Universal // 2001 // 107 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // March 30th, 2009
Live life a quarter mile at a time.
"Ask any real racer: It doesn't matter whether you win by an inch or a mile; winning is winning." -- Dominic Toretto
Brian O'Connor (Paul Walker, Flags of Our Fathers) is an undercover cop infiltrating L.A.'s illegal street racing culture in order to track down a group of drivers responsible for a series of semi-trailer heists. He makes his way into a team run by Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel, Pitch Black), a talented driver and ex-con who takes care of a crew of misfits including his girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez, Resident Evil) and his younger sister Mia (Jordana Brewster, The Faculty). As the evidence begins to point towards Dom as the mastermind behind the heists, Brian must choose between professional duty and loyalty to his new friends.
As former Chief Justice Mike Jackson noted in his review of the original DVD release, The Fast and the Furious is a blatant rip-off of Point Break with street racing replacing surfing. That's not necessarily a bad thing: Point Break is awesome in its own cheesy way, and high-speed car races, chases, and crashes are a blast. With The Fast and the Furious, director Rob Cohen (The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor) serves up a slick, loud, vapid, by-the-numbers action picture that is loads of fun if you shut off your brain and enjoy the fine-looking cars, cast, and Los Angeles locations. From the fat bass in the soundtrack, to the roaring car engines, to the rippling biceps and bodacious curves on the actors and actresses, the movie is an unapologetic exercise in style over substance.
The screenplay by Gary Scott Thompson (88 Minutes), Erik Bergquist, and David Ayers (Harsh Times) is basically a collection of boilerplate scenes in which characters scowl at one another in fits of barely restrained machismo before cutting loose in extended action sequences that involve the use of cars to challenge each other's manhood. There are a few breaks in the action for long and clunky passages of expository dialogue that provide information about characters that would have been better delivered obliquely across more than one scene. But who has time for that kind of tight screenwriting when you have to squeeze at least 75 minutes of high-octane motor vehicle mayhem into a 107-minute picture? The lazy screenwriting hamstrings most of the young cast, but Vin Diesel comes off surprisingly well. If you think Diesel is a poor actor, visit or revisit The Fast and the Furious. A sequence in which Dom tells O'Connor about his father's death and his stint in jail is awkwardly placed (it directly answers questions O'Connor's bosses raise about Dom in the previous scene), over-written, and exactly the sort of thing a guy like Dom wouldn't say to another dude while hanging out in a garage. Diesel handles the huge and unwieldy hunk of uninterrupted dialogue with aplomb, though. He's never wrong-footed by its artificiality, and manages to imbue the scene with just the right amount of emotion. He elevates the material. Too bad the rest of the cast doesn't prove as competent.
One-dimensional characterizations and wooden dialogue aside, The Fast and the Furious excels in the action department. Rob Cohen and his team don't just do action, they overdo it. The movie uses nearly every overcooked visual trick available to a filmmaker in 2001. Cohen even employs a variation of Matrix style bullet time in a quarter-mile race near the beginning of the film -- there's no slow motion (thankfully), but the race is full of pulsating camera shake, stylized blurring, and uses up a few minutes of screen time even though we're repeatedly reminded that a quarter-mile race lasts around 10 seconds. That initial showdown between O'Connor and Dom is followed by a series of expertly coordinated and shot races and chases involving nearly every character in the flick. The action culminates in a badass battle between a trio of tricked out Honda Civics and a tractor-trailer with a very pissed off, shotgun-wielding driver, followed by a wicked chase in which Dom is behind the wheel of his old man's cherry 1970 Dodge Charger. When the cars (and therefore the story) is hauling ass at such breakneck speed that you don't have time to think, the movie is put-a-smile-on-your-face fun. Thankfully, Cohen's tempo-crashing excursions into exposition are few enough and far enough between that they don't prevent The Fast and the Furious from being an enjoyable piece of escapist entertainment.
Since The Fast and the Furious is debuting on Blu-ray at the same time as this Limited Edition DVD, I assume this disc contains a new transfer from a high definition master. If so, the results aren't all that impressive. The flick looked great when it first landed on DVD, but technology has advanced and a superlative transfer in 2002 isn't necessarily superlative today. This new transfer has strong detail throughout, but suffers from muddy color reproduction in some isolated scenes. It's not a bad transfer, but it's not as impressive as I was expecting.
