2 fun 2 judge harshly

If a great racing movie is what you want, you can't beat this one

Just as you might expect, '2 Fast 2 Furious' has exactly the same amount of intellectual depth as its title. No matter. This isn't a movie that you go to for the stirring performances or the unexpected plot twists. This is a movie about guys driving powerful cars very fast, and you know what? It's a lot of fun.

Paul Walker returns as his character from 'The Fast and the Furious,' hotshot driver and ex-LAPD cop Brian O'Conner. Ex-cop? Ah, yes, when he let Vin Diesel's character go free in the earlier film, he got kicked off the force. So now he's driving as fast as he can against extremely photogenic Miami street racers for pocket change. (He's also doing it without Vin on hand, since nobody wanted to pay the reported $20 million paycheck that the Vinster wanted for the sequel.)

After the pulse-pounding race that kicks off the film, the law catches up with Brian, and, in a setup worthy of the worst of Stephen J. Cannell's '70s cop shows, he's given a choice: Go to jail for a lengthy list of racing-related crimes or help a cranky U.S. Customs agent (James Remar) catch a local drug runner and have his record wiped clean.

Brian takes the deal but Ñ can you see this coming? Ñ on his own terms, bro! He'll only do it if he can work with his old pal, ex-con Roman Pearce (ex-Tommy Hilfiger model Tyrese), a bad-boy stock car driver who looks like the love child of Taye Diggs and Woody Strode. Naturally, there's tension between the two that they have to work through: Roman still feels betrayed that his best buddy became a cop.

An 'audition' retrieving a package for the villain (played by B-movie regular Cole Hauser) is just another excuse for an extended race scene, then Roman and Brian go undercover to deliver some dirty money and catch the crook.

But all of this Ñ including the really, really bad plan that the feds come up with to nab the drug guy Ñ are sort of beside the point. The story here only exists as an excuse for the killer race sequences and to show hot women in skimpy clothes gyrating to hip-hop music. At a recent screening, most of the audience didn't seem to give two hoots for the plot, anyway Ñ or even the girls. But they did ooh and ah over the pumped-up automobiles and high-tech stereo equipment.

Director John Singleton ('Shaft,' 'Boyz N the Hood') puts all his energy into presenting exciting, white-knuckle driving scenes while never taking the silly 'Miami Vice'-like plot too seriously. There's even a nudge-nudge, wink-wink homoerotic undercurrent that rivals that of 'Top Gun' and 'Tango & Cash' as the two leads bicker and guy flirt, despite their admiration for the assets of a hot customs officer played by Eva Mendes. ('Seems to me you're always getting in trouble over a female, Brian,' Roman sulks.)

Singleton has said in interviews that he prepared for this film by watching 'Speed Racer' cartoons and the 'Mad Max' films, and by playing 'Gran Turismo 2' on his PlayStation. Well, whatever he did, it works. '2 Fast 2 Furious' is a big, loud, silly joy to watch. Just strap yourself in, don't think about it too much, and enjoy the ride.