The weird thing about The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift is that it isn’t bad. It’s better than 2 Fast 2 Furious, for one thing, and Lucas Black may be a more convincing lead than Paul Walker – at least thus far. The races are pretty cool, the cavalcade of Asian hotties is undeniably magnificent and the doses of Japanese culture are surprisingly not done through an American-only lens.
Directed by Taiwanese-American filmmaker Justin Lin, who would take over the helm for the remainder of the current series, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift has all the colour and speed of its two predecessors. It also has a lot of energy, even if most of the performances are of the wooden variety and the plot is lacking. Still, the whole thing functions well enough as a drive-in B-movie.
Black stars as Sean Boswell, a good ol’ boy from Alabama. He gets in a lot of trouble because of his penchant for racing other students and is eventually deported to Japan to live with his father (Brian Goodman) after a particularly destructive race against Tim Allen’s eldest son from Home Improvement. In Japan, it doesn’t take long for Sean to settle in with the drift-racing crowd.
Of course, he also settles in with the criminal element and finds himself getting in trouble with Japanese gangsters. Sean is particularly pitted against the Drift King (Brian Tee), a skilled racer. The Alabama kid predictably falls for the Drift King’s girlfriend (Nathalie Kelley) and is helped by a fellow American immigrant (Bow Wow) and Han Seung-Oh (Sung Kang), a business partner with a heart of gold.
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift presents a world of good times, much like its predecessors, and it makes the criminal element look very attractive and kind-hearted. The Yakuza is decidedly less vicious than they really are, with serious disputes settled by a little race and a key boss (Sonny Chiba) proving farcically lenient.
The treatment of women remains the same, of course. In the beginning of the film, a girl (Nikki Griffin) puts herself up as the prize to the winner of a race. Most of the other ladies are vehicle accessories and, as eye-catching as the whole shebang is, one can’t help but compare the exhibition to a meat market. And Neela is yet another unmitigated add-on, clad in preposterously short skirts.
This is all par for the course and the ugliness fits the exploitation genre like lying fits Paul Ryan. This entry doesn’t take itself seriously, from the hot sauce bottle floating around Sean’s car to the ridiculous Hulk-made vehicle driven by Bow Wow. The Yakuza-lite stuff isn’t exactly Ichi the Killer, although it is insanely cool to see Chiba in any capacity.
The highlighting of drifting is a neat touch. Drifting is when a driver intentionally over-steers to cause the rear wheels to loose traction while maintaining control through a corner. When the Drift King drifts through a race upon first meeting Sean, it’s a pretty sweet demonstration as he glides painlessly through a series of hairpin turns.
In other hands, Lin’s The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift would’ve probably just used Japan as a setting and/or a basis for a bunch of xenophobic openings. But here, the characters really live there – and like it. There aren’t the anticipated fish out of water gags and the movie shows respect for Japanese culture.
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift isn’t an award-winner, but it makes for a decent B-movie. Lin once again shows promises as a filmmaker and Black out-Walkers Paul Walker. The eye candy, motorized and otherwise, is nourishing and the remaining elements are entertaining.