Universal // 2009 // 107 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // July 28th, 2009
New model. Same parts.
When Rob Cohen unleashed The Fast and the Furious on audiences back in the summer of 2001, I don't think anyone could have predicted its success. What's more, the film has spawned a legitimate franchise, inspiring three sequels and feeding an entire subculture's passion for heavy muscle cars, sleek imports, illegal street racing, the acting talents of Bow Wow and girl-on-girl makeouts.
Now, the third sequel, Fast & Furious, is the biggest hit of the series, blowing past expectations on its way to a nearly $400 million worldwide gross. Is it really the low wattage star power of the original cast reuniting for the first time? Are we that obsessed with street racing as a society? How could this film be so popular? Perhaps Universal's new two-disc special edition DVD holds some answers.
When a friend is murdered, gravel-voiced street racer Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel, Pitch Black) comes out of hiding in the Dominican Republic and returns to the U.S. to take revenge. Once here, he teams up with his old friend-slash-nemisis Brian O'Connor (Paul Walker, Running Scared) -- now an agent with the FBI -- to take down a team of street racing drug smugglers. One of them is "fast" and the other is "furious," see? Together, they're..."Dominic and Brian!" (That's a way better title, by the way.)
How can a movie called Fast & Furious be so lifeless and dull?
Confession time: I enjoyed the 2001's The Fast and the Furious (don't confuse the two films; it's easy, what with the addition of a couple of articles and all). Maybe I had incredibly low expectations. I don't know. At any rate, the movie was better than it had any right to be. It was very dumb, yes, but kind of knew that about itself. It featured four young talents, all of who seemed to be on the rise in Hollywood and half of whom showed some real charisma. The movie was at the very least sincere and featured some good, old-fashioned kinetic stunt work.
My, how times have changed.
Here it is, eight years later, and all of those things are no longer true. Demi Moore look-a-like Jordana Brewster (D.E.B.S.) never really took off; ditto for Michelle Rodriguez (Blue Crush), who continues to work but can't seem to stay out of trouble long enough to realize her full potential. The machines that created Paul Walker have done a decent job of keeping him employed, but he's hardly become the A-lister that his good looks and complicated circuitry would imply. Vin Diesel's return to the franchise is probably the biggest news, as he once appeared to have made it (after a couple of successful but terrible movies, including xXx and The Pacifier); sadly, his tail-between-his-legs participation in Fast & Furious reeks of a guy returning to the well in need of a hit. Smart thinking, Mr. Diesel.
The most drastic change between the 2001 original and this new model is the change in directors; Rob Cohen departed after one film, giving way to John Singleton to direct the follow-up (about which the less said the better) and indie-trained Justin Lin to take over for 2006's The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Lin returns for the fourth film, bringing his hyper-flashy, over-edited style to Fast & Furious; it's an approach I wouldn't mind so much -- he at least tries to keep things lively -- if it didn't mean that Lin was getting in his own way. A movie based around car races and driving stunts ought to let you see what's taking place in as long a take as the director can manage. That's what makes it impressive. Think of the extended chase at the end of Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof; what makes it work is that it's shot largely in long masters. You feel the danger. It feels real. If nothing else, you can at least admire what a team of stunt people were able to pull off in the name of entertainment.
While I would argue that I don't really need to see another car movie after Death Proof, I suppose I can't deny that Fast & Furious exists (believe me, I've tried). What director Lin doesn't seem to get is that over-cutting the stunt work drains it of its effectiveness. What's worse is that he once again (as he did in Tokyo Drift) indulges in his propensity for computer-aided effects and green screen work; there's nothing particularly dynamic or exciting about watching Vin Diesel or Paul Walker sitting in a driver's seat and pretending to act in front of a video game (to be fair, there's nothing particularly exciting about watching Paul Walker pretending to act anywhere). When an exploding oil tanker rolls towards two of our heroes, it's not thrilling or suspenseful or awe-inspiring, mostly because all it looks like is that a cartoon is going to roll over them. Cartoons don't kill you. They don't even hurt.
