The Most Hated Fast & Furious Sequel Deserves More Credit Than It Gets

Don’t be too fast to judge this one.

Paul Walker, Tyrese Gibson, and Eva Mendes in 2 Fast 2 Furious
Universal Pictures
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2 Fast 2 Furious is more meme than movie. Its reputation lives and dies on the absurdity of its title. 20 years on, that’s all most can remember about it.

It doesn’t help that 2 Fast is unmistakably shallow. If its predecessor, The Fast and the Furious, was a gritty, earnest meditation on the perils of chasing a thrill, the sequel is its gum-popping cousin. There’s little nuance to the film, just vibes, and not everyone was into that. Fast star Vin Diesel famously abandoned the sequel because of Universal’s failure to take “a Francis Ford Coppola approach.” It wouldn’t be the last time Diesel gave the Fast saga entirely too much credit, but he did have a point.

The Fast and the Furious wasn’t exactly The Godfather, but it had a sense of substance. That said, it was still a shameless rip-off of a high-octane hit from the decade prior: Point Break. No one expected Fast to take off, but once it raked in $200 million worldwide, Universal wanted to build something bigger. It just needed a bit of juice to set itself apart from the pack.

Without Diesel’s tortured street racer at the helm, 2 Fast builds a new crew around Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner. Brian is now off the police force after getting in too deep with Diesel’s Dominic Toretto, so he’s made Miami his new home and has quickly risen through the ranks of the racing scene there. On the streets, Brian’s called Bullitt (after the other famous white boy known to push a car to its limits), but he still can’t escape his past. When he’s arrested after a race, he’s forced to take on a dangerous undercover mission in exchange for a clean record.

Brian is once again tasked with infiltrating the operations of a notorious criminal, but this time there’s no chance of getting on his good side. Carter Verone (Cole Hauser) doesn’t have a good side: he wears douchey silk shirts, tortures his minions with rats, and is altogether horrible to women. Unlike Toretto and his righteous gang, Verone belongs in jail, but getting him there won’t be easy.

Going on without Vin Diesel was a massive gamble, but one that paid off.

Universal Pictures

To take down Verone, Brian ropes in Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson), a childhood friend who resents all cops after getting busted years prior. Their strained dynamic is the perfect precursor to Brian’s inevitable reunion with Toretto in Fast & Furious, but their chemistry also rivals Walker and Diesel’s in virtually every way. In their hands, 2 Fast essentially becomes a buddy cop movie, if the cops were two bros strapped to turbo-charged, candy-colored Mitsubishis.

If Diesel is the soul of this franchise, Walker is the heart. His performance leaves a bit to be desired, but he’s endearingly committed to delivering every line — yes, even “Forget about it, cuh” — with as much conviction as he can muster. He grounds this all-new ensemble, and even sets the stage for the accidental cinematic universe to come. 2 Fast was the first to bring Brian, Roman, and Ludacris’s Tej Parker together. They’re joined by Monica Fuentes (Eva Mendes), a U.S. Customs agent embedded in Verone’s operations, and Suki (Devon Aoki), a racer whose hot pink Honda S2000 steals the show. Though not all of them would get the chance to return for future installments, they all help make 2 Fast surprisingly watchable.

2 Fast 2 Furious filled the Fast toy chest with new characters, new stakes, and new cars.

Eli Reed/Universal Pictures

Of course, there are flaws. Mendes isn’t given much to do as Fuentes, and Suki isn’t so much a character as the token female avatar in a racing game. The same could be said for most of the ensemble, as much of the dialogue feels ripped from a bygone character select screen. To quote Roger Ebert — who loved 2 Fast — this film doesn’t have a thought in its head. But its brainlessness is part of its charm.

It may not be the best installment in the franchise, but 2 Fast understood the assignment better than most sequels. It strips the sensibilities of the summer flick down to its bare essentials, and in the process it gets to the heart of what makes these turn-your-brain-off films so much fun. It was in on the joke, or at least willing to poke fun at itself. It knows it’s no Godfather Part II, which makes it such a fitting curtain-raiser for a franchise steeped in its silliness. The Fast and the Furious might have primed the world for the Fast saga, but 2 Fast feels like the real beginning.

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