Dir. by Rob Cohen - 1 hr. 46 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
It may have seemed ridiculous at the time "The Fast and the Furious" was released, but the franchise has been one with legs. The first installment of the series isn't without it's flaws, but it's a decent start. Having said that, if you have no interest in cars going fast, women wearing not a lot at all, dudes with rippling muscles and with a bunch of tattoos, or in a nu-metal soundtrack, you might have more difficulty enjoying this piece of cinema that I did.
"The Fast and the Furious" is about undercover cop Brian O'Connor's (Paul Walker) attempt to infiltrate the street-racing scene, because there have been a string of heists targeting big rigs using precision driving and very specific vehicles. The investigation centers on Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew, but once working his way into Dom's good graces, Brian has doubts about whether or not the Toretto crew is responsible for the heists. But also, everyone has kick-ass cars, and drives them really fast, often to escape the police, and everyone in the movie is super-hot. That part is probably more important overall than the undercover cop stuff, but even if it's a common story-line, it props up the visuals of this film well.
If you're in the frame of mind to, there's plenty to mock about the contents of "The Fast and the Furious." I'm not suggesting that anyone should take this as one of the finest dramas in American cinema history, but there's also a long, proud tradition of car movies that this fits neatly into. And if you're going to have a bunch of really cool cars going really fast, surrounding them with muscly men and beautiful women is a choice that's not often going to backfire. So, rather than being snarky about this movie (which is the easy way out), let's get into what it does well (other than the superficial aspects mentioned before).
Where "The Fast and the Furious" succeeds is in building tension between the characters and their motivations. There's the obvious tensions created by an undercover cop trying to work with and gain information on the semi-legal activities of Toretto and his cronies, but it's also complicated by Brian's burgeoning relationship with Dom's sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster). Brian's also under pressure from the investigation, including a particularly prickly relationship with an FBI agent, Agent Bilkins (Thom Barry). Even some of the ancillary characters are under pressure, such as the rival crew leader, Johnny Tran (Rick Yune), who is fingered for the heists by Brian, and which leads to a series of increasingly desperate actions from Tran. And a common thread throughout the film is people wagering their vehicles (these magnificent vehicles that can outperform nearly anything, and cost tens and tens of thousands of dollars to put together). There's usually a moment of realization of what's on the line for those that choose to wager in this manner, and there's at least a moment showing the emotional consequences (even if it doesn't extend past that moment). In the world of "The Fast and the Furious," the worst thing you can be is good at something; being good means that you're dumb enough to want to press your luck, which means that you're likely to get eaten alive by those who are actually great in this milieu.
And the races/chases are pretty fun. There's nothing in this movie that is on the level of "Bullitt" or "The French Connection," but by the time we get to the final showdown between Brian and Dom, their relative skill levels have been established, and there's been enough going on between them that the race actually means a lot. It's a credit to the movie that if you just showed someone the final race, it wouldn't have the same impact as if you'd watched the entire film before reaching that point. It's the difference between being able to make a single, excellent scene, and being a capable story-teller. At least in the action-movie realm, director Rob Cohen is capable.
So "The Fast and the Furious" may be a big, dumb, flashy movie, but it's committed. If any part of the film wavered in that, it would drag the whole thing down, but it's got a certain swagger and charm that isn't always there in films of it's genre. If you're immune to the charms this film has, I don't suggest that this is a superior version of a car movie that you really must see, but it's a decent and fun film once you kick back and shut your brain off, and the series has used this installment as a basis to create at least a couple of better-than-average films.
3 / 5 - Blu-Ray