First off, it was a lot better than I expected. I honestly expected to snark my way through the entire thing, twiching and groaning at every unbelievable car thing and cringing at every stupid mangling of Japanese culture, language and geography. I ended up making relatively few comments. Which is surprising, given the potential for snarkability a drifting movie set in Tokyo gives me.
First off, my favorite part was seeing Tsuchiya Keiichi (the REAL "Drift King") making comment on Our Hero's trying to learn to drift. The first time he showed up had me squealing and bouncing in my seat. The second time I was practically applauding. Someone on this movie had an inkling of a clue and a sense of humor.
The second best thing (sorry ladies, I am a geek and I still was more amused by the Tsuchiya Keiichi parts) was hands down Han. He amused me every time he appeared on screen. Heck, there were even times he managed to get me to look at him rather than the cars. And that is saying something.
Okay, so the bad things. (Despite my unexpected tepid praise above, you know they are there.) The acting was horrid and the dialog was generally trite at best. I personally find it thoroughly unbelievable that a US military man would be living in Shibuya. They typically live in base housing closer to the base, which would most likely be at Yokosuka, some hour or so away from Tokyo. Or possibly Yokohama. I would buy him living in Yokohama (and it would make sense for Our Hero to hook into the drift scene there.) But not one of the most pricey districts in the heart of Tokyo city.
Despite not buying where the main character lives, I found this movie vastly more believable than the last one. While there were parts where the plot was in la-la land, most of it did not take my sense of disbelief and escort it out into the back alley for an appointment with Guido and Nunzio. Believe it or not I thought even the car stunts were marginally more plausible in this one than in 2F2F. (Though I will point out that cars don't explode the way the Veilside FD did -- pause to sob, as that was a lovely car -- and that Bad Guy (whose name I could not be bothered to remember) was SO DEAD at the end.)
Oh, and they should have just fixed the body work on the "crumpled beer can" the main character trashed at the beginning rather than transplanting the engine into the muscle car's chasis. The Skyline would have a vastly better suspension than an ancient American piece of junk, and would weigh less to boot. At least they put nice rubber on the stupid (heavy!) chrome wheels they handicapped the poor behemouth with.
Though in fairness I will say part of my irritation about having an American muscle car beat a Japanese rice rocket on a touge comes from all the lame IniD fanfic that have ridiculous American cars with too much power and too little control beating all the well-balanced, easy handling Japanese cars. The match up in this movie wasn't any more believable to me from an automotive standpoint than any of the other fanfics. But I suppose it was also no more lame than any of the fanfics. And they did do a vague bit of handwaving to try and make it seem plausible. Vague bit. Try to seem. Lots of handwaving.
In general the driving probably didn't cause the stunt drivers to work up a sweat. I've seen these guys competing and know what they are capable of, and they are capable of far, far more. Still, very little that was totally unbelievable was pulled. Driving through the intersection in front of the Hachiko exit and having the crowds clear like that was, however, totally outside the realm of possibility. That intersection is just too crowded for that to be possible.
The CG during the race sequences was way too obvious. Hey, ILM? I know you guys think you are really hot stuff -- and sometimes you are. But this time? Not so hot. That was way too obviously a matted studio shot with some CG tucked in to boot. Ick.
Moving from the car stuff, I expected the Japanese in the movie to be laughable and the portrayl of Japan to be sterotyped and pathetic. I was pleasantly surprised to find that, with the exception of the whitebred characters, the people in the movie could, in fact, speak Japanese. There was a Japanese speaker who wrote the Japanese lines, and they were correct and reasonable for the situation. (The girlfriend, who supposedly grew up in Japan, however, has a fairly yucky accent.) Similarly, Japanese culture was portrayed in a reasonably accurate way. The filmmaker declined to take advantage of the typical "foreigner in Japan" gags (apparently deciding -- correctly -- that Lost In Translation has already covered that ground better), and instead of wasting time on stupid "bumbling Westerner in Japan" jokes jumped to, well, what we came to see: cars.
The cars were nice. I wouldn't have minded seeing more. A Hachiroku appearing would have been particularly apropos. But I supposed I can live.
As far as I could see, none of the cars were registered anywhere reasonable. Twinkie's car is registered in Ohmiya, some hour and a half outside of Tokyo. This is a silly nit-pick, as most people watching the film would not know enough to be able to tell. Still, it afforded me some slight amusement.
An aside: Did any of the stuff from the trailer show up in the film? I don't remember seeing the uphill drift in the parking garage (which is a crying shame), and I don't remember hearing the incredibly lame line "if you're not out of control, you're not in control." I do remember seeing the Drift Allience car (which I STILL can't tell if it was the Infiniti or the 'Stang) which showed up in the trailer. But that's about it.
So in general: I was disappointed not to have as much snark fodder as I was expecting. But I'm not entirely unhappy giving up snark fodder in favor of a movie that, while being solidly in the "B" category, was not that bad. I'm not saying that I'm rushing out to buy it on DVD when it comes out. But I'm also not asking for that hour and a half of my life back.