Fast and the Furious, The (United States, 2001)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Speed, adrenaline, and a distinct lack of intelligence - those are characteristics that could easily be ascribed to street racing, an underground sports phenomenon that keeps the police busy in some communities. The same adjectives can be used to describe The Fast and the Furious, Rob Cohen's film about crime, underground cops, and, street racing. With a storyline that would be rejected by most undercover cop shows, The Fast and the Furious seeks to entertain viewers not by presenting a compelling narrative with well-defined characters, but by high-octane car chases that will leave some audiences gasping for breath.

As a filmmaker, Cohen doesn't have a sterling reputation (two of his more high-profile projects have been The Skulls and Daylight), so it should come as no surprise that The Fast and the Furious is not a model of artistic integrity. The film tells the story of an undercover cop, Brian (Paul Walker), who infiltrates a street racing team headed by Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel). But racing isn't all Dominic is suspected of - the cops believe he's the leader of a gang that hijacks trucks. It's Brian's job to earn Dominic's trust, then bust open the crime ring. Unfortunately for Brian, he falls for Dominic's sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster).

The story is overly familiar and the characters are all types, but Cohen's cinematic techniques make The Fast and the Furious watchable. As the title suggests, the film never lets up. It's restless and hyperactive, jittery and explosive. The movie is no more intelligent than higher-profile dross like Pearl Harbor, but it's shorter and more fun. This movie has "guilty pleasure" written all over it. It's the kind of film you can walk into late, immerse yourself in for about 90 minutes, then forget about the moment you walk out of the theater. This is popcorn entertainment at its purest. There's nothing pretentious going on here.

In keeping with the MTV-style editing and radioactive camera movements, Cohen uses a cast of largely unknown but attractive actors. Top billing goes to Vin Diesel, the charismatic baritone who played the convict in Pitch Black and gave the title character its voice in The Iron Giant. Diesel is an actor to watch - he has the potential to go far. Less impressive is Paul Walker (who appeared in Cohen's The Skulls), a cookie-cutter Southern California blond with minimal acting talent. Michelle Rodriguez (the lead in Girlfight) uses her snarls and pouts to good advantage as the underwritten Letty, Dominic's sexy girlfriend. And Jordana Brewster (The Invisible Circus) offers a nice mix of sensuality and innocence. Cohen's style consistently shows each actor to his or her best advantage in every scene.

It's difficult to write a review of substance about something so vacuous. Really, all The Fast and the Furious offers is a bunch of good-looking people racing along streets in cars that go fast, faster, and fastest. The vehicles look as cool as the men and women driving them. There's a token bad guy or two, a little gunplay, and a few pyrotechnics, but, overall, this movie is all about racing. And, when it comes to capturing the essence of the sport, The Fast and the Furious beats Driven by several laps. Do I recommend the film? Only if you're in the mood for something that will elevate the pulse and numb the mind.

Fast and the Furious, The (United States, 2001)

Run Time: 1:45
U.S. Release Date: 2001-06-22
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Violence, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1