I can appreciate solid, fun action films like Point Break, Punisher: War Zone, or if you want to go really stupid Van Damme’s Street Fighter. No one expects terrific acting or award-winning screenplays of any kind. Instead these films demand some kickass action or at the very least to be so bad and laughable that they’re entertaining. Unfortunately I seem to be in a minority who feels the Fast and the Furious films don’t fall into that category. I’ve never seen the appeal of buying a Honda Civic and tricking it out when one could save up his/her cash and buy a real sports car like a Ferrari or Lamborghini. However, smarter (or stupider) people than I have shelled out enough cash for these flicks, so much that Universal has graced us with a forth entry, Fast and Furious.
This installment shows Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) having a life of knocking off trucks in the Dominican Republic with the help of two Latino fellows and Han Lue (Sung Kang). After Letty is murdered in L.A., Dominic returns to hunt down Braga (the delightful John Ortiz) and his gang. Who, seemingly coincidental, is also being hunted down by Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker), now an FBI agent. Brian and Dom are recruited by Braga to drive his drugs across the border. Fast cars, hot girls, some spectacular action, and a ton of CG ensue!
To be honest, they tried to tell a story this time around and those are the best parts of the movie. The pre-title sequence with Dom, Letty, Han, and two Latino fellows ripping off an oil truck is thrilling and engaging even if a little implausible in it’s conclusion. From there it goes along pretty decently until it goes off road and crashes in a fiery explosion. Dom and Brian team up, and then the film becomes the stereotype. Not that it wasn’t before, it’s just the film was doing a decent job of telling an actual story that it’s disappointing to see it turn to this. Some of the worst one-liners ever said in a movie are thrown at you like “I like all kinds of body no matter the make” or “I like a girl who can get oil under her fingernails.” I assumed Chris Morgan gave up writing the script at that point and set Final Draft or whatever he uses to auto-pilot.
For these types of films though, that can be forgiven provided the action is good and the leads are solid enough to make it work. Unfortunately like the script, the action spins out of control midway through. Justin Lin does some great work with the opening chase sequence where the overly CGI finish is forgivable. I even might say I loved the on-foot chase between O’Connor and a thug in Braga’s gang even if it was a little too Bourne-esque. The car chase through L.A. is where the wheels begin to spin off. It’s not a bad scene, but we’re given shots that literally could be in WipeOut. The chases through Mexico overuse the CGI to the point of annoyance. If the L.A. chase is WipeOut, then some scenes in Mexico could be Gran Turismo 5. What’s worse is it looks like scenes where they didn’t need to use the CG at all, but felt they had to.
The other ingredient to a decent action film is a charismatic lead and like the first film in this series, Fast and Furious lacks that. Paul Walker has the same expression on his face the entire film, even in scenes were he should be serious. By the end, it would have been a blessing if Justin Lin decided to cut all of Walker’s lines so we wouldn’t have to hear him try to act. Vin Diesel who is generally tolerable in some roles (Saving Private Ryan and even the first Riddick) seems to have had his emotion chip removed. Almost every line is given with no emotion or passion. That’s what made guys like Stallone and Arnold work wherein they actually had some form of passion. Diesel feels like he has the script in the passenger’s seat and delivers every line deadpan. Jordana Brewster is nice to look at but otherwise devoid of anything close to acting and Michelle Rodriguez is the only one who has any personality. The only one of the cast who is remotely enjoyable is John Ortiz. He was one of the best things about Michael Mann’s underrated Miami Vice and here he is the best thing about this film. He’s charming and slick which is what the character requires and Ortiz is perfect for the job. The good news is the film keeps him in pretty healthy supply.
At the end of the road, it’s not going to matter what I say about this movie. As a critic friend of mine put it, ‘you either like the Fast and the Furious movies or you don’t,’ and he’s right. I fall into those who don’t but can admit the trailer for Fast and Furious intrigued me enough to where I’d give this one a chance. I went in with the lowest expectations possible and it delivered. Those who like the series will find plenty to love here as this is just more of the same, but for those who don’t find the appeal in these films will want to steer clear.