Fast & Furious (2009) May 12, 2009Posted by gproject in : Cinema, Recently Viewed , trackback
Directed by: Justin Lin
‘New Model, Original Parts’ declares the neatly constructed tag-line for this, the fourth instalment in Hollywood’s most popular street racing franchise. The hope is that posters bearing the stern faces of Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster and Michelle Rodrequez will instill some back-to-the-roots goodwill in an audience desperate to forget the horrors of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift [review]. In fact, the film’s confusingly similar titling may well hold a clue to its intentions: delivering a stripped down version of the first film while maintaining just enough of the essential components so that it holds some sense of relevance. And it works, but only as a product of the series that made it.
Rather pleasingly, we find ourselves back in the drivers seat with Dominic Toretto (Diesel). Still a fugitive from the law, he runs a fuel hijacking racket with his crew including girlfriend, Letty (Rodrequez). A turn of events leads Dominic no choice but to flee once again, this time leaving Letty behind to live in Panama. But it isn’t long before he receives a call that will bring him back to his old haunt of Los Angeles, to settle a score with the new crime boss in town. It’s here he comes back into contact with Brian O’Conner (Walker), now working for the FBI on a case that hopes to bring down the same mastermind. Old rivalries spark anew, as the two expert drivers infiltrate the crime ring and then fight to be first to enact their own brand of justice.
The biggest story here is that some wise producer has managed to convince all four of the original cast members to return, something which every sequel so far has been sorely missing. Paul Walker couldn’t hold 2 Fast 2 Furious alone, and Diesel’s cameo in Tokyo Drift was only a painful reminder that the terrible film you’d just seen hadn’t been about him. The fact is that for all its inherent stupidity and facile glamour, the first film in the series made a concerted effort to construct a dramatic story around all the padding. By dragging us back into the lives of these characters, the film has the opportunity to play on those original relationships and make use of their existing history.
But while it’s nice to be back in the company of Diesel’s macho car enthusiast and Walker’s rebellious cop (continually reinstated despite numerous grievances with the law), the film doesn’t exactly keep itself on level ground, with the inclusion of a rather convoluted racing-obsessed criminal mastermind and his convenient driver-recruitment program delivering a route to plenty of mindless thrills. Screenplay writer Chris Morgan, who also had a hand in last year’s action spectacular Wanted, treads the line between keeping his characters intentions in focus and respecting the necessity to exploit all things vehicular. It is by no means a dazzling script, and the original film’s wince-inducing rivalry banter occasionally makes a return, but that’s not to say it doesn’t do the job.
More important, at least for the genre, are the action sequences. Combining pulse-pounding street races with break-neck editing creates that expected level of excitement and incomprehensibility from the driving scenes. Director Justin Lin may have been behind Tokyo Drift’s tedious drift races, but here he sticks more thoroughly to what makes those race sequences interesting; speed, not cornering technique, is the rightful initiator of high tension. An excellent opening sequence involving a petrol tanker heist turns out to be the jewel in this film’s crown, invoking a real sense of anxiety along with some impressive stunts and over-the-top driving. It only serves to highlight how disappointing the finale which follows is, set in a confined location that does no justice to the supposed speed, danger, or logic of the motoring.
Finally, the returning cast reprise their respective roles as if they had never been away. For a few, they almost haven’t - especially Brewster and Rodrequez, whose film careers topped out on The Fast and the Furious. It’s not as if any of the characters are that deep anyway, nor is it much of a stretch for Diesel to play lawbreaking hardman, or Walker to inhabit the roguish anti-hero. The fact that no other characters are even given the time of day when it comes to development shows that this is a film set rigidly on sticking with what works. And aside from an early plot twist, that’s exactly what happens, so if you weren’t enamoured by Dominic Toretto and Brian O’Conner’s deceitful friendship the first time, you probably won’t be again.
I’d argue that even since 2 Fast 2 Furious (both a grammatical and a cinematic step down), the franchise has been running on empty. This instalment may give it just enough fuel to cross the finish line - and as tired a metaphor as that might be, I do mean ‘the finish line’. As in: stop. Because now this revisit angle has been successfully exhausted, it seems frivolous to continue wrapping anonymous street racing stories in the Fast & Furious brand merely for the sake of it. This film pulls off a neat trick by managing to claw back some credibility for a series that mostly revels in silliness and a prominence of style over substance. It’s slick and fast, with just enough furiosity left to see it through to its all-at-once surprisingly grounded and typically unrealistic conclusion. Time to hand in your keys and quit while you’re ahead, Universal.
Fast & Furious is currently on UK general release.