Fast & Furious (2009) / Action-Thriller
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, some sexual content, language and drug references
Running time: 107 min.
Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez, John Ortiz, Laz Alonso, Gal Gadot
Director: Justin Lin
Screenplay: Chris Morgan
Vin Diesel is back, which may be the main selling point for some, but outside of his appearance and a much higher budget for special effects, this is a rather routine entry in the series, running high on octane and low on original thought. Justin Lin (Annapolis, Better Luck Tomorrow), director of the previous entry, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, though now blessed with a higher budget and bankable stars. It doesn't make a difference in anything but marketability. Although officially the fourth theatrical release, Fast & Furious plays more like a direct sequel to the first film, 2001's The Fast and the Furious, bringing back Diesel (Find Me Guilty, The Pacifier), Paul Walker (Bobby Z, Flags of Our Fathers), Jordana Brewster (D.E.B.S., The Faculty) and Michelle Rodriguez (S.W.A.T., Blue Crush) to the story. Though the title is the same as the first film, except without the grammatical articles, this isn't a remake. The filmmakers do assume you have seen at least the first film in the series, though if you haven't, it's doubtful you will be confused for very long. Stories this thin and superficial don't advance their characterizations much past what you glean from first impressions.
The story starts with Brian O'Conner (Walker) having returned as an FBI agent, while underground street racer extraordinaire Dominic Toretto (Diesel) continues to draw the attention of the authorities after years of illegal racing and criminal activity. His skills as a street racer make Brian yet again the prime candidate to go undercover to crack a ring of drugs smuggling from within as a hired goon. Dominic is also involved, as he is vowing revenge on the smuggler's men for what he's inflicted on his main squeeze, Letty (Rodriguez). This mysterious smuggler, Braga, just so happens to also be the ringleader for a series of illegal street races in Los Angeles, as they use the best street racers to run their drugs in from Mexico. Brian and Dom put aside their petty beefs to try to take them all down.
Fast & Furious starts with a bang, with an adrenaline-charged, high-speed chase in the Dominican Republic showcasing a speeding gas truck being overtaken by smaller pickups with "gas pirates" out to steal all of the precious cargo. Dominic is doing what he does best, driving, while his girlfriend, Letty, is outside on top, trying her best to get close enough to the truck to release its giant tanks of gasoline. If the first film resembled Point Break in its style and structure, Fast & Furious seems to borrow liberally from old-fashioned Westerns, with its revenge storyline and desperadoes showing macho bravado. The revenge factor works in that it allows for a plausible reason as to why Brian and Dominic would find themselves forced together, and, more or less, on the same team.
If you've seen the previous films, you will already know that realism isn't something the makers have ever been going for. However, Fast & Furious takes car chases and explosions and escalates them into levels that could only be at home in one of the Matrix films. That might sound great in theory, but it actually makes the film boring. When, from the get-go, you establish that the characters can do feats of athleticism that no known human can do, and the way the vehicles move could not be done outside of a cartoon, you lose the sense of danger and awe that we would normally have. It looks fake, like watching a very well rendered video game, and less involving, given that we can't control any of the vehicles on the screen. Then there is the problem that the opening sequence is greater than the size and scope of the climax of the film.
Ridiculous physics may not put some viewers off as much as they do me, and may even be a selling point for some, but even if you are entertained by the grandiose level of CGI-infused pyrotechnics, it doesn't come close to making up for the ludicrous storyline, boneheaded plot, and the angst-filled tone of morose soul-searching on the part of Dominic that asks us to do what no film without depth should ever do: think that we actually care about these characters enough to justify moments of mourning and melancholy. Even if we were to, the tone of the film probably wouldn't allow it, as there is far more time spent showcasing the titillating cheesecake sights of scantily clad street racing groupies who engage is dancing to music only they can hear and making out in passionless fashion with any random other bimbo who might dare face them.
If you just want to see Diesel act like a bad ass, perhaps this fill be enough. Nothing else here to recommend to anyone not taken to drooling over car porn filled with dazzling special effects and explosions. It's hard to gripe too much when it delivers what's expected, but it sure would be nice if someone at some level of the production would actually give the ready-built audience something more substantive in between the car chases to be interested in. Some people might regard these movies as stupid fun. For me, it's just a little too heavy on the stupid to effect enough fun for me to recommend without allowing for the use of a control pad.
-- Followed by Fast Five.
©2009 Vince Leo