The DTS audio track is another matter entirely. It delivers crisp, clean dialogue even in quiet scenes, while rattling the walls during the racing sequences. It's an excellent piece of audio work, delivering clear sound across the entire dynamic range. Imaging is excellent, making full use of the entire surround stage. The Dolby 5.1 track is also impressive, though it doesn't hold a candle to the DTS.
This Limited Edition release of The Fast and the Furious is timed to hit shelves as part of the marketing push for the theatrical release of the fourth film in the franchise, Fast and Furious. Though the disc is a nakedly crass marketing ploy, it does combine most of the supplemental features from the two previous DVD releases of the movie -- 2002's Collector's Edition and 2003's Tricked Out Edition -- into one package. So far as I can tell, the only things that weren't carried over from the earlier releases were some text-based cast and crew biographies and a lame enhanced viewing mode. Everything else is here.
The supplements begin with an informative and personable audio commentary by director Rob Cohen. He covers everything from the movie's production to his behind-the-scenes experiences in the street racing scene. His delivery is casual, friendly, and not at all stilted.
In addition to the commentary, this two-disc set contains featurettes, deleted scenes, and other goodies.
The Making of The Fast and the Furious (18:02)
A look at both the production of the film and the street racing subculture that inspired it. Rob Cohen, Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, and other cast and crew members talk about their experiences.
Racer X: The Article that Inspired the Movie
Kenneth Li's Vibe magazine article about illegal street racing that inspired producer Neal Moritz to make The Fast and the Furious.
A collection of eight individually indexed deleted scenes that can also be strung together with a Play All option. The scenes are accompanied by optional commentary by Cohen.
Multiple Camera Angle Stunt Sequence
Raw footage of the movie's final stunt sequence from eight different angles. The various angles are individually indexed, but you can't switch angles on the fly with the Angle button on your remote. There is also an option to watch the stunt as it appears in the film.
Movie Magic Interactive Special Effects
Another multi-angle feature showing a two-car jump over train tracks. Once again, the various angles are individually indexed and cannot be accessed via the Angle button on your remote.
Editing for the Motion Picture Association of America (4:37)
Rob Cohen and editor Peter Honess work to cut some gore out of a truck chase sequence in order to achieve a PG-13 rating.
Visual Effects Montage (3:44)
Compares storyboards, animatics, and raw production footage to the completed shots used in the film.
Videos for "Furious" by Ja Rule, "POV City Anthem" by Caddillac Tah, and "Click Click Boom" by Saliva. There is also an advertisement for the soundtrack CD.
Nineteen segments from the film that prominently feature music. The mix has been adjusted to dial down dialogue and effects in order to emphasize the tunes.
Disc Two contains a digital copy of the movie that you can download to your PC or MAC, plus some featurettes from the Tricked Out Edition DVD. The fact that a couple of the featurettes are press kits for the first sequel in the series, 2 Fast 2 Furious, makes this release feel like an exercise in unabashed marketing cynicism.
Dom's Charger (4:23)
A featurette about Dom's old man's badass muscle car.
Quarter Mile at a Time (9:45)
A look at car culture and the history of street racing, going all the way back to Henry Ford's starting Ford Motor Company with money he won in a race.
Turbo Charged Prelude to 2 Fast 2 Furious (6:14)
A short film starring Paul Walker that links the events of the first film to the second. The presentation is non-anamorphic widescreen with Dolby stereo audio.
Sneak Peek at 2 Fast 2 Furious (5:13)
An electronic press kit for the first sequel.
Tricking Out a Hot Import Car (19:14)
The most fascinating featurette in the set, this one follows technical adviser Craig Lieberman as he pimps a Mitsubishi Evo 8.
Hot Off the Street
A half-dozen extended scenes from the movie, individually indexed with a Play All option.
More than Furious (2:24)
A deleted scene that was intended to be an epilogue to the main action.
Paul Walker Public Service Announcement (:39)
The film's star takes a few seconds to urge us not to try any of the stunts we see in the movie. The PSA also plays before the feature on Disc One.
The package also contains a free movie ticket for Fast and Furious.
If you already own one of the previous DVD editions of The Fast and the Furious, there's no reason to trade it in for this Limited Edition, which is more gimmick than upgrade. If you don't yet own the movie, this edition delivers the most thorough collection of supplements.
Review content copyright © 2009 Dan Mancini; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 5.1 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted/Extended Scenes
* Music Video
* Digital Copy