Short review: “Fast & Furious” delivers the goods fast and, er, furiously.
Long review: Paul Walker and Vin Diesel reunites on the franchise that made them stars in the first place with “Fast & Furious”, the fourth chapter in the popular car series directed by Justin Lin, who previously helmed the third installment, “Tokyo Drift”. Setting itself as a prequel of sorts to “Tokyo Drift”, it’s best to approach “Fast & Furious” as if parts two and three never happened. Sure, there is a nice little tie-in with “Tokyo Drift” via the character Han (Sung Kang), but for the most part “Fast & Furious” is more like a direct sequel to 2001’s “The Fast and the Furious” without all the filler that is the second and third part.
The film opens in South America, where fugitive Dominic Toretto (Diesel), having fled the States after the events of the first movie, find his life of crime with girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) dangerous for those around him. So Dominic flees yet again, leaving Letty to return home. Alas, home proves just as dangerous, as it’s not long before Dominic receives a phone call from his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) that Letty has been murdered by the henchman of the mysterious drug lord Braga. It’s the same Braga that now-FBI agent Brian O’Conner (Walker) has been pursuing for the last two years without any success. Brian catches a break when he discovers a way into Braga’s inner circle through a street race that the drug lord runs regularly in order to recruit drivers to transport his drugs into the States.
This sets the stage for an uneasy reunion as Dominic returns to the States to exact revenge for Letty’s murder, while Brian finds that his job with the FBI is on shaky grounds. As Mia asks him at one point, is he really a good guy pretending to be a bad guy, or the other way around? Brian answers that he doesn’t know himself. It’s a good thing, then, that Dominic is there to help out, as the two ends up working together to bring down Braga with or without the FBI’s help. As it so happens in these movies, the bad guys are usually better at being good guys than the ones with the badge.
“Fast & Furious” is what you would expect from the car franchise – lots of racing and custom cars to get all you gearheads out there excited. Letty’s murder and Dominic and Brian’s quest for justice keeps the film’s plot moving, but there’s no doubt Justin Lin knows where his bread is buttered – it’s all about the machines that go vroom vroom, baby. And if they’re not racing, there are lots of long, elaborately choreographed sequences where pretty looking cars go really, really fast while being driven by guys who know what they’re doing. There is requisite romance between Brian and Mia, and Dominic gets a little taste with the bad guy’s, well, bad girl (Gal Gadot), but don’t fool yourself, this is a boy’s movie through and through.
What’s there to say except if you liked the franchise, you’ll definitely find a lot to like about “Fast & Furious”. From a character standpoint, it’s probably the most nuanced of all the previous installments (though admittedly that doesn’t say much, the series has always been weak on characters), and writer Chris Morgan certainly gives his leading men plenty to do. Dominic growls and stalks his way through the movie like an avenging angel, ready to beat any bad guy into submission. He even shakes off a gunshot the way we would react upon being bitten by an ant. Except, well, he doesn’t even scratch. The script also has plenty of moments for Walker’s Brian O’Conner, who really comes to realize that he’s more bad guy than good guy, and that maybe, just maybe, he should just stop pretending and get on with being who he really is. Surprisingly, the film does a really good job of stripping the character down to his street essence.
It goes without saying that the Oscars won’t be showering “Fast & Furious” with awards (unless it’s for those barely-recognized technical ones) come awards season, but I’m sure the filmmakers could care less. The series has always been about giving the fans what they want, and Justin Lin and company certainly have done that with this latest installment. The final few minutes of “Fast & Furious” indicate that a fifth movie is on the horizon, and considering the film’s spectacular opening weekend box office, that’s looking more like a sure thing than fast cars and hot women in a “Fast and Furious” movie. And considering that there’s not another viable car franchise out there, the audience will certainly still be there a year or two from now.
Justin Lin (director) / Chris Morgan (screenplay)
CAST: Vin Diesel … Dominic Toretto
Paul Walker … Brian O’Conner
Jordana Brewster … Mia Toretto
Michelle Rodriguez … Letty
John Ortiz … Campos
Laz Alonso … Fenix Rise
Gal Gadot … Gisele Harabo
Sung Kang … Han Lue