Two years after audiences made a surprise hit out of “The Fast and the Furious”, Universal Pictures released the speed-injected sequel “2 Fast 2 Furious”. Gone were most members of the original film’s cast, except for Paul Walker who opted to return once again as Brian O’Connor, and joining him this time would be then-newcomer to the acting world Tyrese Gibson (“Four Brothers”), Eva Mendes (“Ghost Rider”), and Cole Hauser (“Pitch Black”), along with director John Singleton (“Shaft”) filling up the director’s chair in place of Rob Cohen.

“2 Fast 2 Furious” finds Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker), now an ex-cop, living a life in hiding, yet still trying to prove just how fast he is in the world of street racing. But when the FBI catches up with Brian, he is given one final chance to do what is right by using his skills behind the wheel to assist in bringing down an international drug lord (Cole Hauser), or face the next few years behind bars. To do this Brian must enlist the aid of a former buddy (Tyrese Gibson) who is just as addicted to the rush of high velocities as he is, and hope that their combined racing prowess will be enough to get the job done before time runs out.

With the original film, “The Fast and the Furious” audiences were given a movie that no one really had high expectations for, and in the end it became a massive hit for the summer of 2001. For “2 Fast 2 Furious” expectations were notably higher going in due to the great success of the original, but only having Paul Walker return for the sequel didn’t seem to spell good things for this installment’s future, at least not in my book. As it turns out I was wrong in my estimation that the missing element of Vin Diesel and most of the other cast members from the original would effect box office take, because “2 Fast 2 Furious” easily drove past where its predecessor finally parked on the box office tally sheet.

The original film was essentially a story about loyalty between friends that live their lives on opposing sides of the law (as it turns out); for the sequel writers Michael Brandt & Derek Haas (“Wanted”) along with original writer Gary Scott Thompson tried to take that initial theme and expound upon it. The main thrust of this film rests upon the decisions Brian made over the course of “The Fast and the Furious”, and how those decisions for better or worse have affected his life today. By taking this route, not only do the writers actually enrich the story for the first movie by adding some new layers after the fact to Brian’s character, but also strengthening this film by linking it directly into the action of the original (something that many franchises forget to do, and at times causes a movie within a series to feel unrelated in a way that is detrimental to the franchise). I did enjoy how the story gave us insight into Brian’s and Roman’s (Tyrese Gibson) history, and made their relationship in this film a parallel to Brian and Dom in the original. It was also interesting to see a different side to Brian’s character than we have before. In the first movie he was a cop, so he was bound by the law (to an extent); in this film, no such restriction is in place, and Brian is much more care-free and most likely being himself, thus making him a little more interesting as a character.

As strengthened as the film was by its link to the original, it was also hurt by it because it forced the inevitable comparisons between the two films to come even more naturally. The script for this film did have some weaknesses that detracted from the end result, some of which were problems in the first movie, just not to the extent that they are here. Numerous times throughout the movie the dialogue began to grow tiresome, especially the pervasive uses of the words “Yo”, “Bro”, and “Check it”, all of which seemed to find its way into almost every single moment of Paul Walker’s screen time. I know that in the first movie he used these words, and that it kind of solidified his surfer image; however, when it begins to become noticeable to the point that it’s annoying, something has gone wrong. Along with that problem there were also several moments within the story that felt slow, as if the writers weren’t really sure how to propel the story forward in an interesting way. It was at these times that the movie seemed to be meandering about aimlessly just waiting for the next action/racing sequence to begin so that the story could find its mojo once more. It was due to these problems, and a few other minor ones along the way, that caused “2 Fast 2 Furious” to stumble along in places, and in the end fall short of the standard set by the first film.

A staple of this series is of course the racing sequences, and there are a plethora of such scenes in this installment, all of which are fun to watch no doubt about that. Yet, the problem with a franchise such as this, or any action series for that matter, is that it becomes harder in the sequels to make the action (in this case racing) seem fresh and original. No matter how hard you try the racing is going to resemble that which came before it, unless you explore a new style of racing or just go completely unrealistic with the scenes (which appeared to happen in a few instances in this film). With this problem standing in his way director John Singleton did manage to at least make the racing interesting by including more stunts into the sequences than had been done before, some of which were a little harder to believe than others. It was this decision that helped keep the racing from feeling stale, yet also resulted in a more gimmicky feeling than the previous film’s races had. Despite all that, director John Singleton did a very good job in trying to differentiate his movie from the original, while at the same time keeping a similar feel and tone. Not an easy task, but one that he managed to succeed in doing.

As I stated earlier Paul Walker was the only primary cast member to return for this installment, and I had praised him previously for his work in the original film. However, for this movie he seemed unfocused and uninterested through several of his scenes, almost as if he were simply “phoning in” his performance. I’m not saying that Paul is the greatest actor of his generation, far from it actually, but his apparent aloofness to the material, and at times wooden portrayal, was very distracting. Despite the problems that Paul had in his role, there were several moments within the film where he actually came out of his funk, and delivered some very key scenes; namely those revolving around his past mistakes and how they have effected his decisions and choices ever since.

Joining Paul Walker we have actor Tyrese Gibson, who has become quite a decent actor in his own right since this film. Now, his performance in this movie is troubled like Paul Walker’s, but for different reasons. Unlike Paul, Tyrese clearly enjoys his role, and seems to really be trying to invest himself in the performance; however, his talent had not yet been honed enough to let him fully deliver in all his scenes. This is best illustrated by what is easily one of the worst line readings within this film, and reminds me of Hayden Christensen’s horribly flat utterance of the words “Don’t underestimate my power!” in “Star Wars – Episode III: Revenge of the Sith”, which is, “I have a problem with authority.” Wow, could a line be delivered any flatter and with any less conviction, obviously it could be if Hayden had delivered it, but still that was atrocious and by all accounts should have resulted in another take to try to get it right (take note director John Singleton).

Alongside the two leads is actress Eva Mendes as an undercover FBI agent working inside the drug cartel. Eva was very good in this role, and had the good fortune of actually receiving a female character that was given more to do in this film than Michelle Rodriguez or Jordana Brewster was in the first one. Cole Hauser as the drug lord gave a decent performance, and seemed to do the best he could with what he was given to work with. The problem with his character was that he wasn’t really a guy that was all that interesting, and truth be told he seemed more like a stock villain from any other action film. I know that the main focus for this series will always be the cars, but a little effort could have been put into making this villain a little more of a threat and much more developed as a character. Truthfully, even though we rooted for him, Vin Diesel’s character Dom was in essence a bad guy in the original movie, but it was the way his character was developed to be a more complicated guy than what you merely see on the surface that made him so interesting. That is what was sorely lacking in this movie’s villain; I’m not saying you need a villain that you can root for, but at least give me one that isn’t so one-dimensional.

All that being said, for me “2 Fast 2 Furious” was a generally fun ride with plenty of high-energy racing, a decent story, and average acting for the most part (with a few bright spots here and there); however, the movie never did quite capture what made the first one such a success, so it does fall somewhat short in the end.

“2 Fast 2 Furious” is rated PG-13 for violence and language.