Fast & Furious (United States, 2009)

April 02, 2009
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Fast & Furious Poster

Fast & Furious brings back the cast of the original The Fast and the Furious in a blatant attempt to reconnect with viewers who have drifted away over the course of two weak sequels. This represents the only time Vin Diesel and Paul Walker have been teamed since the first movie. (Walker was the star of 2 Fast 2 Furious and Diesel had a cameo in Tokyo Drift.) In addition to Diesel and Walker, female co-stars Jordana Brewster and Michelle Rodriguez are also on board. To tie this movie with the third installment, the character of Han also makes an appearance, and Fast & Furious is directed by Tokyo Drift's Justin Lin.

Fast & Furious is an improvement over its two immediate predecessors. It's not on par with the first installment, although the first 20 minutes offer some of the best material in any of the films. The movie opens with some kick-ass James Bond-type car action, followed by an unexpected plot twist. Unfortunately, after getting off to this promising start, Fast & Furious begins a slow downhill slide. There are plenty of car chases during the course of the movie, most of which are well choreographed and photographed, but the plot is leaden and the movie isn't very interesting when the characters aren't racing.

Dominic Toretto (Diesel) and Brian O'Conner (Walker) haven't seen each other in five years when their pursuit of a common quarry brings them together in Los Angeles. Brian is after the guy because he's a key witness in a case the FBI is working. Dominic's reasons are less lofty: he wants revenge. This guy's capture results in (however improbably) Dominic and Brian competing in a race for the right to become a driver for a drug kingpin. One wins but the other finds out a way to work his way into the gang anyway. Once under cover, Dominic and Brian agree to an uneasy truce as they pursue goals that are not mutually exclusive.

Diesel seems a little off his game in this movie. In the past, the actor (who was at one time projected as the heir apparent to Schwarzenegger - something that didn't happen) has shown range and ability, but in Fast & Furious, his performance is curiously one-note. This is especially disappointing since events in the film should demand a fair degree of emotion from the character. Paul Walker isn't any better - but then, one wouldn't expect more from Walker, whose overall resume fails to impress. Michelle Rodriquez and Jordana Brewster fill less important roles than they did in the first film. With the exception of her participation in the opening sequence, Rodriquez has little to do, and Brewster's part is even less effectively developed. The primary villains, played by John Ortiz and Laz Alonso, are standard-order bad guys. They are unexceptional in every way, and this makes it difficult to get worked up about hoping they get their deserved comeuppance.

The centerpiece of Fast & Furious isn't plotting, character interaction, or acting. It's cars, races, and action scenes. These things are handled with a fair degree of aplomb, and the camera isn't so spastic that it's impossible to figure out what's going on (a key problem with installment #2). Still, there's only so much any movie can do with car chases, and Fast & Furious pretty much fulfills the quota with the initial scene and the Dominic/Brian race. After that, there's a repetitive quality to the chases. In fact, one underground "track" is used twice. Apparently, the filmmakers ran out of interesting courses.

Fans of all three previous Fast and the Furious features will undoubtedly like this one, but those who believe the first one told all the story that needs to be told and showed all the car action that needs to be shown will find this one redundant. Lin is a talented director, but this material is beneath him. He does what he can to make things engaging, but there's only so much that can be accomplished with something this basic. The end result, while it provides moments of kinetic entertainment, is too repetitive and uneven to be satisfying. Fast & Furious has the brainless/action-oriented quality one normally associates with summer movies. In this case, however, it's only April. Apparently, the filmmakers didn't have enough faith in this production to believe it could stand its own against the year's big guns. That's a fair assessment.

Fast & Furious (United States, 2009)

Director: Justin Lin
Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez, John Ortiz, Laz Alonso, Gal Gadot
Screenplay: Chris Morgan
Cinematography: Amir Mokri
Music: Brian Tyler
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures
Run Time: 1:45
U.S. Release Date: 2009-04-03
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1