'Fast & Furious' & Fun
James Rocchi, Special to MSN Movies
"The Fast and the Furious" (2001) had FBI man Paul Walker go undercover in the world of illegal street racing, only to bond with the lawbreaking king of the streets, Vin Diesel. "2 Fast 2 Furious" (2003) pumped the brakes a little as it changed locations from Los Angeles to Miami, teaming Walker with Tyrese Gibson. "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" (2006) veered even further off-course with Lucas Black as an American racer in Tokyo, and only a fleeting cameo to put a little Diesel in the tank as it sputtered to the finish. Now, with "Fast & Furious," Walker and Diesel are back, alongside first-film love interests Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster. The tagline promises "New Model. Original Parts." It's a great line, but a bit deceptive. There's not a lot new or original in "Fast & Furious," and yet the good news is that the movie's speedy and strong enough to deliver some well-tuned excitement, even if it's as bulky and brainlessly bright as the muscle cars it celebrates.
Directed by Justin Lin, who gave us "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift," "Fast & Furious" knows it's following a fairly simple blueprint. Conflicted loyalties will be decided in the heat of the moment. Cars will be raced and smashed and ogled. Fistfights and action will play out over the constant background hum of revved engines. There will be handsome men and pretty women to ogle. Much as the good folks at Ford and GM don't knock themselves out trying to make cars with three wheels, "Fast & Furious" knows what people are expecting. In fact, the only way "Fast & Furious" could deliver a more concentrated dose of what people have come to expect from the franchise is if it had a scene where, somehow, a '68 Chevy itself punched someone while wearing a mini-skirt and stripper heels with last week's rap hit blaring on the soundtrack. That would be ridiculous, of course -- or, come to think of it, possibly Michael Bay's next "Transformers" film. Lin, in the absence of a car with fists and breasts, jumps from races to fights to pretty sights as if inertia were the only thing keeping things going, which is in fact pretty much true.
Bringing back Diesel was a smart move, and one sure to please not only audiences but also anyone Diesel owes money after the butchered flop "Babylon A.D." and his walking away from the "XXX" franchise. Diesel's a better actor than his muscleman resume suggests, and you can watch his rousing, roguish work in Sidney Lumet's "Find Me Guilty" for proof. While he has dialogue here like, "I'm a walking target ... I don't want you around when the cops catch up to me," he actually can sell a cliché line with a tilt of his massive head, as if there's a wink hidden inside his granite growl of a voice. Walker gets to butch up a little -- he's the kind of cop who might as well be a criminal, see! -- and while he has second billing, he's not playing second fiddle.
Parts of "Fast & Furious" are bad, yes, but they're too bad not to enjoy, or like through some perverse judo-throw reversal like that. This is a film in which our villain is recruiting street racers to drive his heroin across the U.S.-Mexico border through, I wish I were kidding, a secret underground tunnel that looks like it was copy-and-pasted from the mine chase sequence in "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom." It's also a movie that's a love letter to gas-guzzling, needlessly heavy, old-school cars with an end-credits back-pat noting how the moviemakers took steps to offset the film's carbon footprint. And the racing action is unrealistic -- Diesel treats the laws of physics like he traded two packs of smokes in the prison yard for them throughout the film -- but it is also awesome.
Lin knows what he's doing here, and he doesn't set his, or our, expectations any higher than he has to. And he's made a movie that, like its two leads, knows how to swagger and smile at the same time. Races, fights, wild party nights, pump the gas and shake that ass: "Fast & Furious" makes "Miami Vice" look like indie cinema, but it also makes "Bad Boys" look like, well, "Bad Boys." "Fast & Furious" may be a shining speedy shell of a film, but the gleam and gloss of it were at least applied by hand by people who cared.