Fast & Furious (review)

Driver Con Dios

You’ve seen the bit in all the TV ads and all the trailers: Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez drive their souped-up street-racing hot rod under a burning gas tanker that’s flipping through the air and coming right at them. It’s a preposterous scenario, but a damned cinematically exciting one, and it’s the capper of the sequence that opens Fast & Furious. Diesel’s Dom and Rodriguez’s Letty are now chillin’ in the Dominican Republic and hijacking gas tanker trucks off the lonely Caribbean highways for fun and profit… mostly for fun, one comes to understand. It’s all very Mad Max, and that’s gotta be cool, right? And as director Justin Lin presents it, it’s terribly awesome and original, as an action sequence, if as thoroughly antisocial as the Furious movies have always been.

It bodes well for Lin as a director of action in a way that the last flick in the franchise, Tokyo Drift (Lin’s first go at the series) did not… if Lin can get his hands on better scripts. Because you can pretty much leave the theater after Diesel (Babylon A.D., Find Me Guilty) and Rodriguez (Battle in Seattle, S.W.A.T.) zoom under the burning tanker, because all hints of originality — all hints of a reason for this movie to exist at all — disappear after that. Go home and rent The Fast and the Furious: you’ll be more satisfied in the end.

Because damn if there ain’t enough street racing in this here street racing movie. It’s 40 minutes till the next racing bit — a demolition derby through the streets of downtown Los Angeles that most of the drivers, just the regular folk going home from work or whatever, don’t realize they’re participating in. That’s even more outrageously antisocial than the tanker bit, but still pretty exciting in a big-dumb-action movie way. It’s exactly the kind of stuff you want from a Furious movie, and instead this one farts around too much with drama that it simply isn’t prepared to cope with. I mean, look: When there comes a moment when a street racer dies and has to be funeralized, Lin gives us the typical shot of a cemetery and a coffin and people dressed in black that’s supposed to be solemn… but then there’s all these colorful, almost cartoonish beefed-up Japanese street-racing cars parked alongside the grave, and it’s funny. It’s not supposed to be, but it is.

And then there’s a ton of other stuff that plays more like Law & Order: Fast & Furious than anything else, as Paul Walker’s (Flags of Our Fathers, Eight Below) cop Brian O’Conner is back and trying to infiltrate the gang of a local drug lord who uses street racers to move product across the border from Mexico. Brian was LAPD, now he’s FBI — this is the movie’s idea of ramping things up, but who cares? Get to the racing already. We really don’t want to be seeing Walker trying to wrestle with lines like “I lied to you. That’s what I do best. That’s why the feds recruited me,” because he’s not up to it. And the longer we linger on stuff that ain’t racing, that ain’t about switching our brains off and reveling in the adrenaline rush of car porn, the more likely we are to start to wonder if, at 36, Walker’s Brian is too old to be passing as a street racer in what’s supposed to be a game for young man who are still fatally reckless because they still think they’re immortal. And if Brian is maybe too old, what about Diesel’s Dom, at 41?

Oh, sure, Dom and Brian are butting heads again, because Dom is back in L.A. after the tanker bit, and also trying to infiltrate the drug gang for reasons of his own. There’s a lot of metaphorical dick measuring going on, but it’s covering ground we thought was already settled a few movies back. (One big kudo to a movie that is otherwise drenched in stereotypically brainless testosterone: Diesel has a great moment in which Dom expresses his attraction only to smart, complex women, and it’s a nice counter to all the anonymous, faceless, mostly naked, gyrating female bodies decorating the movie.) If you were a tad confused by the title of this flick, if you thought perhaps the original 2001 movie titled The Fast and the Furious was getting a rerelease… well, you’re not far wrong.

This may be the most honestly monikered movie ever, though, which it deserves a small measure of praise for. Deleting a couple of thes and swapping out an and in favor of an ampersand doesn’t do much to distinguish this film from the first one… but the movie itself that unspools under that title doesn’t, either.

see also:
The Fast and the Furious and 2 Fast 2 Furious (review)
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (review)
Fast Five (aka Fast and Furious 5: Rio Heist) (review)
The Grating Toretto, by Nick Carraway (Fast & Furious 6 review)
Fast & Furious 7 (aka Furious 7) movie review: head-on vehicular hard-on
Fast & Furious 8 (aka The Fate of the Furious) movie review: notes from the critics’ ward
Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw movie review: everything wrong with the world today

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