PG-13. We still have some of that last decade sexism and casual swearing. I think I would be more offended if every "high schooler" wasn't well into their thirties.
DIRECTOR: Justin Lin
Apparently, we have to watch these movies faster. The world is demanding more criticism on the Fast and Furious movies. I didn't know that there was such a vacuum for absurd car racing movie. I was a little nervous to watch this movie after the abysmal 2 Fast 2 Furious. That movie really took the wind out of our podcast sails. Perhaps the fact that I hated Part 2 soooo much really helped that Tokyo Drift is a very watchable movie. It's super dumb. I don't think anyone can really argue about how dumb the movie is. But it is watchable.
I know Justin Lin from Star Trek Beyond. When I saw that the director of The Fast and the Furious franchise was going to take over the Star Trek franchise, I wept bitter and sad tears. I had a lot of problems with the direction of that movie, mainly revolving around the nauseating camera (pun intended). But the best part of Beyond was that it portrayed action in a compelling way. I think he may have gone too far within the framework of Star Trek, but I get how he is a good action director. Part of what made 2 Fast 2 Furious such a travesty is the dependence on CG action. Honestly, I'm getting a little grumpy just thinking about it. But Tokyo Drift gets that practical action effects really work. I didn't watch the special features, so I can't swear by a lot of this, but I'm sure that there are digital effects in the movie. But the special effects are doing what they are supposed to be doing. They are enhancing what has already been filmed. There's never a moment where the special effects pull me out of the movie, so at step one, he already has the biggest thing right. I'm sure I'm not the only one who griped about Part II and the digital action sequences. But the car racing sequences, for the most part, really work. Okay, I have to give the caveat on that one. SPOILER: The end is on a mountain at night. It is really hard to tell what is going on in some of those sequences. It was still interesting to watch, but I often couldn't tell what was going on. (Now that I'm thinking about it, but there's a good chance that a lot of that was digital. But it was dark, so maybe it plays a little better.)
The biggest problems with this movie are the characterization and the story. (Boy, those are actually two major points and here's I am playing it all fast and loose.) What I don't really understand is why the protagonist needed to be a white guy. Part of this is my fault. I went into Tokyo Drift thinking that this movie was all about the Japanese street racing community. Perhaps it is the idea that a major franchise depends on American dollars to make it successful. The movie, in that way, plays very much like The Karate Kid, Part II (I think) where a gaijin has to learn the ways of the locals. That's fine, I guess, if not a little bit lazy. But the worst part is that the "Japanese Way" is drifting. The word "drift" is thrown around in such a commonplace way that I couldn't help but snicker. Without going too much into summary, the main character, Sean, embarrasses himself in a street race against the Cobra Kai stand-in of street racing because he can't drift. The bad guy is literally nicknamed "DK" for "Drift King". If this was a set of text messages, this is where I throw in a gif of Robert Downey, Jr. rolling his eyes. So in a montage where he learns how to drift, two fishermen are commenting on how an American can never learn to drift. I highly doubt that these two fishermen are such streetracing aficionados that they can just be throwing around terms like "drifting" willy-nilly. There are a bunch of moments in this story that are just groan worthy. Why have this be the major plot point? I know that drifting is something that the franchise never really touched on and is a lost opportunity, but making it a central plot point? That seems pretty silly. The movie continues in this world of crazy logic. When the yakuza showed up, my heart leapt with joy. I think the yakuza are super creepy and I thought that this movie was going to get pretty intense. Nope. The yakuza will let Sean off the hook for his transgression by winning a race. The yakuza apparently care about the results of a streetrace. On top of that, the yakuza boss who has taken offence with Sean's very existence listens to Sean's terrible idea to street race. Why? Why! I refuse to believe this. There is even an establishing line that the boss doesn't even want to hear him out, but he jumps at the idea that Sean can redeem himself by racing the boss's nephew, DK. Dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb.
The Fast and the Furious movies have never even attempted to mirror reality when it comes to character decisions. The oddest thing about Tokyo Drift is Sean's characterization. Sean jumps between the most Southern gentleman to raging New Yorker in a minute. Again, RIP Paul Walker, but Lucas Black is somehow more compelling than Walker. Walker was such a terrible actor in the first two movies that it is a welcome reprieve to just experience someone different helming the vehicle (pun intended.) But again, Sean is just the worst at staying consistent. This comes down to acting choices but also the script. And Sean's character isn't the only hot mess. Sean's dad makes not a lick of sense. Sean's dad vacillates between being an irresponsible drunkard to a hardened Navy man. He also makes absolutely horrible decisions. Sean isn't allowed to have a car because of his bad decisions and I support this. (I have a iPhone notepad elaborating why this decision is this, but it doesn't really fall into the thesis of this blog.) But then Sean's dad lets him handle the yakuza on his own and gives his car to help with the race. This is the yakuza. They should be running. Sean's discipline is all over the place. Dad gets mad at him for not being at home after school everyday, but that problem kind of just disappears. If the movie goes out of its way to establish that Dad is a deadbeat, why change between making him extremely intense and then not following up on that. The movie is really afraid of making the audience dislike Dad. Dad comes in as heroic from this limited perspective, but because he is inconsistent, he actually is a horrifying adult character if you think about it.
There are characters that just don't make any sense whatsoever. I giggled pretty hard when Zachary Ty Bryan showed up. He tended to play bullies and jocks after Brad retired from television. No surprise, he's playing the same thing in Tokyo Drift. But his girlfriend is absolutely insane. She's cool with death. She offers her body as a prize for a winner out of nowhere. I don't know why Sean fights for her because she's an awful human being. Part of the problem is that these movies depend on tone more than logic. It seems cool and romantic for Sean to fight for this girl because Zachary Ty Bryan is a terrible human being. But she treats relationships as currency. Why should I care about who goes with this girl? I would actually advise Sean to stay away from her. She also, like the other characters in this movie, loses her limited consistency. She initially plays this character that is defending Sean by standing up to her boyfriend's brutishness. But then she gets mad at Zachary Ty Bryan for not winning. I don't know why there wasn't a choice made about her decisions, but she comes across as a complete psychopath. In fact, many of the characters come across as complete nutbars because their characters are sacrificed for the greater god of tone.
But the movie is kind of fun. This movie really begs the audience to shut off their brains. The movie isn't good by any stretch of the imagination, but it is entertaining. Isn't that why we started this whole quest and the whole podcast? Is there anything redeeming to the film? Yes. The movie is very fun to watch. The action sequences are pretty cool. I don't know if it ever reaches the absurdity of the first movie, but it is a good time. I still will prefer Gone in Sixty Seconds any day, but there's a good stupid watch here. I might even watch it again someday.
I mean, I do own the whole franchise now. Thanks a a lot, the podcast.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.