Fasts and Furiouses 3: Drifting Franchise

Previously: some people were fast, others were furious, and it doesn’t really matter because this movie isn’t about any of them.

Three years after 2 Fast 2 Furious proved 2 silly for any of the stars to come back*, but 2 lucrative for Universal to stop making sequels, they took a chance and hoped that the name “The Fast and the Furious” would be all they’d need to keep the magic (for a very liberal definition of the word “magic”) going.

Did it? Well… that is a very qualified yes at best.

An associate and I watched this, along with the next three movies, while live tweeting our reactions. I’ll sprinkle that in as I go.

*Okay one, but only really briefly.

Tokyo Drift

As F&F:TD opens, we meet a new protagonist (if that’s the word I want), a supposedly 16-17-year-old high school student who looks to be about 38. I know Hollywood doesn’t like to cast actual teenagers as teenagers, but come on, there comes a point when it just gets silly. As this was the first (and so far only) F&F movie where I couldn’t be bothered to learn the characters’ names, we simply referred to this withered husk of a high schooler as “Methusa-brah.”

After an opening credits sequence that indicates Methusa-brah’s school is full of assholes facing very little in the way of consequences for their actions…

Also, concerns that the F&F set in Japan might be a little racist kicked in early.
Also, concerns that the F&F set in Japan might be a little racist kicked in early.

…the douchiest douche bro jock to ever douche it up bro-style (played by the oldest son from Home Improvement. Wouldn’t have guessed that) is picking a fight with Methusa-brah for daring to speak to his girlfriend. I want to complain about the level of alpha-male possessiveness that is soaked into the franchise so far, but the sad thing is I need to wait because there’s more. This being a movie based on furious people being fast, before long they’re challenging each other to a street race. Which said girlfriend is swift to encourage.

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The drag race through a residential construction site that is weirdly deserted for 4:00 on a weekday goes badly, with both cars having disastrous crashes and the law ending up involved. Doucheking and his girlfriend will skate, because of their rich parents (naturally), but Methusa-brah is risking being tried as an adult.

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And so, his mother comes up with a solution, one that the local cops who were weirdly gleeful to lock Methusa-brah up a minute ago seem weirdly okay with: she’ll send him to live with his father. In Japan. Pretty sure the cops are supposed to be against fleeing the country to avoid trial, but okay, let’s get away from the baseball captain/future serial killer and towards the actual plot.

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Arriving in Tokyo, Methusa-brah is quickly sent off to a local school by his military father (who forgets to pick him up at the airport, with the excuse “I thought you were coming yesterday,” and upon answering the door has to quickly clean up his, well, prostitute) despite the fact that he seems to speak zero words of Japanese. Honestly, I don’t know how this was supposed to work, but it’s clear that Methusa-brah’s dad (or slightly older brother) does not care nearly enough to get him a private tutor.

At his new school, Methusa-brah meets a few people of interest, and no, I still don’t care what their actual character names are: the only non-Japanese (but to the franchise’s credit, non-white) girl in the school, Trophy Girlfriend; second-hand electronics pawner and soon-to-be-sidekick Bow Wow; and the one-dimensional combo of Wannabe Yakuza, the wannabe-gangster nephew of an actual Yakuza boss, and his bleach-blonde henchman. Bow Wow leads Methusa-brah to the one constant across this entire franchise: an illegal street race filled with custom racing cars and scantily-clad women.

Seriously. Every time.

In a completely unexpected and unprecedented turn of events, Methusa-brah chats up Trophy Girlfriend, angering Wannabe. Because God forbid even one movie in this series not have one or more in this case of the villains decide they hate the… (hero? No. Protagonist? Still too positive…) main character for reasons other than “eyeballed my woman.” And every time they act amazed that being psychotically jealous and aggressively possessive isn’t a big turn-on.

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Can we start teaching girls to hate that sort of macho possessive bullshit so that we can finally breed these assholes out of my species? Sorry, where was I…

Anyway, getting all in the face of Wannabe (and in his face he gets, despite not having money, cars, friends, or basic knowledge of the culture he’s been thrust into) gets Methusa-brah into a race with the frosty-haired henchman, because that is how Methusa-brah solves all of his problems. Sadly, here in Japan, people don’t just race… they drift race. Customized cars designed to “drift” around the tightest of corners.

