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Underneath the chrome, the candy paint, and the CGI, 2001’s The Fast and the Furious was essentially Point Break on Yokohama tires: an X-treme dick-joust built on the assumption that for men to become men, they must first become dudes. As kicky fast-car porn, it was top-shelf. As the tense undercover-cop-drama director Rob Cohen clearly wanted it to be, it was kicky fast-car porn. But it made a star of Vin Diesel, who proceeded to sticker-price himself out of the sequel and take Cohen with him.

So 2 Fast 2 Furious tosses John Singleton the keys to the franchise. Singleton’s coasting here, but his instincts are right. He treats the Miami drug-running premise like the functional pretext that it is, and while it’s almost impossible to buy Paul Walker and r&b hottie Tyrese as longtime homies, their interaction isn’t what the movie’s selling. The script, and the actors’ breezy performances, work inasmuch as they get us to the chase on time. And whenever the rubber meets the road, Singleton opts for naturalism, giving the cars a gear-grinding physicality and keeping his eye on the human beings behind the wheel instead of zooming up exhaust pipes. Compared to the bullet-time kungfoolery of the freeway sequence in The Matrix Reloaded—in which the only thing that seemed to be in motion was the camera—the vehicular action in 2 Fast is profoundly low-tech, and engagingly brawny.

Still, nothing in the movie trumps the opening sequence. Weaving through an illicit gathering of car freaks on a Miami street, Singleton smears the screen with ass and neon, recasting the “can-you-drive-stick?” scene from Boyz N the Hood as booty-video pop art, and shoots the race that follows like a nitrous-powered four-way orgasm. Once it’s over, almost everything that follows feels like mere popular mechanics.