The Fast and the Furious

 
Laura Clifford 
Robin Clifford 

Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) owns the streets of L.A. During the day he puts together high-performance racing cars. At night, he pilots his own little pocket rocket and wins upwards to $10,000 if someone has the nerve to race him. A young loner, Brian (Paul Walker), wants to hook up with the outlaw motor maestro. Dom is suspicious, until a confrontation with a ruthless gang leader, Johnny Tran (Rick Yune), changes his mind. But, enough about plot. It's about racing in Rob Cohen's "The Fast and the Furious."

Robin:
Over the past year, we've had a couple of auto-based, adrenalin rush pics with "Gone in 60 Seconds" and "Driven." Neither film had much in common and neither was very good, but they both carried the central theme of a need for speed. Helmer Cohen takes the hunger to drive fast to the streets with his pop-culture look into that microcosm of Americana, Los Angeles.

The desolate nighttime streets of sections of L.A. become tribal territory for the adrenalin junkies whose pride is in their hopped up imports. They gather every night, monitoring the whereabouts of the police, and risk their pink slips against their ability to drive fast. Dom is the leader of this tribe, along with his team, and he rules the outlaw races. But there is danger lurking on the horizon for those involved in a major hijack ring and members of the clan of night drivers may well be involved.

Brian is a loner who comes into the scene with a desire to impress Dom and his posse with his guts and ability. But, the young man has a hidden agenda - he's an undercover cop and he suspects that the hijackers may be hidden among the tribe. When he and Dom have a run-in with Johnny Tran's team, a bunch of gun toting, motorcycle driving hotheads, it looks like these are the bad guys the cop is searching for. Brian and his bosses jump the gun and raid Johnny's operation, much to their eventual embarrassment.

At about this point, things start to sort themselves out as the real story, one of honor and loyalty, kicks in. This is also where the film gets very derivative of such action flicks as "Speed" and "Point Break" - is it significant that Keanu Reeves starred in both of those films? But, derived does not mean bad and "The Fast and the Furious" delivers its action bits in tense portions. The racing that dominated the first half of the film takes a back seat, so to speak, to the meat of the story and the relationship between Brian and Dominic and his team.

"The Fast and the Furious" benefits from the charismatic presence of Vin Diesel. The actor was one reason "Boiler Room" worked and he cuts a good figure here. Diesel is so likable, though, that it is hard to get angry with him for being a bad guy, too. Paul Walker is OK as the undercover cop, but any good-looking actor could have filled the role. The folks making up Dom's team - Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Chad Lindberg, Johnny Strong and Matt Shulze - are all supportive, if a little bland. A love interest between Diesel and Rodriguez simply does not work - not their fault. Chad Lindberg, as Dom's brilliant, but dyslexic, mechanic, Jesse gets to play up the troubled martyr role well enough. Don't look for Oscars here though.

The screenplay by Gary Scott Thompson, Erik Bergquist and David Ayer is action packed and has some slickly executed race scenes. The cars, ranging from souped up Toyotas to NOS (nitrous oxide) boosted Volkswagen Jettas, are what the teens and twenties are going to see, and we get some good, though not great, racing.

The F/X are a combo of live action and computer-generated images and look very good. You won't have tires and fenders flying off the screen at you, a la "Driven," which is a very good thing. The CGI stuff is so convincingly done the line between computer-generated action and live is agreeably blurred and works well. The action-packed hijack, which is the showcase for the flick, is straight out of "Speed," but is so tightly wound it keeps your attention with slick car stunts and crash bang action.

"The Fast and the Furious" is B-movie entertainment that is ideal for the drive-in on a warm summer's night - if you can find a drive-in still alive and kicking. The tweenies will love it. In my town, the kids are planning to meet, with their hot cars, and head to the theater en masse on the opening weekend. Their exuberance will be well met. I give it a B-.

Laura:
When Brian (Paul Walker, "The Skulls") starts hanging around the luncheonette where Mia (Jordana Brewster, "The Invisible Circus") works, he's singled out for a beating by the gear heads who gather there.  That night, he shows up with his own hot rod and challenges Mia's brother Dominic (Vin Diesel, "Pitch Black") to a drag race.  While Brian loses his car to Dominic, he gets into his good graces by spiriting him away when cops raid the gathering place. Dominic's gang are suspicious, but Brian's in -  and undercover - investigating a speed racer robbery ring who prey on truckers in "The Fast and the Furious."

Inspired by a magazine article on street racing, Gary Scott Thompson ("Hollow Man" story and screenplay by), Erik Bergquist and David Ayer (screenplay by) do plug 'n play by taking the plot from the Keanu Reeves/ Patrick Swayze starrer "Point Break" and changing its surfer thieves into drag racers.  Yet director Rob Cohen ("The Skulls"), whose filmography inspired no hope going into this film, delivers a flashy B flick that's sure to attain a cult audience.

After some good-natured sword rattling among the street racing crowd, we experience the mind blowing experience of a 170 mph race in a consumer car converted to a nitrous oxide system (NOS in racer parlance).  Brian glances through the windows of three other racers to make eye contact with Dominic (kudos to cinematographer Ericson Core ("Mumford") for employing an ace focus puller) in his Mazda RX-7.  Then the camera follows Dom's arm to the stick shift, before we're sped through the car's engine and out via the exhaust just in time to see the cars leap off into the dark abandoned street beyond.

This scene is exhilarating, as are other set pieces involving a final robbery gone bad (as these final scores always do) ripped right out of "The Road Warrior," and a last race between Brian and Dom towards an oncoming train. The entire technical crew, including visual-effects supervisor Mike Wassel ("U-571"), sound designer Charles Deenen, editor Peter Honess ("L.A. Confidential") and production designer Waldemar Kalinowski ("Stigmata"), serve up first rate work.  The awesome stunt team deliver leaps from one speeding vehicle to another as well as cars darting beneath the undercarriages of trucks.

Most of the acting is of the surface variety.  Diesel has a commanding and likeable screen presence.  Walker is a good looking kid who expresses excitement with speed and earnestness with undercover work.  Chad Lindberg ("October Sky") is particularly empathetic as an ADD afflicted mechanical genius.  Unfortunately, Michelle Rodriguez ("Girlfight") just cops a cool, tough 'tude as Letty, Dom's girlfriend, but at least she's believably tough and cool (and yes, she punches a guy out).  The film also stars Rick Yune ("Snow Falling on Cedars") as Johnny Tran, leader of a rival motorcycle gang and Ted Levine ("Evolution") as Brian's boss Sgt. Tanner.

"The Fast and the Furious" may sound like the title of a daytime soap but it plays like a dumb B movie with tons of guilty pleasures under its hood.

B-

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