Universal // 2009 // 107 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Daniel Kelly (Retired) // July 28th, 2009
The ultimate chapter of the franchise built on speed.
Did 2001's drab The Fast and the Furious really deserve a sequel? Well it certainly didn't warrant three follow-ups, yet with the release of Fast & Furious, that's how things have panned out. The first film was a surprise hit way back in 2001, but since then it's developed into a fully fledged and competitive blockbusting franchise, one that this year earned its biggest slab of money yet. Fast & Furious is the first entry since 2001 to feature the original cast and apparently that's exactly what audiences wanted as the movie rushed to a stellar $349,322,036 worldwide.
Reviews were predictably tepid, but that won't bother Universal -- they've scored the shock mega-hit of the year, so who cares what the critics thought? If global audiences can turn it into such a financial sensation, it must be good, right?
Not so much.
Fast & Furious isn't as impenetrably mediocre as this franchise at its worst; it actually starts with promise and provides a solid opening half hour but ultimately descends into the same vacant formula that has dominated this series from square one. Even those who loved the first entry must be getting a little bored with the samey stories and identical tones evident in each picture, Fast & Furious doing little to break this never ending copy cat pattern.
Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel, Babylon A.D.) has taken to hi-jacking trucks in the Dominican Republic, he and his band of petrol head thieves having found much success in the field since leaving the US. However, the authorities are closing in, and in a bid to keep the rest of his crew and girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez, Resident Evil) safe, he departs for Panama. Not long after his arrival, he receives a call from sibling Mia (Jordana Brewster, The Faculty) to inform him that Letty has been murdered, leaving Dominic in a state of grief and pining for revenge.
Arriving back in the US he begins to use all the evidence he can find to work out who is behind the crime, eventually leading him on the same trail as cop Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker, Eight Below). O'Conner is attempting to scope out local drug lord Braga who, it transpires, is reachable only through the various street races that consume the city at night. Realizing that they're after the same man, Toretto and O'Conner team-up to take him down.
Fast & Furious might on its own merits actually be the best movie in this series so far, but sadly it operates as part of a now overstretched whole, monotony having set in several films back. The direction here is skilful and the writing a little more intricate and careful, but that can't excuse the fact Fast & Furious is essentially doing the exact same thing as its three predecessors. All it's interested in are amateur theatrics, fast action, loud cars, and woman donning skimpy attire. The fact this cocktail of facets became a hit in the first place is a little worrisome, but now on its fourth outing, the fact the combination can still turn mega bucks is highly troubling.
It's nice to have Vin Diesel back in the mix, especially after the actor has had to ensure several years of critical flops and box-office disasters (Babylon A.D., The Pacifier). Diesel isn't a terrific actor but he is a likable and even at times an engaging screen presence, talk nearly a decade ago that he could be the next Schwarzenegger might not have been totally unfounded had he made a few smarter career moves. Here he reprises the role of Toretto well, scoring high in the categories of tough guy mumbling and moments of emotional reflection. Fast & Furious does in fairness try to mine the characters a little further in terms of their feeling and emotion, and from Diesel's viewpoint it's mostly a success. Paul Walker is as wooden and unimpressive as ever, but at least has a vague rapport with Diesel, whilst Rodriguez isn't around long enough to register. Brewster flits into the story only when the filmmakers feel the need to reassess her and Walker's tepid romance or to blub out some sappy hokum, leaving the actress with little of worth to work with. As Braga's weasel-like right hand man John Ortiz (Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem) is adequate but never all that imposing or truly menacing.
The screenplay features slightly better dialogue than we've come to expect from this series, but the basic story remains firmly grounded into the same template, so much so that drugs and not just cars are once again vital plot points. Chris Morgan tries in some arenas to make this a deeper and more character-driven addition to the series but neglects to mix up the formula, leaving the audience with a mostly stale and unattractive cinematic proposition. The way the story develops and climaxes is distractingly similar to other entries, and supposed twists and turns along the way really aren't that original or well disguised. The filmmakers do a good job of building up a cool opening half hour but squander it on their insistence to retract back to the tedious norm and pander to the minority who still crave the same old unappetizing style of thriller.
Justin Lin displays some real directorial promise here; along with Morgan he ultimately fails to make us care about the characters, but his visual style is meticulous and his execution of the action scenes solid. At times Lin sets a lovely visual atmosphere and captures a slightly rawer and less artificial view of Illegal Street racing in LA, one of the pleasanter surprises in Fast & Furious. It's still a glossy piece of Holywood filmmaking, but there is something slightly edgier and less candy coated about this entry, a refreshing change of pace from the over-emphasized hedonism of previous installments. You'll still get plenty of colorful cars and bikini babes, but the way Lin shoots it is less brash and offensive than his predecessors.
The action is a mixed bag, well directed but at times far too familiar to get the pulse racing. Fast & Furious only has one genuine street racing moment and that's just as well, because following up from three other films it's becoming a tired staple. The highlight of the entire feature is the opening 10 minutes in which Toretto and company launch a breathtaking assault on an oil tanker truck; the action is beautifully paced, the scale satisfactorily large, and the stunt work excellent. It also climaxes in a moment of genuine suspense and urgency, which is more than can be said for the actual conclusion, a reheated chase sequence that takes place across the Mexican/US border, which for all its scope and CGI is painfully forgettable. Again the directorial work is competent but a little a little added ambition to do something different would have been beneficial.
The single disc release of Fast & Furious looks great and has a fantastic Dolby 5.1 mix, even if at times dialogue is a little hard to hear against the whir of engines and hip-hop laden soundtrack. This version also includes a gag reel which is fitfully amusing and a patchy commentary from Lin. I wasn't particularly engrossed by what the director had to say but maybe those with a little more investment in the series will be more thankful. For a single disc release (there is a more complete 2-disc set on the market), I wasn't unimpressed by Universal's effort.
Fast & Furious isn't a great film or indeed a good one. There are some things to like, but I imagine most people have long since tired out any excitement they felt over this series. I am interested in future directorial works Justin Lin might be attached to and hopefully this will give Vin Diesel's career a nudge back in the right direction but overall familiarity kills Fast & Furious.
Guilty. The court revokes the film's license on the grounds of excessive imitation.
Review content copyright © 2009 Daniel Kelly; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Gag Reel
* Wikipedia: Fast & Furious
* Official Site