Fast & FuriousReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 04/03/09 15:00:00
When I went to see the original “The Fast and the Furious” back in the summer of 2001, I wasn’t expecting too much--my interest in car culture more or less petered out at the age of four and the idea of Paul Walker and Rob Cohen, the star and director of the awesomely idiotic “The Skulls” being allowed to reunite for another project seemed too terrifying to contemplate--and was therefore pleasantly surprised to discover that its combination of ridiculous action sequences, fabulous-looking babes, hilariously overblown faux-philosophical dialogue (remember all that stuff about living life a quarter-mile at a time) and the weirdly compelling monosyllabic charisma of star Vin Diesel somehow made for a goofily entertaining cinematic joyride; the film was dumb as dirt but it was the good kind of dumb. Therefore, when the inevitable sequel, 2003’s “2 Fast 2 Furious,” arrived, I was mildly enthusiastic about seeing it (despite the fact that all the major players from the original, save for Paul Walker, decided to give it a pass) and was therefore doubly appalled by a soulless, thrill-free and insultingly stupid piece of product that not even the lightly clothed presence of Eva Mendes could make watchable. As a result of that debacle, I was not looking forward to the 2006 threequel “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift,” a film that had nothing to do with either of the earlier films outside of speeding cars and a brief cameo from Diesel during the finale and which was directed by Justin Lin, a director who quickly parlayed his success as the maker of the hacky and overrated indie drama “Better Luck Tomorrow” into making hacky studio craptacular like “Annapolis,” and was pleasantly surprised to discover that he managed to replicate the heedlessly goofy spirit of the original in a film that was about four times more entertaining than it had any right to be under the circumstances. Therefore, when it was announced that there would be a fourth film with Lin at the helm and the four stars of the original--Diesel, Walker, Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster--returning to the roles that made them semi-famous, my expectations that this group could put together 90-odd minutes of cheerfully silly nonsense were at least moderately raised. Well, I have finally seen the uniquely titled “Fast and Furious” and it is so awful and lazy and brain-dead in virtually every aspect that, if the developing patterns hold true, I can confidently predict that if someone decides to make a fifth installment, it could well be some kind of trash masterpiece. After all, they couldn't possibly make a worse film than this one if they tried and if there is one thing that the makers of "Fast and Furious" clearly haven't done, it is try.Like most movies of its type, especially the ones that are sequels, “Fast and Furious” starts off with an action-packed prologue that turns out to not have very much to do with the rest of the story--the difference being that virtually every scene in the film could be described that way. Anyway, after catching up with gearhead lovebirds Dominic (Diesel) and Letty (Rodriguez) as they ply their new trade of hijacking petroleum tanker trucks as they speed down the questionable roadways of the Dominican Republic, we learn that the police are about to close in on Dominic for his various auto-related crimes and he slips away from Letty and sneaks off to Panama so as to prevent Letty from being held as an accomplice to his misdeeds. A short time later, Dominic gets word from sister Mia (Brewster) that Letty has been murdered and returns to Los Angeles to avenge her death. Luckily for him, he has the power to have flashbacks of events that he didn’t actually witness that allow him to get his investigation started. At the same time, Brian O’Connor (Walker), whose past record of botched investigations, letting wanted criminals walk free and causing approximately $17 billion in property damage has landed him a job with the F.B.I., is investigating a shadowy drug organization who uses hot-shot drivers to get tons of heroin over the U.S.-Mexico border and by an amazing coincidence, it turns out that he and Dominic are looking for the same group of people. Frankly, from this point on, what transpires is a bit of a blur but from what I recall, it involves, chases, double-crosses, $60 million in heroin, male bonding, more pseudo-soulful dialogue than you can shake a stick at and occasional cutaways to Jordana Brewster standing around waiting to be given something to do. Oh yeah, there are also lots and lots of car crashes--so many, in fact, that it feels at times like a big-screen version of an auto industry bailout plan.
