When even a skillful writer-director with soul to spare like John Singleton ("Boyz 'N' the Hood," "Shaft") can't lend a street-racing movie an ounce of personality, it becomes abundantly clear that the trendy genre never had anything worthwhile to offer in the first place.
Stepping behind the camera for the carbon-copy sequel "2 Fast 2 Furious," Singleton frontloads the film with one scene of enjoyable B-movie flair -- a midnight drag race punctuated by car-wake camera shakes, colorful background-blur effects, and cheesy close-ups of revving tachometers, needle-buried speedometers and bad actors squinting with determined concentration as they grip the wheel.
But as soon as the movie is sideswiped by its imbecilic plot, Singleton loses his ironic sense of style and the flick crashes and burns.
Nondescript Wonder Bread pretty boy Paul Walker (who can't even call someone "bro" without sounding as if he just got off the bus from Wichita) reprises his role from 2001's "The Fast and the Furious," as a now-disgraced cop who has been street racing in South Florida to make ends meet since going underground after helping charming criminal Vin Diesel (who opted out of this sequel) get away at the end of the first movie.
Offered an expunged criminal record by the Feds if he'll help them bust a drug smuggler, Walker recruits a demolition-derby-driving childhood pal (model and hip-hop star Tyrese Gibson, from Singleton's "Baby Boy") who would also like to get out from under a couple grand-theft-auto convictions. Together they get in the good graces of a cartel tycoon (played with uncreative, greasy-tan menace by Cole Hauser, "Tears of the Sun") who hires them to deliver a huge sum of narcotics booty.
Why would he trust millions of dollars in cash to two strangers when he has a cadre of henchmen? Why does he need the delivery made at 120 mph, drawing the attention of literally scores of state patrol cars? If you're likely to ask such questions, you're way too smart for this movie. The plot is nothing more than a simple-minded excuse to keep our heroes (or rather their stunt-drivers) charging down the road in low-riding imports that are painted like cheap bimbos -- and even have cheap bimbos draped across their hoods when they're standing still.
A slight improvement on its dim-witted predecessor, "2 Fast" nonetheless has little new or exciting to offer after that first adrenaline-pumping race scene, the highlight of which is one car using its nitrous oxide fuel-boost to pass over the top of another in a last-lap jump from a drawbridge.
The rest of the picture's driving scenes grow tiresome as Singleton's visual tricks (the blurred backgrounds passing by, a tunnel-vision technique also used in January's motorcycle-racing flick "Biker Boyz") only draw attention to the fact that the actors are on blue-screen soundstages and not really driving their cars.
If Singleton had stuck with the aura of his opening scene and let "2 Fast" play out like low-budget trash from the 1970s, "2 Fast" might have earned some guilty pleasure points. But the end product seems too sincerely interested in appealing to 13-year-old boys to have any appeal at all for anyone with higher standards.