Our film opens with reckless street-racing youth tearing things up on the open highway to the peril of innocent bystanders, one of which, a promising young boy, is crippled as a result of a racer's negligence. Cut to five years later when the offending racer, the aptly-named Johnny Wayne (Clint Browning), is meeting with his parole officer upon release from prison. The P.O.'s giving Johnny a stern warning about getting back into his speed-junkie lifestyle, but not in the way you'd expect: instead of warning Johnny not to return to street racing, returning to street racing is exactly what the P.O. wants Johnny to do, as, naturally, he's crooked as a three-legged spider and looking to exploit Johnny's illegal abilities for his own monetary gain, a.k.a. he wants to bet on Johnny. Well, seems rehabilitation has really worked on Johnny, and he doesn't wanna race no more, he's out of that life, but P.O., he's having nothing doing with that, and reminds Johnny that one phone call from the P.O. and Johnny's "back where you belong, being somebody's bitch." Thus our central conflict is established.
From here Johnny Wayne goes to his court-appointed job, which is conveniently at an auto-repair junkyard where we meet the requisite voice-of-conscience character, a geeky grease-monkey (Dustin Fitzsimons) who J-dub instantly takes a shine to, and not in the way the P.O. suggested earlier. A trip these two take to a local watering hole later re-introduces Johnny to his old street-racing gang, including his nemesis (Jason Ellefson), the dude he was racing when he crippled that kid. Johnny tries to resist their tempts and taunts, all the while wrestling with his P.O.'s threats, but eventually, as the title demands, Johnny returns to the Life.
But not before confronting his past, his crime, his victim.
JW serves his community service requirement at the hospital where the kid, now five years older and oblivious as to Johnny's identity, is starting the painful and arduous task of learning to walk again. Johnny - keeping his secret - befriends the kid and attempts to make some small amends by being the support figure the kid needs to persevere in his struggle. Nice cathartic touch of script, this, that turns what could have been a one-dimensional action-drama instead into a layered, honest-to-god character study.
Anyway, JW's back on the racing circuit: flashy cars, trashy broads, bad haircuts and shitty music - the Life. Race one, Johnny nabs the pink slip of a sweet ride, but, as he borrowed his boss' car to do it, he loses his job in the process. But this is only a temporary setback.
As the film progresses, J-dub grows closer to his paralyzed teen victim, and, inappropriately enough, his victim's hot sister (Dorothy Drury). In his second race, Johnny loses, and to a girl no less. Ew. (to his credit, however, she's driving a sports car while he's in some Scion-looking thing; the weight difference alone stacks the deck against him) With nowhere else to turn, he comes clean to his ex-boss, who just happens to be an old racing pro himself, tells him about the rock and a hard place his P.O. has him wedged between, and dag-nab-it if the old guy doesn't come around and not only give Johnny his job back, but pledges to help him trump the crooked P.O. at his own game by teaching Johnny the finer points of technical driving. Thus the Miyagi sequence of the film begins. I don't think I need to explain what I mean by that.
From here on out, spoilers, so I relent.
Overall, I thought this one was better than average, not only for an Asylum film, but for direct-to-DVD action films in general. Hell, I liked this better than I did Tokyo Drift, and I think Lucas Black is one of the most underrated actors of his generation;
Clint Browning (Countdown:Jerusalem, Terminators, Mega Piranha) is a great fit in the role of Johnny Wayne: handsome in a dirty way, brooding in a one-track, racetrack way. Visually he comes off as a cross between Desmond "Dexter" Harrington and Jason "Sex and the City" Lewis, and emotionally he fills the screen with empathetic, tragic heroism, magnificently flawed and ripe for redemption.
Fitzsimons (MILF, The 18 Year Old Virgin) as the geek mechanic plays it cheeky, and though he isn't awkward-looking enough to truly inhabit the role, his performance compensates. Other standouts include the aforementioned Ms. Drury (30,000 Leagues Under the Sea, 2012:Supernova) as the sister Johnny falls for (not his sister), Connor Clayton as the crippled kid, and Robert Pike Daniel (9/11 Commission Report, Death Racers, 666:The Child, Freakshow) as "Red," the gruff garage owner with a heart of gold and a racing past himself.
This one may get lost on the shelves or dismissed as just another mockbuster, but in truth, judged on its own by its own merits, it's an engaging and thrilling and dare I say even touching film, one more worthy, at times, than its tie-in for a sequel. If the recently announced 200MPH: Midnight Racers isn't a sequel to this, I'll gladly draw up a spec for Street Racer 2: 2 Street 2 Racers in 2D. I'm just sayin'.