Seriously, that’s all they do. These people can’t go for a romantic drive in the mountains without drifting along the highway. I know I give F&F1 a hard time for having most of its car sequences involve driving in a straight line, but once this movie hits Japan, nobody gets into a car if there aren’t corners they can drift around. This movie is obsessed with drifting to a point I’ve only seen in one other place: Mario Kart. Once Nintendo developed the mechanics for belt turns (and ultimately the blue sparks of Double Dash), they became such an intrinsic part of the game that it was basically impossible to win without them. As it is here.

Anyhoo, a local named Han (who makes a more convincing American than Methusa-brah, who is doing a southern drawl so thick it could stop a bullet) backs Methusa-brah in his race, but given his inability to drift, he not only loses the race to the top of the parking garage, but basically destroys the car Han lent him. As such, he now owes Han a car, and must join his criminal crew, where he learns to race properly.

In essence, exactly what happened with Dom and Brian two movies ago, only Methusa-brah’s not a cop.

Methusa-brah’s dad objects to him racing again, threatening to kick him out and send him back to American jail. In one scene. That’s it. This never becomes an issue. Methusa-brah immediately starts spending his nights learning to race and collecting money/driving for Han, and his father never objects again. He starts winning races, and the heart of Trophy Girlfriend (because that’s how trophy girlfriends work).

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Thanks to Han he’s living the high life. Until Wannabe finds out Han has been skimming from his legit-Yakuza uncle, at which point all Hell breaks lose.

Han is killed in a drift-based car chase, Wannabe reclaims Trophy Girlfriend basically at gunpoint, and Methusa-brah knows he’s living on borrowed time, so he does the only thing he can… he goes to Legit-Yakuza uncle to make amends, return the money Han skimmed, and suggest a peaceful solution for him and Wannabe: they settle their differences in a race.

Because that is how Methusa-brah solves all of his problems. Literally all of them.

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They meet in the mountains, for a high-stakes drift race down the hill that a whole crowd of people are watching on their flip phones… despite that fact that no one is or could be filming the race. They drift, they run each other, but eventually Wannabe’s hate pushes him too far, and he flips off the road to his probable death.

Which everyone’s basically fine with. Even his Yakuza uncle shrugs and walks off as if to say “Yeah, he basically had that coming, it’s all cool.”

Methusa-brah becomes the new king of Tokyo street racing, his father presumably being too buried in beer and hookers to notice, or having just stopped caring at some point. But as the movie wraps up he gets a challenge: someone claiming to have known Han, saying he was “family.” Vin Diesel, returning as Dominic Torreto, in exchange for the film rights to the Riddick character. They race off, and we, mercifully, go to the credits.

General reactions

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Where do I even start with this turd biscuit of a movie.

Methusa-brah made me miss Paul Walker. Brian O’Connor wasn’t the strongest protagonist the first two times through, and while Walker’s passing was a tragedy, he wasn’t exactly Olivier, but next to the 40-year-old teenager poncing around Tokyo Drift, he’s the love child of Indiana Jones and Laurence of Arabia.

There’s never really a moment when Methusa-brah becomes someone worth rooting for. He just trundles around the movie, flirting with the worst people’s girlfriends and challenging them to races when they take offense. I don’t know what he wanted other than to race people and generally not try very hard at life. Dom had his speech about feeling free, Brian had the conflict between his responsibilities as a cop and his growing connection to the Torretos, Roman was torn between his hate of cops and his desire for a clean record, and none of those were really super well done, but at least they were something. Methusa-brah has nothing. No greater motivation, no arc, no reason to care about anything that happens to him. He is the worst.

And as far as the story goes… is there one? Really? Methusa-brah and Wannabe hate each other because they both like Trophy Girlfriend, who barely exists beyond being, as I said, a trophy girlfriend. So a protagonist we don’t like, an antagonist who feels like the least interesting henchman of a proper villain who never emerges, and a love interest who isn’t lovable or interesting.

Plus, and I know I mentioned this before but it bears repeating, it is so obsessed with drifting that when Methusa-brah and Trophy Girlfriend go driving for their first date (much as Brian and Mia did), they don’t just go driving, they go drifting. In the hills. With like six other cars.

What in the name of Zeus, Buddha, and the King in Yellow did having all the other cars there add? And could they just spend five minutes in a car without belt turning? No. No they can’t. Because if they can’t bother with characters, story, or emotion, they may as well stay on their ridiculous theme. If you can’t do something well, do something bad super thoroughly.

It made money. Less than the first two, but enough that, despite all logic, they decided the franchise was worth keeping alive. Still, the studio did have one moment of clarity and decided that the only way they could make another Fast and Furious is if the original cast could be lured back. Which, as it turns out, they really, really could.

We’ll talk about how that went next time.

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