Sometime early last year, Vin Diesel and Paul Walker are sitting in a dark tavern, drinking whiskey and scratching their heads. Just eight years earlier, the two actors were envisioning steady roads in the decades ahead. Though they had both pieced together respectable little careers up until that point (Diesel had Saving Private Ryan, The Iron Giant, Boiler Room and Pitch Black to his name, while Walker had Pleasantville, Varsity Blues and She's All That), it wasn't until The Fast and the Furious broke onto the scene in 2001 that launched them to worldwide recognition. Now, years later, in that musty tavern, they sat pondering how their box office status - and presumably their paychecks - had dropped so considerably, and how they would devise a comeback.
Agents to the rescue! Team back up for Fast & Furious, the confusingly titled fourth film in the series that you both departed from over the last decade! The combination of the two of you will be unbeatable!
All right, they cried cheerily, did a little jiggle and then signed the contract. Fast & Furious proceeded to open to a massive $71 million in its first weekend earlier this year, proving that there was still demand for these two actors. At least when fast cars and scantily clad women are included as well.
I've never been a fan of the Fast and Furious movies; the first one was dumb and relatively plot-less, with okay but ultimately unimaginative car chases. The second one was a complete disaster, and the third film, while mildly entertaining, was unremarkable. Basically, it's been a franchise that has relied on fan boys of hot cars and street racing - two things I'm not particularly interested in - to keep it going. So when I saw that they were doing yet another film, and giving it an even more absurd title than 2 Fast 2 Furious (okay, maybe not quite as absurd), I was not thrilled.
But Fast & Furious is, by far, the best of the series. Justin Lin and Chris Morgan, who directed and wrote Tokyo Drift respectively, are back, an upgrade over the combination of Rob Cohen and Gary Scott Thompson. The movie doesn't try to trick us into thinking that this film is spectacularly original (the slogan for the film is "New model, original parts"), but the writing is stronger, the direction more mature and the action more intense than ever. It won't win any awards, but Fast & Furious is an entertaining thrill ride.
Both Walker and Diesel deliver decent enough performances given the material, and I have to admit that it's fun seeing them back together again. More importantly, the story is decent enough that their reunion actually makes sense; Morgan has done a good job of bringing them together to pit them against a dangerous drug lord. The slower, character-focused scenes are surprisingly effective, even if they are just filler for the action scenes, and the action is much more elaborate and entertaining than previous entries. Lin seems less concerned with glamorizing illegal street racing (though there are still plenty of cliché scenes of sexy woman rocking out with a bunch of losers who race cheesy cars) and more interested in delivering suspense, which he does. There are several very effective car chase sequences, and even though the finale is a bit over-the-top (driving at top speeds through a very, very narrow cave), it still gets the adrenaline going.
Fast & Furious won't win any awards, but it is the best movie of the series and the only one I would consider watching again. I would expect to see a fifth film in the near future, as I doubt either Diesel or Walker expect their box office clout to suddenly return to form.
As an aside, both the opening and closing action scenes, neither of which are instrumental to the plot, didn't work for me; my disc, despite being brand new and straight out of the packaging, was apparently damaged. We'll see if this is a glitch with my individual disc or something more widespread.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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