by HELEN GEIB
I walked out of Fast and Furious a contented moviegoer. My expectations were exceeded and my craving for vicarious thrills well-satisfied. Action-packed good fun, it is exactly the movie the title promises.
Although the fourth entry in the “The Fast and the Furious” series, Fast and Furious continues the story of the first film (2Fast2Furious is a side road and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift an affiliated track). Set five years after, Fast and Furious picks up where the first film left off and brings back its four principal characters: master driver and truck hijacker Dom (Vin Diesel); Dom’s girlfriend and partner-in-crime Letty (Michelle Rodriguez); FBI agent Brian (Paul Walker); and Mia (Jordana Brewster), Dom’s sister and Brian’s erstwhile lover. The film is directed by Justin Lin, who also directed the entertaining Tokyo Drift.
When we last saw them, Brian was looking the other way while Dom fled the country to escape arrest. Fast and Furious opens with a “where are they now” sequence showing Dom and Letty up to their old tricks in the Dominican Republic (more on that later). Concerned for Letty, Dom leaves her so she can return to LA and a normal life. But she is murdered, and he follows her home to seek revenge. His return reunites him with Mia and then with Brian, now part of a task force investigating the drug kingpin whose organization is behind Letty’s killing.
The investigation/revenge plot is a standalone story and the back story to the characters’ fraught relationships is sketched in for the uninitiated. However, although it isn’t necessary to have seen the first film to follow this one, Fast and Furious will be enjoyed more by people who saw and liked its predecessor. While the plot adequately serves its primary function of threading together the many action sequences, the important storyline is Dom, Brian, and Mia overcoming the betrayals of the past to become the family they were always and obviously meant to be. Whether you find this story meaningful hinges on whether you left the first film hoping those crazy, messed up kids would find their happy ending somewhere down the road. Fast and Furious leaves the business of characterization to the first film.
The plus side of this choice is that there’s very little to distract from the business at hand: car racing. In a nod to the first film, the introductory sequence is a highway heist. The elaborately staged and thrilling action set-piece is extraneous to the plot, but as the saying goes, a well-filmed car chase is its own reward. There is a second elaborately staged and thrilling race through Los Angeles city streets around the middle of the film, and yet a third across the desert and through the tunnels of an abandoned mine for the climax. The races are exciting, varied, and punctuated by welcome bursts of humor. Shorter, smaller-scale action sequences occupy the spaces in between the big three.
The performances are capable within the limits of the material. Diesel and Walker recapture the appealing rapport their characters had in the first film, but John Ortiz as the drug-lord villain makes the strongest impression.
Liking car racing movies means having to put up with a lot of gratuitous, lingering shots of nubile young women draped over the hoods of fast cars. Needless to say, the cheesecake is not equal opportunity. There are no scantily clad, hot-bodied young men hanging off the arms of women drivers (for that matter, there are no women drivers racing with or against our heroes, and none of the other men are much to look at). Fast and Furious lowers the bar for contemporary Hollywood action movies by including not one, but two gratuitous scenes of young, beautiful, nearly-naked women making out with each other for the pleasure of the on-screen male spectator.
On a happier note, the soundtrack is not obnoxious. If there were any profanity-laden rap songs, either I was too engrossed in the action to notice them, or those were the ones where the lyrics were in Spanish.
3 1/2 stars