As anyone who has been reading my reviews for any amount of time knows, I have a fondness for ridiculously overblown action spectaculars as long as they have been made with a lot of style and a certain sense of humor regarding their own ludicrousness--films like “Wanted” and the oeuvre of Luc Besson immediately spring to mind as fine examples. However, even on the level of goofy trash--which is pretty much the only level on which one can rationally discuss and compare a film of this type--“Fast and Furious” is a complete failure. For starters, having whetted our appetites by promising a reunion of all the key characters from the first film, Lin and screenwriter Chris Morgan completely screw this aspect up by not only killing one of them off before the end of the first reel but by doing it in such a way that the demise has absolutely no dramatic impact whatsoever. (Besides, if they wanted to kill one of them off, why bump off Michelle Rodriguez, who has the kind of kinetic personality and raw charisma that automatically makes any scene in which she appears more interesting with her mere presence, when Jordana Brewster is just standing there literally doing nothing?) The storyline is one of those incomprehensible mishmashes of elements taking from a dozen other films that proceeds so raggedly that it feels as if everyone involved was just making the story up as they went along on the theory that viewers would be paying too much attention to the various chases and crashes to notice. The action scenes are terribly done--they have been so ruthlessly edited and put through the CGI wringer that they lose whatever trace elements of kinetic excitement that they may have once possessed and they have been staged in such awkward ways that we are never given a chance to get a feel for what is going on and where all the chase participants are in relation to one another. The deep-but-stupid gibberish that has always passed for dialogue in these films is sillier than ever--what else can you say about a screenplay where the rhetorical question “What’s the difference between a cop and a criminal? One bad judgment call.” is not the worst line on display. As for the returning stars, they all plod through their paces with the glum resignation of actors whose careers haven’t quite panned out as they have and who are now sheepishly returning to the fold that they thought they had abandoned for good years ago. Frankly, the only element of “Fast and Furious” that is even remotely intriguing is the weird homoerotic undercurrent that is clearly on display in every scene between Diesel and Walker. Oh sure, each one gets a babe to try to distract us (Walker reunites with Brewster while Diesel flirts, for lack of a better word, with a member of the evil drug gang played by former Miss Israel Gal Gadot) but as the story progresses, it becomes abundantly clear that their characters are far more interested in each other to the point where it comes perilously close to turning into a gearhead “Brokeback Mountain.”
Outside of the fairly neat opening sequence (nearly all of which has been shown in the various coming attraction previews), “Fast and Furious” is boneheaded hackwork of the worst kind and the fact that it will probably clean up at the box office while a witty and ambitious effort like “Duplicity” goes down the tubes is too depressing to contemplate right now. However, I am sure that there will be many viewers who will eat up such foolishness willingly and if any of them happen to be reading these words, perhaps they can answer a few questions about the film that have been nagging me since seeing it last night:
1. Once the cars going across the border enter the mountain tunnels, why can’t they just stay in there until the surveillance helicopters pass instead of racing through at top speeds in the hopes of just barely eluding them?
2. When Paul Walker explains his brilliant plan for flushing out the head of the drug operation, can you please explain the reasons why his rationale isn’t a complete contradiction of what he says about the kingpin’s mindset not five seconds earlier?
3. In the final scene, which is meant to be a set-up for yet another film and which cuts to the credits right when things are about to get interesting, can you explain to me exactly how the people in the cars were planning on achieving their objective?
4. Considering that we have gone from “The Fast and the Furious” to “2 Fast 2 Furious” to “Fast and Furious,” what do you suppose the title of that possible next film might be? (Personally, I am predicting a two-part opus a la “Che” with the first half being “Fast” and the second “Furious.)Then again, you needn’t bother--why should I have you put any time or thought into analyzing the likes of “Fast and Furious” when it is more than apparent throughout that none of the people who actually made the thing bothered to even though they were theoretically paid to do so?
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