But don't take my word for it. See the movie. The only people more bored than the audience are the actors. At no point do they seem to care about what they're saying or doing; the movie might have been more honest if someone could be seen laying money at their feet as they went through the motions of giving a performance. Though writer Chris Morgan has attempted to piece together some semblance of a plot, I'm not sure he's pulled it off. For one, the film's "inciting incident" shoots the rest of the movie in the foot by taking out one the most interesting characters (note to Justin Lin -- when you're going to reveal something hugely important and hinge your main character's motivations -- and the remainder of the film -- on it, it's best not to just have one person tell another over the phone. It should maybe have more weight than that.). While I appreciate the conceit of having Walker and Diesel both have to infiltrate a third party (the first film, basically Point Break on wheels, centered on Walker infiltrating the world of illegal racing), it's not to any real end. There are no issues of identity and no one ever seems to be in danger or a) being found out or b) being hurt or killed in any way. Characters appear on screen together and talk to each other without ever really relating to one another. I'm playing rather fast and loose with the word "characters," by the way, as I'm not really sure I can describe any single personality trait for anyone in this movie outside of their jobs. Paul Walker, for instance, is an FBI agent. Because in the first film he was a cop, and I think he eventually got fired. Because usually when you are a cop that gets fired they make you an FBI agent. And by "they" I mean THE GOVERNMENT.
At least Universal has created a nice two-disc special edition DVD package for what seems to be the many fans of Fast & Furious. The film is presented in a sharp-looking 2.40:1 anamorphic transfer, doing justice to Lin's flashy cinematography and without any noticeable flaws. The 5.1 audio track is fairly stirring, with forceful low end and thumping music cues while still delivering clear dialogue (any lack of clarity isn't the fault of the DVD; this isn't the most articulate cast every assembled for a film). The first disc, available on its own as a separate DVD package, features an unfunny blooper reel (actors forget/blow lines!) and a standard audio commentary from director Lin.
The second disc is where fans of the franchise can really lose themselves. The most interesting bonus feature here is a 20-minute short film called Los Bandeleros, written and directed by Vin Diesel. It's designed to show the events leading up to Fast & Furious, but that's meaningless; there's hardly anything that factors into the movie proper, save for a good deal of time spent on the romance between Diesel and Rodriguez. Still, Diesel's photography (which borrows heavily from the City of God aesthetic) is often more creative and distinctive than Lin's. Bandeleros is by no means required viewing, but if you were to watch it before Fast & Furious it would give certain plot developments more weight.
The rest of the extras are mostly featurettes focusing on the different aspects of production. Two pieces called "Under the Hood" are devoted to cars; one highlights the movies muscle cars while another focuses on the imports. "High Octane Action" and "Races and Chases" focus on the driving and physical stunts in the movie. "South of Border" deals with filming in Mexico, while "Getting the Cast Back Together" is about getting the cast back together (an idea that seemed better on paper than the end product would suggest). "Driving School with Vin Diesel" teaches you how to drive in front of a green screen, and "Shooting the Big Heist" focuses on the opening set piece -- incidentally the best scene of the movie. It's all downhill from there. Additionally, there's a wildly misogynistic video for a Pitbull song and a trailer gallery for all four films in the franchise. A digital copy of the film is also included.
If only the problem with Fast & Furious were that I'm not the right audience; as it happens, I couldn't care less about street racing or cars (though my 1994 Chevy Lumina might tell you otherwise). But I did enjoy the first film and found the prospect of a sequel with the original cast reunited oddly appealing. I would say that makes me the right audience. Having said that, I really didn't enjoy Fast & Furious at all. When the inevitable fifth film comes out -- and, given this movie's success, it won't be long -- let's hope I'll remember the lessons learned here and skip it.
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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
* Short Film
* Gag Reel
* Music Video
* Digital Copy
* Official Site