously—and neither should viewers. Perhaps that’s why it was such a monster hit back in 2003. I know I loved it.
Author: Gary M. Kramer
Gary M. Kramer is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer. He is the co-editor of Directory of World Cinema: Argentina. Volumes 1 and 2, and teaches seminars at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute. Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer.