Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) has gotten into car trouble with the law one time too many, and, in order to keep him out of jail, he's sent to live with his estranged father (Brian Goodman), a military man stationed in Tokyo. Unfortunately even in Tokyo the gai-jin can't stay away from the cars, and Sean falls in with a fast-car crowd loosely connected to the Yakuza. He soon makes an enemy of particularly nasty dude named D(rift) K(ing) (Brain Tee), and a friend of particularly surly dude named Han (Sung Kang).
If you remember the golden age of Kung-Fu movies, you'll remember how kids used to exit the theatre, kicking the living Shinto out of each other just like their screen heroes did a few minutes before. It's an uneasy feeling when the producers of this movie know enough to stick on a massive disclaimer, discouraging its viewers from trying this stuff at home. It seems they know who's coming to watch this.
Fast Cars, Big Beats and Hot Asian Teens. Sounds like a high-concept Euro-porn movie for auto-heathens like me, and by all academic definitions it is. At the preview we were at, groups of youngsters we'd never seen before scurried into the theatre, obviously there to leer at the hot on-screen action. It's the type of thing you saw when Basic Instinct was released. Except the only things flashing here are turbo chargers and undercarriages sparking on asphalt.
And maybe Lucas Black, who shows a spark of potential as a future star. His pouting, semi-disaffected Sean Boswell does invite some screen pathos, which is more than can be said for the rest of the cast members. Few of the film's intended audience will remember Black from Sling Blade (1996), impressive as he was opposite Billy Bob Thornton. His star wont be hurt by a decent performance in a pulp movie like this one.
Meanwhile, Bow Wow is an irritating hustler stereotype, Nathalie Kelley is an offensively western-flavoured love interest (this is still Hollywood, isn't it? why the hell couldn't she just be Japanese plain and simple?), and Brian Tee and Sung Kang are a paper-thin villain and friend, respectively.
Sadly, even the legendary Sonny Chiba is wasted in a role that seemed written for a miscast Droopy Master Detective. Magnetic as Chiba is, he can't rescue a hammy, murky mess of a dialogue that borders on soap opera or at best a Rob Reiner comedy.
And despite all this, Tokyo Drift doesn't suck the royal exhaust of moviedom. The truth is that something about Justin Lin's direction works so well, it' s hard to not enjoy the ride. Lin knows exactly how much to leer at the eye candy, whether it be the short-skirted wafer-thin Japanese girls, or the sassy, stylish custom jobs on the real cast - the cars!
The action scenes are remarkably well-crafted, with only one or two obviously-CGI shots for effect. Mostly, the racing scenes look like precision stunt driving gone mental. There may be more CGI shots in the mix, too, but it's hard to tell, and that's a good thing. The open-road "drift" races look especially gorgeous.
Speaking of "drift" - in theory it sounds stoopid to hang the entire third movie in a franchise on a new driving concept, but it really isn't that dumb. As a device, the drift itself replaces the Crane Kick, which makes TFF:TD 2006's answer to The Karate Kid. With cars. And Hot Asian Teens. You get the drift.
- Anton Marshall
It's got fast cars, glossy action shots and hot Asian teens. It must be porn.
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