The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift plays like the archetypal Western. A newcomer arrives in town, upsets the locals, plays with hearts, and rides around a lot before a final "this town ain't big enough for the both of us" showdown sends him, or someone else, on their way. Of course, the movie is actually an Eastern: The frontier is Japan, the town is big enough for about 20 million, and there is plenty of horsepower, but not a mare or stallion in sight. Despite the setting, the basic principles remain unchanged. The stranger, Sean Boswell (Lucas Black
) is an Alabaman High School student, sent away to live with his seafaring father (Brian Goodman
) in Tokyo after getting in trouble with the law back home. It seems Sean can't stop racing cars. Unfortunately, for unknowing parents, the wild wild East of Japan is a paradise for the boy from the west, with its underground racing culture and scantily clad sirens, and soon Sean finds himself tangled in the criminal engine of his dangerous new town.
In Tokyo, Sean meets Twinkie (Bow Wow
), an iPod-dealing "army brat" who introduces him to the city's racing underworld. Every night, groups of outrageously dressed young people take their outrageously painted cars out for some dynamically orchestrated races. The Yakuza (Japanese mafia) is heavily involved in the races, and the Drift King, DK (Brian Tee
), is high up in their ranks. Of course, in grand Point Break (and, um, Fast and the Furious) tradition, Sean takes a liking to DK's girl, Neela (Nathalie Kelley
), causing DK to take an extreme disliking to Sean. The two race, and the newcomer loses. However, DK's business partner and seeming sage, Han (Sung Kang
), sees a spark in the kid, and vows to train him in the ancient Japanese art of drifting (driving sideways). All Sean has to in return, is run a few criminal errands. Article continues below
To describe the plot of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift is more effort than it's worth (and possibly more effort than it took to come up with). Plot, dialogue, character development: All are irrelevant. What clearly matters to the filmmakers, and one suspects, to those contemplating a trip to the theatre to see it, is the sound and fury of the thing. On this level, Justin Lin
's film is a grand achievement. Every race and chase is brilliantly handled. The concept of drifting, really just a fancy name for a movement we've all seen before, is nonetheless utilized to breathtaking effect. When Sean races DK down a windy mountain road, both cars drifting dangerously close to an off-road disaster, Lin's camera plummets and whips around, itself racing and demonstrating the consequences of any potential mishaps. He is a director with an innovative eye suited to this kinetic material.
Unfortunately, where the eye is strong, the ear is weak. Alfredo Botello, Chris Morgan and Kario Salem's screenplay is a paint-by-numbers job that fails even to color effectively within the lines. The script is woeful. There are attempts at exposition, humor and development, all of which fail and act merely as speed bumps for a film otherwise moving well. The most hilarious scene involves a rooftop discussion between Han and Sean, supposed to establish their bond and some bizarre driver philosophy, that instead sets itself up for instant parody.
Despite its execrable screenplay, some dull performances (although it must be said that Black can scowl with the best of them), and failure on nearly almost every level but the action, Tokyo Drift still manages to kind of work. The racing scenes are that good and that frequent that one can almost forgive everything else. It's a Western: We know it's junk; we just want the showdown. On this level, the film provides. It is not as good as a certain other movie about "cars" currently playing, but then that movie hit on a fundamental point. It let the cars, not the people, do the talking. Looking at Twinkie's green Hulk car, I couldn't help but let my mind drift, and think, "Ahhh, if these cars could talk...."