Nick Langdon’s review published on Letterboxd:
In the first of what is likely to be many cinematic hot takes for 2021, let me declare definitively that the second installment in the Fast & Furious franchise is superior to the first one. This may come as a surprise to many given the low esteem this movie is generally held in, but long time readers should know how fantastically uninterested I am in regurgitating the general consensus. Yes, the plot is silly and full of holes, yet I have to say I admire the fact they (sorta) worked out another way to bring undercover police work and the street racing scene together, only this time without being a total rip-off of Point Break (1991). The story is generic in the extreme, but it's more than serviceable and realistically functions mostly as an excuse to stage cool races and chases, which easily outpace their equivalents in the previous movie.
So there's a short film you can find online that serves as a bridge between The Fast and the Furious (2001) and this movie. It shows that after letting Dom get away Brian is now wanted by the authorities for not doing his job as a cop properly, so flees (we're not told what happened to Dom's sister Mia whom Brian was dating; one can assume she wasn't happy about being lied to by Brian, but since she's not in this picture I guess we're not supposed to worry because at the time this wasn't supposed to be a massive franchise). His attempts to stay ahead of the heat take him all the way to Miami where he finds a new home amongst, naturally, the illegal street racing community. Maybe, just maybe, the LAPD or the feds should have considered that the guy who was undercover in the street racing community might have shacked up somewhere similar in another part of of the country? But of course bad police work is as much a hallmark of this series as always empty streets to race on and booty shots of women in bikinis/short skirts/tight pants. Still, eventually he gets busted and once again has to go undercover, but this time as a driver for the big bad drug lord in order to get the charges for not arresting Dom dropped.
As Vin Diesel was off saving the world in 2002's XXX and the galaxy with his true passion project, as the title character from The Chronicles of Riddick (2004), he refused to return for 2 Fast 2 Furious no matter how much money Universal threw at him, Brian needs to build a new team around him. Already he's mates with retired racer, garage owner and professional race organiser (that he also bets on because hey, if it's illegal anyway who cares?) Tej played by rapper Ludacris, and he then adds Tyrese Gibson as Roman, a boyhood friend and professional hood who Brian is allowed to bring into the government investigation because in this universe the only important skill one needs to fight international crime is the ability to drive cars really fast. There's a few other characters who are mostly background, but always standing out is Devon Aoki as the racer Suki, who might just have the most early-2000s face, body and fashion sense conceivable, and while it's nice she got to be a part of the action, there's also shots where she does things like work on cars while wearing this outfit. Pleasant eye candy for sure, but the F&F movies also prove they still have a way to go in the representation stakes.
The above-mentioned existence of the big bad drug lord, Carter Verone, does mean that, in another improvement, this movie actually has a genuinely threatening antagonist (Cole Hauser), something they overlooked in the last one. The final cast member of note is Eva Mendes as US customs agent Monica Fuentes, who is undertaking some genuinely dangerous undercover work, as Verone's girlfriend. Her dedication to the cause is not appreciated by Roman (although he does enjoy looking at her posterior, and let's face it, who could blame him), but is by Brian who has an almost romance with her (again, Mia Toretto is never mentioned) but they never get anywhere with it. However this is a nice segue into what was minimised in The Fast and the Furious but is now fully present: the homoeroticism found in most buddy action movies. Certainly Roman acts like a spurned former lover, but after a fight he and Brian stare deeply into each others eyes at sunset while hanging out at the end of a pier and swear that they'll never break up again, however instead of kissing they team up to punch some dudes then jump a car onto a yacht which is an even better way to get close to someone in this sort of film. And of course there's a happy ending for both, Roman gets an early release and for Brian it turns out that stopping an international drug smuggler permits him to be forgiven for letting a guy who stole DVD players get away. Makes about as much sense as everything else in this franchise I guess.
A lot of these improvements can probably be credited to director John Singleton; a definite upgrade from Rob Cohen's work on the first installment. Singleton launched himself as a director of serious dramas focusing on the African American experience in films such as 1991's Boyz n the Hood (for which he remains the youngest ever nominee for the Academy Award for best director at just 24), however starting with Shaft (2000) he shifted into far more commercial fare. 2 Fast 2 Furious shows a more pronounced visual style (particularly in the use of low angles for both the cast and the cars), the action is far more exciting and CGI is better integrated into that action (even if activating the vehicles' NOS might as well be engaging warp speed given how its depicted), and while all the actors acquitted themselves adequately for the material it was with Paul Walker that I noticed the most development. He's still trying too hard in places, especially with the street racer talk, but overall I felt he was more relaxed and comfortable both in his own skin and as the character. Finally, it's no surprise that a black Gen-Xer can put together a far better hip hop soundtrack than a white Boomer.
I don't want to paint 2 Fast 2 Furious (even the title just drips with early 2000s attitude, I mean it's more creative than just "The Fast and the Furious 2", but I'll have more to say about this franchise's increasingly strange naming conventions as we go on) as any sort of minor classic, because it's not. Rather I was surprised at how much I enjoyed myself even while the film consistently failed to challenge or do anything other than exactly what I expected it to. So if you want to watch an action flick with pretty good car chases, lots of attractive young women and some nice urban scenery then this is your movie. And like the original Bad Boys (1995) this is also a better Miami Vice movie than Michael Mann's actual Miami Vice (2006).