A film review by Craig J. Koban


2009, PG-13, 107mins.

Dominic: Vin Diesel / Brian: Paul Walker / Mia: Jordana Brewster / Letty: Michelle Rodriguez / Campos: John Ortiz

Directed by Justin Lin / Written by Chris Morgan.

I know what you must be thinking.

Didn’t this movie come out way, way back in 2001?   

Well…sorta.  You’re obviously mistaking FAST AND FURIOUS for THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS (with special emphasis on the two the’s).  Okay, so could they not have come up with a more…I dunno…innovative or unique title for the fourth (yup…that’s fourth) entry in the ridiculously popular street racing/muscle car/action series?

Lemmie see if I can come up with something with more pop and pizaz.  How about FURIOUSLY FAST AND FASTLY FURIOUS…or….FEROCIOUSLY FAST AND FURIOUS…or…PIMP MY FAST AND FURIOUS RIDE…or….EVEN MORE FASTER AND FURIOUS-ER.  

Okay…that last one has a word in the title is not actually a word…I made it up…but it’s sure cool sounding. 

I will dispense with the overt sarcasm and get to my job as film critic, not title critic.  However, I must be brutally honest and frank up front:  The FAST AND FURIOUSES….er….FURIOUS’ (what’s the plural on that?) are pure, unmitigated car porn.  On a positive, all four films – including the current model – have no pretensions other than to cram the celluloid with wall to wall beefy men, audaciously tricked out muscle cars – foreign and domestic, mindless and gratuitous vehicular mayhem and violence, and more skanky, scantily dressed bimbos than any red light district could hold.  To call all of these films shallow is kind of pretentious in itself.  Of course these films are shallow!  Plot, characters, etc. take a decided back seat to all of their orgasmic eye candy (whether it be human or mechanical in form).  The point is to go “oh” and “ah” at all of the scenery and action and laugh uncontrollably throughput at all of the uncompromisingly silly dialogue exchanges.  

My absolutely favorite cringe worthy moment of unintentional merriment in FAST AND FURIOUS occurs when the film’s main anti-hero, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) instructs a girl that is trying to pick him up that he likes his women, “20% angel, 80% devil.”  Hee-hee.  

Now, I have been unforgivably…uh…forgiving to the last three F&F films.  The first one, 2001’s THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS, established the whole series' infectious level of mindless pap and cheerful subversiveness.  That film made its two actors, Paul Walker and Diesel, big Hollywood stars, not to mention that it inspired a new legion of gear heads the simple pleasure of hulking up their import cars to inane levels of performance.  That film also had exemplary action sequences, especially in its final climatic act, which involved a virtuoso highway chase that rivaled anything that I saw in the MAD MAX films.  That 2001 film was followed up with the insipidly titled 2 FAST, 2 FURIOUS, minus Diesel, but still with Walker, and the most recent entry, TOKYO DRIFT, was a film so borderline preposterous and absurd that I derived a sick level of enjoyment out of it.  The best descriptor of the last two F&F entries would be something that I wrote in regards to TOKYO DRIFT: “The film is pure, uncultured, low rental cornball through and through, but it achieves a level of reticent self-awareness throughout…It has no other aspirations other than to be a crude, high octane, adrenaline rushed bit of silly action filmmaking.”

The new F&F represents a long-awaited return of the four principle actors from the very first film (although the first film’s director, Rob Cohen, is not, as he has been replaced by Justin Lin, TOKYO DRIFT’S helmer).  Research has also revealed that the film is not a sequel to TOKYO DRIFT, but actually a prequel to it (although this is never made explicitly clear in the film).  So, for clarification, this new entry takes place five years after the first film, but before the third film.  It essentially exists to trace the development of the characters and their relationships since the events of the first film and – to a smaller degree – the second film.   

Aw…who am I kiddin’?  This new film is just another excuse for the makers to gorge themselves on the B-grade, cheap exploitation thrills that dominated the rest of the series.  It flirts with modest virtues of amalgamating sex and cars, but as is the case with all the films in this quadrilogy, I am left wondering whether the male figures in the film would rather get off on racing itself instead of being in the company of a woman.  More than ever, F&F flirts around with the subliminally homoerotic undertones to its themes.  Yes, there are scenes upon scenes of sweaty, muscle bound men parading around like imperviously tough brutes, but they seem to find a bit too much pleasure being in their vehicles and racing with and against their hetero-lifemates.  Freud would have a field day with these films. 

All right…so what’s the story here?  Well, it’s as bare bones as it gets, even by fourth film in a series standards.  The film reconnects us with the gravel voiced car lover Dominic Toretto (Diesel) and his girlfriend, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and we see them carving out a underground crime ring in the Dominican Republic (you may recall that in the first F&F film Toretto, largely sought after by the law, managed to escape, hence, his Dominican exile).  It has been five-plus years since Toretto’s return stateside because he would, under normal circumstances, be arrested on sight at the airport or border crossing.  However, in this film the concept of border police is a curiously aloof notion, seeing as Toretto, being one of the most notoriously wanted men in America, is able to sneak in and out of the country with relative ease. 

