Saturday, September 29, 2001

The Fast and the Furious / *** (2001)

“The Fast And The Furious” can easily be seen as companion piece to last year’s summer hit “Gone In Sixty Seconds,” and understandably so. Both movies deal with man’s love for automobiles, and not just any automobiles, but fast ones that screech when the brakes are used and survive most of the damage dealt to them. A list of similarities could easily go on in a discussion about both films, but one substantial difference here is that the earlier endeavor was weakened by its dreary cast, whereas this picture, at least, is blessed to have Vin Diesel among its credits. Diesel has easily proven he can turn any role into something meaningful and realistic even when seemingly impossible, and though his character in this picture is hardly someone you would walk with in downtown L.A. past midnight, he’s very much observant, and by the time the plot sets itself up, we actually care what happens to him.

This is a lot more than we can say about the film’s initial lead star, Paul Walker, who comes off like a wooden version of Steve McQueen for practically the whole duration of the picture. Last year he was credited with starring in “The Skulls,” immediate evidence that we probably aren’t dealing with a man who makes all the best role choices. In “The Fast And The Furious,” Walker is immersed into the character of Brian O’Connor, a man who, towards the opening of the picture, single-handedly saves Dominic Toretto (Diesel), the so-called king of LA’s gigantic illegal racing underworld, from a run-in with police. But what the grateful Dominic and his slew of racing pals do not realize is that Brian is actually a police officer himself, assigned undercover to investigate hijacking that has gone down in the area. The conflict for the protagonist, in this case, is what he might find in his ivestigation—could Dominic, a man whom he has come to admire, be the person behind these crimes? Or could it be the racer’s largest opposing force, a man named Johnny Tran who, in retrospect, makes the hard-edged Dominic look more like Gumby? Much is at risk here, especially since Brian is slowly falling for his newest friend’s younger sister Mia (Jordana Brewster).

Having said all that, “The Fast and the Furious” gets off to somewhat of a promising—if rather loud—start. The action sequences are realistic and gritty, and photographed so well that we can actually see the events unfold clearly. But that feeling wears off no more than 30 minutes into the movie when you slowly start to see how the script by Gary Scott Thompson is just a basic retread of every car movie that came before it. The obligatory clich├ęs of the genre remain intact—the heavy Asian influence amongst the members of these fast car chases, the women who look like sex objects hiding behind facades of independence and will, the bright and polished cars that can reach speeds beyond legal on US highways, etc.—and as is the case with “Gone in Sixty Seconds,” none of them are that interesting anymore. The movie was directed by Rob Cohen, who isn’t exactly the greatest filmmaker around at the moment, but can, at times, find himself directing even bad material with some sort of craft and finesse, qualities he seems to only apply here during the fastest (and most furious) moments of the picture.

But heck, did I mention Vin Diesel is in the film? This is an actor who is going places very soon. Practically the only tolerable face in this movie as well as his last two endeavors—“Boiler Room” and “Pitch Black”—he conveys a suitable amount of charm and wisdom in whatever role he plays. With him at the aide of this generic race film (not to mention the surprisingly well-executed action sequences), “The Fast and the Furious” is not really that bad a film to sit through, just as long as you unplug your brain and forget the fact that the characters, the story, and even the energetic climax, have been seen countless times before.

Written by DAVID KEYES

Action (US); 2001; Rated PG-13; 101 Minutes

Paul Walker: Brian O'Connor
Vin Diesel: Dominic Toretto
Michelle Rodriguez: Lenny
Jordana Brewster: Mia Toretto
Rick Yune: Johnny Tran
Chad Lindberg: Jesse
Johnny Strong: Leon

Produced by Creighton Bellinger, Doug Claybourne, Neal H. Moritz and John Pogue; Directed by Rob Cohen; Screenwritten by Gary Scott Thompson, Erik Bergquist and David Ayer

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