Fast and Furious
“What are smiling at Walker? Neither of us know how to act.”

Theatrical Release Date: 04/03/2009
Director: Justin Lin
Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez, John Ortiz, Laz Alonso, Gal Gadot, Shea Whigham, Sung Kang

“Fast & Furious” … Wait, instead of tossing a “4″ after the title or coming up with some clever new title like “OG Furious Foursome Drive Fast”, the people behind the latest installment in the franchise decided to just add an ampersand drop the “the”s from the title? Whatever.

So for the seventeen of you out there who have seen all of the previous films in the series and plan to see this one, let’s just break it down. Yes, the four main actors from the first film are back (Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez). Yes there are plenty of souped up, lowered down, tricked out cars racking up moving violations like Rush Limbaugh eats donut holes. And yes, a number of scantily clad ladies hover around the illegal street racing scene – perhaps because Daddy didn’t love them enough.

My first reaction after seeing the film is that it delivered exactly what I expected. That’s a good thing, I suppose. However, as I think back upon it, there are a number of elements that went missing and it took letting the swelling around my brain subside to think clearly about it.

I’ll start with the positives (because the coin landed on heads). Director Justin Lin returns after helming the third film in the series, “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift“. While I wish he would frame the action better and tell his editor not to splice up the action scenes into a billion pieces and his camera operators to hold the damn thing steady, at least Lin knows how to tell a story (no matter how generic or formulaic the script).

Oddly enough, “Fast & Furious” is in many ways a step back from “Tokyo Drift” when it comes to what should be the main component: cars. This latest film failed to showcase cars in the same, flashy manner (even though a green Torino gets a lot of screen time, I was still left wanting when it came to car porn).

And for all the talk about how many stunts were done practically using real cars and stunt people, there’s a metric butt-ton of CGI on display. Whereas “Tokyo Drift” seemed to focus its computer trickery on backgrounds and lighting effects, far too often in this film, you’re spotting one or two real elements awash in a sea of code-generated pixels.

Didn’t I say I was going to start with the positives? Huh. Well, on the plus side, the opening scene allows for a flashback cameo from Sung Kang who played Han in the third film, Jordana Brewster is more than acceptable to gaze upon and there is some primal instinct inside of me that enjoys watching Vin Diesel (who also produced the film) act like a battering ram – whether through his actions or finely crafted dialogue such as when Diesel so eloquently lets an attractive woman know what he wants in a partner (I don’t want to spoil it all but I’ll whet your appetite with divulging his desire for a woman who’s “20% angel and 80% devil, with eyes that can see through all the bullshit” – yup, Diesel’s top pickup lines are in effect).

Also on the bright side, the film takes the audience through another subculture of street racing, that of the Latin persuasion. Just as “Tokyo Drift” focused on the land of the rising sun’s denizens, utilizing a tailored soundtrack and casting call, so too does this film crank out the south of the border beats along as our heroes race across parts of Mexico and L.A.

As is expected, you’re not going to see this film for great acting performances and I doubt it comes as much of a surprise that this won’t be the vehicle for Paul Walker’s Oscar campaign. Because the film tries to convey a heartfelt story of love, revenge and redemption, Diesel and Walker especially are asked to deliver portrayals that are beyond their reach (though I’m remembering to toss some of that blame at the script).

Still, if you’re in the theater for anything beyond fast cars or bass-centric music, you might want to consult a neurologist. In the end, “Fast & Furious” really was everything I expected and wanted out of it and so I’ll give it a 3 out of 5 for embracing its cheesy, all style, no substance nature. If you liked the first and/or third films (no one liked the second one, let’s be honest), you’ll in all likelihood enjoy this one. If this ain’t your thing, don’t expect to get your money’s worth.

And perhaps the oddest thing about the film is that neither Diesel nor Walker ever take off their shirt. I know that sounds like a weird thing to notice (and I know I’m weird) but a large majority of the women headed to the theaters (and reportedly 10% of the men) probably want to see some of the actors’ skin. My first reaction is to thank Justin Lin for foregoing this element (though I still am not happy about letting Lucas Black “show off” his hairy nipples in “Tokyo Drift”). However, letting either Diesel or Walker expose some flesh would better deliver the stereotype and cliché I’m expecting in a film of this caliber so I’m a little torn … just not enough to do anything about the film’s overall rating … I just thought it was worth mentioning … I’ll stop while I’m not too far behind now.