To comment on anything within The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift other than the cars, the chicks, and the chase scenes would be the epitome of all things pointless. These movies are not made to tell a story, to impart a lesson, or to illuminate the masses to something culturally fascinating. They don't bother with things like quality screenplays, adequate acting performances, or sincere emotion ... because those clunky components only manage to get in the way of ... the ... cars!
So if you're a diehard gearhead who loves all things auto-related, then there are certainly a few isolated sections of Tokyo Drift that should tickle your eyeballs, if not exactly engage your brain. That admission aside, this flick's as dumb as a box of rocks and twice as pointless.
Coming off the critically-lauded Better Luck Tomorrow, young director Justin Lin probably had a few different avenues to sample. Based on what we've seen so far (the monumentally generic Annapolis and the instantly-forgettable Tokyo Drift), he's chosen the path of least resistance and become just another studio plug-in. If you're looking for any of Better Luck Tomorrow's sense of style, storytelling, or character ... you're pretty much out of luck. And considering that Tokyo Drift is packed to the rafters with garish and obvious stereotypes of Asian people, it's a safe bet that Mr. Lin is now more than content to play along with the studios' mindless games. And that's kind of a shame, really. Here's hoping the guy gets to do one of his own movies some time soon.
We open with a rather kinetic and entertaining race through an unfinished housing development, an event that leads to our woodblock hero's expulsion to Japan. Precisely WHY the local authorities would allow a criminal to skip on over to Japan instead of taking him to court is a question for a better movie; we simply need a reason for woodblock to get shipped overseas, and this is the reason we're given. Apparently woodblock is supposed to be only 17 years old, but the astute moviegoer who sat behind me was onto something when she yelled at the screen "...so why's he look 35?"
So off goes woodblock to Japan, which is where his estranged caricature of a father presently resides, and, despite not knowing a lick of Japanese, our "hero" instantly finds himself embroiled in the goofy world of "drift racing." (He also finds time to befriend the only African-American teenager in Japan, who (get this) is a slang-spewin' thief with a backpack full of hot goodies! Oh, how lovely.) Anyway, woodblock earns Bully Wrath from the local tough (the sneering nephew of a Yakuza Man), unwisely woos the forbidden fruit-gal, and is forced to drift all over the place in an effort to stay unpummeled. In between the rampant drifting is a series of conversations that are as familiar as they are filler.
Stepping into the spots vacated by Vin Diesel (The Fast and the Furious) and Paul Walker (2 Fast 2 Furious) is one-man charisma-vacuum Lucas Black, whom you might remember from Jarhead and/or Friday Night Lights. I'm sure the tweenies think he's all dreamy and stuff, what with the slow drawl, the brown buzzcut, and the bizarrely misshapen smile, but the guy's got the screen presence of a 6-foot cactus that just happens to like cars. As the "nice" Asian guy Han, Sung Kang gives the closest thing to a memorable performance that Tokyo Drift has to offer, but since you know where his character's headed after maybe twelve lines of dialogue, it sucks some of the fun out of his performance. Everyone else in the flick (the bully drift kids, the Australio-Asian love interest, the urban cool kid, the grumpy dad, Uncle Yakuza) exists as a one-note caricature that exists solely to expectorate well-worn cliche, trope, and stereotype. Screenwriter Chris Morgan did a fine job with his debut flick (the mindlessly entertaining Cellular), but he's clearly working on auto-pilot this time out.
Now, "drift racing," for those who are still unfamiliar with this automotive phenomenon, works like this: Instead of racing in a straight line, which is how squares do it, "drifters" will swing their steering wheels back and forth, thereby forcing their skinny tires to skid all over the asphalt. And if none of the "drifters" cheat by, y'know, driving in a straight line, then only the skiddiest and slidiest racers will rule the streets! How ... neat! To be fair, an early sequence in which the racers "drift" through a parking structure is fairly cool -- because you'd actually have to skid around to get through the spirals and whatnot -- but when the Tokyo Drifters take to the highways, the racing looks absolutely, completely ridiculous. And try not to chuckle out loud during a scene in which a "serious" conversation is had during a Drifters' Convoy. (Frankly it's funnier than anything found in Nacho Libre.)
But again: Judging a Fast and the Furious movie on the dialogue is like judging a porno flick based on the subtext. It's a pointless act. The intended audience for Tokyo Drift wants to know if the following goodies are present and accounted for: 1. Lots of car chases/races. 2. Lots of hot young females in very short skirts. 3. Lots of dancy pop songs and revved-up sound design. And while I'd be lying if I said Tokyo Drift didn't deliver those ingredients with some sass and style, the simple question is this: Are those meager rewards worth the sandpaper-painful moments of "drama" that make up 71% of the Tokyo Drift running time?
My opinion would be: No, they're not. At least not until you can get Tokyo Drift on DVD and simply click over to the race scenes, most of which are pretty slick and exciting, even if they make no sense whatsoever.
(One final sliver of relative praise: Of all the Fast & Furious flicks, this one has the coolest music by far. Just figured it was worth mentioning that the soundtrack might be a better investment than the movie ticket.)