Anyways, Toretto does make the trek back home, but because he is on a mission of absolute revenge (someone close to him was murdered under suspicious circumstances).  This, of course, brings him back together with Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker), whom in the first F&F film was an undercover cop working within Toretto’s underground street racing/crime organization.  Brian, turning nearly to the Dark Side of the muscle car force, also let Toretto go right before he was to be captured.  Now, for reasons inexplicable, he has been promoted to working with the FBI and is now heading up a case that may or may not have ties to the same criminal organization that Toretto is scoping out.  This leads Brian, as improbably convenient and ironic as it may seem, to secretly go undercover once again into the world of racing, this time alongside Toretto, which culminates in a fast and very furious street race in downtown L.A., with the winner being given the exclusive right to drive for the drug kingpin.  The race, of course, continues the series' legacy for complete incredulity: never once is a cop car anywhere close to the racing action, which means that all escape the law, despite their incalculably dangerous and erratic driving habits.  

Needless to say, between Toretto and O'Connor, only one wins the right to work closely with the drug kingpin, but the other manages to make his way in through the backdoor.  And, wouldn’t you know it, the pair decide to form an uneasy alliance so that they can bring down this drug empire and its ruthless leader once and for all.  In between all of this we get painfully redundant and perfunctory scenes, like ones between Brain and the love that got away from him (Toretto’s baby sister, played in an utterly flavourless performance by Jordana Brewster) and even more perfunctory scenes back at FBI headquarters where Brain’s bosses fear that he may become too closely reacquainted with Toretto and that he’s not being completely straight with them regarding his real intentions.  

Gee…ya think? 

If there is one positive thing that I will say about this film is that its opening action sequence is actually quite sensational, which utilizes good, old fashioned stunt work and editing (if you exclude one annoyingly obvious bit of CGI tinkering involving and exploding oil tanker).  This pre-title sequence shows Toretto, Letty and company perusing a semi- truck hauling four gigantic tanks of gas.  Now, why they need to rob this much gas when, in reality, they are filthy rich is unknown, but the manner with which they do commandeer the four individual tankers attached to the truck is kind of ingenious.  Like the final freeway chase in F&F Part One I, this sequence is exhilaratingly well choreographed and exciting. 

It’s just a damn shame that the rest of the film’s action chase sequence were not as refined as it’s opening 15 minutes or so.  The one big problem is that Justin Lin has no idea how to frame these would-be exuberant car chases so that we can make passable sense of what’s occurring (too many of these sequences are high on spastic and hyperactive shaky-cam style and sound design that is borderline migraine inducing).  Good action films intuitively understand how to effectively marry breakneck action, fever pitched editing, and sound design in one cohesive package, but F&F is way to heavy on seizure inducing flashiness.  More often than not, I felt the need to rub my eyes, shake my head, and cover my ears during this film’s action, which indirectly ruins the overall effect.  Few films are as overwhelming loud and bombastic as this one. 

The film’s story is also laughably inert.  I have seen comedies with less chuckles than FAST AND FURIOUS.  You just have to kind of giggle through this film’s parade of implausibility.  I laughed out loud at the prospect of Walker’s FBI agent being given the “okay’ to reconnect with Toretto, even when its been firmly established that he is a toxic influence on his decisions.  I also howled throughout the film at the prospect of how Toretto manages to elude capture from…well…just about every law enforcement authority when he returns to L.A.  Especially humorous is not one, but two sequences involving an immeasurably vast cave that is buried within a mountain that the heroes and villains are able to navigate through at death-defying speeds.  Perhaps the film’s single most unintentionally hilarious moment occurs during its final two minutes, which involves a final choice on O'Connor's part that has no logical basis in reality.  Let’s just say that you never once buy into the motivation of this character’s choice here, and by the time the credits fly in, my head was spinning from all my shaking of it in spiteful and stupefied disbelief. 

FAST AND FURIOUS is not a wretched film, but rather just a completely unnecessary one.  I guess that this film is more like the continuation of a brand name than the progression of a worthwhile story.   If anything, this is the ultimate “paycheck” effort for all involved, not to mention a condescendingly patronizing attempt to appease die-hard F&F fans that clamored for a return of the first film’s cast.  Moreover, the cast here rarely feel totally invested in returning to this material: Diesel, a very underrated actor (see SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, BOILER ROOM, PITCH BLACK and his thanklessly transformative performance in Sydney Lumet’s FIND ME GUILTY for proof of this statement) kind of lethargically goes through the motions, and Paul Walker has never so egregiously phoned in a sullen and bland performance as he does here (he simply has zero charisma and vigor as his FBI agent, which he had in agreeably mass dosages in the very entertaining RUNNING SCARED).  I will be the first to admit that I have given favorable reviews to all of the films in this series, but I guess that I feel far less lineate with FAST AND FURIOUS.  For rabid F&F fundamentalists and car enthusiasts, this film achieves its narrow aims.  For the rest of us in the theatre, this film does not offer any tangible progression from the previous stories, nor does it ever once feel like compelling or  compulsory viewing.  

My advice: either tune this "ride" up, or throw it in the scrap yard,  because it’s really starting to show some wear and tear.a

  H O M E