Drug dealer Carter Verone throws down a gambit — whichever team of fast-driving thugs retrieves a package from a car impounded in Little Haiti first gets the opportunity to work for him.

No, it’s not Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, but at that particular moment, 2 Fast 2 Furious certainly seems that way, right down to the Little Haiti residents walking out in front of the cars. For Vice City aficionados, it’s a clever homage.

The stuffed-shirt knock on modern-day action extravaganzas is that they play out like video-game interludes. It’s a compliment to say that every second of 2 Fast 2 Furious feels that way. Unlike its predecessor, it forgoes groan-worthy melodrama in favor of making the cars the stars.

Which would you choose — a loud, rambunctious chase movie that induces goofy grins or a character study of a fallen-from-grace cop played by Paul Walker who has two facial expressions (grim and grimmer) and all the emotion of a knotty 2×4? Exactly.

Because Vin Diesel is now too expensive to get again, Walker is the sole returning star of The Fast and the Furious. Suspended as a cop for letting Diesel’s thieving dragster Dom go at the end of that film, Brian O’Conner (Walker) has resorted to making a living by drag-racing.

After leaping a raised drawbridge to win a street race, O’Conner is nabbed by the police and given one shot to cooperate. He must work with them to take down Verone (Cole Hauser), a drug dealer looking to ship out a lot of dirty money with the help of fancy driving.

But O’Conner is not without a wild-card buddy to help him — cue-balled roughneck, and old friend, Roman Pearce (Tyrese) — or a weakness to hinder him in comely cop Monica (Eva Mendes). Monica is so deep undercover in Verone’s house that she’s either sleeping with him or a great cook.

The opening race is not quite as instantaneously involving as that in the original film, but director John Singleton rebounds quickly. 

In a wince- and thrill-inducing scene, an overly aggressive driver is crushed by a semi. Plus, an intense game of chicken during a tag-team race and the “scramble” sequence both are slick and stylish. Singleton also tosses in some nifty visuals, like the trashy expanse of a demolition derby in the desert.

Other than the vapid Eva Mendes (who can’t even project worry when her cover is inevitably blown), the cast is fun, too. Rapper Ludacris, whose opening-scene Afro likely could be seen from space, is a blast as a go-to guy for street racers. And the glowering Hauser shows some original menace. Try not to squirm when he uses a rat, a bucket and an acetylene torch to torture a cop. 

And, not that it’s really a challenge, at least there’s another charismatic, chrome-domed hothead to steal the show from Walker. With quick, charismatic wit and a steely, hair-trigger temper, professional hyphenate Tyrese (also a singer and model) is a potent mixture of old-style Eddie Murphy and Samuel L. Jackson.

2 Fast 2 Furious has inhaled too many gas fumes to be as smart as The Italian Job. But it does a better job of revving up its B-movie engines than its predecessor.