Fast & FuriousReviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 04/03/09 15:00:00
If you want to have a fun time-wasting debate with your friends, pose the question on which franchise has the dumbest sequel titles of all time. This very conversation ate up about two minutes between a colleague and myself last week. He threw out the Die Hard titles and I contended that it belonged hands down to The Fast & The Furious. If you care to mix it up feel free to throw in the original Batman series and Rambo to get you started. The instant disparity between any of those series is that you can find one, maybe even two or three of the films to seriously get behind – while The Fast & The Furious may be one of the most dumbed down, poorly crafted, moronically retarded group of films to waste our time over the worse part of the last decade. A friend casually suggested that its because I’m not a gearhead in any sense of the word. To which I responded – I love amusement parks but I didn’t like Adventureland either. Back to this title though. It seems deftly appropriate that they would decide to remove the two “the”s from the title, maybe the most invisible and replaceable word in the English language and compensate their absence with two of the most transparent ciphers to ever get above-title billing. Welcome back, boys. You still suck.As this chapter reintroduces us to thieving road warrior, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), the film actually threw me for a loop right from the start. Seemingly taking the one good scene in the franchise (the doomed truck robbery from the first film) and transplanting it to the first ten minutes, Fast & Furious begins with a bit of promise. Well-staged and filmed with a smidge of field depth not seen in most car chase sequences these days, we watch as Dominic’s crew including his main squeeze, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), attempt to dispatch multiple tanks of gas from an initially unsuspecting driver. It’s a solid sequence, well edited and, dare I say, exciting up until its ultra-ridiculous money shot which is the kind of CGI nonsense that is so overdone these days even your adrenaline stops midstream. And here ends the complimentary tone.
After boosting us up with this pre-title bit of tom foolery, the talking begins. Dominic wants to retire the gang and take his still wanted heat off his pals and best girl so he leaves her behind. That is until he gets a phone call from his sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster) that Letty has been killed. So much for that big reunion of the foursome, huh? At least Lost had the decency to kill Rodriguez on screen and shock the hell out of us. Here, director Justin Lin literally phones her death in only to make a nonchalant flashback out of it later. If they were so intent on preventing this big advertised reunion of the original cast from actually happening, why not find a way to knock off Letty in the dazzling opening sequence? Why keep her alive just to give her one more scene? Anyway, she’s dead.
Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), meanwhile, has been reinstated to the FBI after letting Dominic go the first time around and whatever he did in 2 Fast 2 Furious. He’s after leads to capture a heroin runner named Braga who, get this, is holding a street race to determine who will be a part of his next drug runnin’ crew. Braga is also the guy who, all of a sudden, was already employing Letty at the time of her murder. Guess who wants revenge? By chance the paths of Brian and Dominic meet again and they both end up competing for Braga’s Transporter position. Righthand man, Campos (John Ortiz) is impressed enough to hire them both on and blah, blah, blah, where is the action?
Sorry for being superficial and shallow, but that is all these films have going for them. The really well done truck sequence from the original eventually gave way to a lot of CGI stunts in the second and a lot of sliding, “drifting” tires in the third. So what does the fourth have in store after blowing its rubber wads at the top? Not a whole hell of a lot. The street race, accentuated by being in actual traffic, has a lot of screeching noise and a few wrecked cars but is pretty incompetently staged. Ask yourself why the “whole point” of the race is to test these guys in heavy traffic if their mission consists solely of driving through an open stretch of desert. The first trek over the desert border into Mexico has Braga’s drivers taking what we’ll call the Buckaroo Banzai route through a mountain. Why its necessary for them to drive through this narrow path at top speeds once they’ve avoided detection is something the film nor the drivers never bother to ask. But it does setup the finale where, you guessed it, Brian & Dominic have to drive at top speeds through the tunnel to get Braga over the border and into custody. See, a director with a little bit of sense would have realized that the tension of the sequence would result in HAVING to drive fast; something they didn’t have to do once already. A sensible director also may have understood that the limited space and darkness doesn’t exactly translate into a nail-biting piece of kinetic cinema and we’re left with two sequences of the “take him into the maze” Tron variety that is the complete antithesis of why the opening works as well as it does. Robert Zemeckis learned nearly 30 years ago on the set of Used Cars that creating a chase sequence on a dirt road isn’t feasible to cinematic standards considering the amount of dust that’s kicked up obscuring the action. Justin Lin didn’t learn this lesson, and even if he had crafted a bravura sequence the likes of Ji-Woon Kim’s still unreleased action masterpiece (The Good, The Bad, The Weird), he has no idea where to put the camera, when to edit or how to make us give a shit.
Fast & Furious is by no means an action-packed, rock ‘em, sock ‘em piece of goofball entertainment either. In between the 20-25 minutes of attempted energy, you have to sit through some 80 minutes of so-called conversation involving Diesel and Walker, the equivalent of watching your Pet Rock hold court with the yarp'n trolley boy from Hot Fuzz. I understand Chris Morgan’s job as the film’s screenwriter (he also wrote Tokyo Drift and that Wanted garbage from last year) was to just plug in the holes and get us to the next bit of auto-erotica, but that’s a lot of hole plugging and he doesn’t even bother to play to the strengths of the hardcore gearhead crowd. I counted maybe a single bit of inside car baseball and something about some form of Nitrous being for pussies, but mostly it’s some hackneyed, exposition-laden back and forth with one word answers coming from the first actors in history to act like they are on Botox without actually being injected. Lines like “You know the difference between a cop and a criminal? One bad judgment call.” Yeah because Charles Manson blew off an appointment to the police academy to kill Sharon Tate.
Despite the whole reunion prospect being shot within 15 minutes, it will still surprise you how little effort is put into getting these characters into the same frame again. By that I’m referring to the complete indifference from both their perspective as well as ours. Lin’s idea of reuniting former lovers Brian & Mia is to just cut to them in an interrogation room with barely a reaction that its been five years since they’ve seen each other. Mia’s re-introduction is by telephone, in what is basically little more than a glorified cameo for Brewster. Hell, the judge at the end of the film gets a bigger delayed introduction than Diesel or Rodriguez.Fast & Furious, 2’d up in Tokyo or not, does an absolute disservice to mindless action films. Even the stuffiest of critics who have seen it all will forgive a lot of conversational drivel, thin characters and unbelievable plot lines if it can deliver on the one element its designed for. For 10 minutes, Fast & Furious teases us that this go-round might be different only to then bore us to tears for the next 90 and concluding with such an unforgivable bit of false promise that I suspect even those willing to give it a pass for the very reasons I described will be ready to throw up their arms or a middle finger as Justin Lin’s credit hits the screen. Be sure to save one for Chris Morgan as well who doesn’t even recognize the irony in exchanges like Walker saying “Just in case things go shitty” and Diesel responding “Just like old times.” As another debate amongst colleagues, we have bantered about the scrutiny over potentially recommending a film based on one extraordinary sequence. I certainly couldn’t do it for the first Fast and the Furious and none of us could bring ourselves to go that extra mile for this year’s The International with its incredible Guggenheim shootout. But I feel safe leaving the decision of Fast & Furious in the hands of the film’s actual judge who concludes his ruling by saying, “One right doesn’t make up for a lifetime of wrong.” Sweet justice indeed.
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