Case Number 16906


Universal // 2009 // 107 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // July 28th, 2009

The Charge

New model. Original parts.

Opening Statement

The fourth installment in a franchise that has consistently dipped in quality since the original seeks to fuel inject some new life with familiar faces. The result: the best off the assembly line, by far.

Facts of the Case

When we last left Dom (Vin Diesel, Pitch Black) and his feisty girlfriend no one really liked (Michelle Rodriguez, Lost), they were on the run from the Feds. Turns out, they've been screwing around in Mexico with a new crew, hijacking massive gasoline tanker trains, and using the money to pay scantily clad women to dance in slow motion.

But the heat is still on him and, after the latest escapade ends in fiery debris, Dom bolts. However, news of a tragedy hits close to home, drawing him out of hiding and back to Los Angeles, where his path intersects with FBI Agent Brian O'Connor (Paul Walker, Into the Blue). Both guys are on the trail of the same slimeball drug trafficker and, to fulfill their respective missions, they're going to have drive cars real f-ing fast.

The Evidence

Here's a pleasant surprise. My interest in the franchise had waned dramatically, after the underperforming jalopy that was Tokyo Drift, though Vin Diesel's cameo apparently got the fans juiced enough to clamor for a fourth film with the old crew re-assembled. I suppose that's one aspect of Tokyo Drift I can be grateful for -- a throw-away gag paved the way for a considerably better move about fast cars and lawbreakers.

Then I saw the trailer for Fast & Furious, the one with the gasoline tanker rolling down the highway on fire, with Vin in his car, that stoic look upon his face (by the way, that never changes throughout the entire film), and Michelle Rodriguez screaming in his ear. Then he punches the gas and manages to just miss a flaming ball of CGI. At that point, nightmarish visions of xXx surged through my brain and I immediately decided to skip the theatrical run.

Thankfully, that trailer was deceptive. Not only has director Justin Lin endeavored to keep the action as real and grounded as possible (opening sequence excluded), but he's put together a simple revenge tale that simultaneously brings back beloved (I guess) characters and teams them up against some memorable scumbags. It doesn't hurt that the action scenes are fantastic.

Even though the story is simple -- perfectly effective sure, but what do you expect from a franchise based entirely on engine roar and throbbing techno? -- it contains virtually nothing that annoyed me from the originals. There's no more of that outsider-trying-to-break-in-with-the-cool-kids stuff that's been emaciated in so many other films; a lot less of the glitzy, dope street talk that treats car racing as a quasi-religion; very little syrupy dialogue about a character's love affair with his car and how it reminds him of his dad; and last but certainly not least, much, much, much less of Michelle Rodriguez, whose one-note performances have become an irritation on par with WD-40 in the eye. What we get are loud frenetic car chases, a pounding soundtrack, some mealy-mouthed Alpha male bonding, and a refreshingly old-fashioned story of revenge. Brian and Dom are operating as equals and both want to take down the same guy. This pairing works well and offers a solid skeleton to hang the badass action scenes on.

There are three big set-pieces: the opening gas truck hijacking, a nighttime race through the streets of LA, and the big finale, a multi-car chase featuring Dom and Brian attempting to escape every single guy with a driver's license in Mexico. Each scene is progressively cooler and represents the absolute high point in the series. Seriously, this stuff was genuinely thrilling.

Watching it on Blu-ray is the absolute way to go. Not to offend standard-def owners out there, but this thing just wouldn't be the same on DVD. Universal continues to set the bar for its blockbuster HD treatments, as Fast & Furious earns high marks in every category. The 2.40:1 widescreen transfer is a marvel. I've had some reservation about Universal's visual productions in the past, but Fast & Furious looks great. There is so much color and activity happening on screen and the 1080p presentation renders all of it in vibrant, highly-defined glory. The cars, the city lights, the explosions, Paul Walker's five o'clock facial hair, it all comes to shimmering life. Even more impressive is the unrelenting DTS-HD Master Audio, an almost overpowering track, which blasts out the sound effects and thumping score with extreme prejudice. Juice this thing up and the cops will be at your house within minutes.

The true high-point and the primary reason for my praise is the bonus content, headlined by an in-movie experience which you can toggled on or off. Justin Lin and Paul Walker take turns breaking down scenes. It's interesting, personable, and unlike anything I've seen in the HD era. The Virtual Car Garage, which allows you to look at the cars in the film in less-than-awesome graphical representation isn't as cool. You do have the option of customizing them and transferring the car to mobile devices to share with friends, though I'm not sure who exactly would be interested in doing all that. Other BD-Live stuff includes a video mash-up tool, chats, and commentaries.

Other extras: Vin Diesel's short film called Los Bandoleros tells the pre-story of the film; featurettes on bringing back the cast, Vin Diesel's driving school, the big rig heist, the stunts and the races; comparison segments on muscle cars versus the imports; audio commentary with Justin Lin; a music video; and a gag reel. All the featurettes are in HD.

Closing Statement

An entertaining action movie receives the luxury treatment on Blu-ray. If the film interest you at all, do not miss this high-def release.

The Verdict

Not Guilty. Cylinders, firing, all of them.

Review content copyright © 2009 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 95
Audio: 100
Extras: 100
Acting: 80
Story: 85
Judgment: 86

Perp Profile
Studio: Universal
Video Formats:
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Spanish)

* English (SDH)
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 107 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13

Distinguishing Marks
* In-Movie Experience
* Commentary
* Featurettes
* Short Film
* Gag Reel
* Music Video
* BD-Live
* D-Box Motion Code
* Digital Copy

* IMDb