Saturday, July 28, 2012

Fast & Furious - 2009

"Fast & Furious" - 2009
Dir. by Justin Lin - 1 hr. 47 min.

Official Trailer #3

by Clayton Hollifield

Four films in, "Fast & Furious" represents a bit of a detour for the franchise.  Instead of the "man under pressure" story in the first films, this one is more of a revenge flick.  It also marks Vin Diesel's official return to the franchise, which is very welcome.  FF4 (which is how I'll be abbreviating that for the rest of this review) isn't a subtle movie, and you need not worry that it's a radical deviation from what's come before.  It just that rather that examining what a person looks like in pressure cooker, FF4 (and it's sequel, "Fast Five") are more about the consequences of the choices a person makes in that situation.

As is customary, FF4 kicks off with a daring heist, spotlighting the precision driving of Dominic Toretto (Diesel) and his crew, which includes Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and Han (Sung Kang).  This time around, they're stealing the gas trailers from a semi in the Dominican Republic.  It's successful, and they throw a blow-out afterwards (check off one booty-shaking scene here), but they're aware that the law is onto them, and it's time to blow that Popsicle stand.  Dom abandons Letty, knowing that when he's apprehended, it's likely to be violent for everyone involved, and he doesn't want her going down with him.  Later, a character's death brings Dom back to Los Angeles with vengeance on his mind.  To that end, he tries to infiltrate a cartel to get his hands on the murderer.  At the same time, Dom's old buddy Brian O'Connor (Paul Walker) is back with the police department, and is trying to infiltrate the same cartel in an undercover manner.  They both succeed, and everyone drives very, very fast the entire time.

While there's plenty of action and excellent driving sequences here, this is a film about having to pick up the pieces when things go sour.  Dom's actions leave him having to avenge a death that's pretty much on his hands (which becomes clearer later in the film).  And while Brian has put himself back on the right side of the law, he has to directly deal with what he did to Dom and his sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster) in the first film.  Even after the amount of time that has passed, he doesn't seem to have much of a handle on it.  Brian tries valiantly to right things with both, but in order to do that, one aspect or another of his life is going to have to give.  It's fortunate for both men that they're after a cartel boss, it gives carte blanche to do whatever they feel like doing to him and his henchmen.

One of the bonuses to this film is that it shows why Vin Diesel is such a good actor, particularly in an action film.  It doesn't hurt that Paul Walker is routinely awful, but Diesel combines a legit physical presence with the ability to portray a coiled spring about to explode.  Finding someone who can jump around and stage fight is one thing, but it's kind of fun to watch Diesel when the other characters are prodding him, and you know something is about to happen.  This far into the franchise, Diesel's character has a reputation (despite only having really been in one film previously), and FF4 makes the most out of that.

I know that it seems to be missing the forest for the trees to ignore talking about the action entirely, so I'll confirm that the racing scenes here are up to par with what's come before.  The initial heist of the gas trailers is pretty fantastic (and nail-biting), and a eye-catching way to kick things off.  There is also the customary "qualifying" race that the main characters have to survive, a pair of scenes involving racing through a tunnel (you kind of have to see it to understand how cool that is).  There's so much racing that the film dares to end on an incomplete heist, knowing that you'll fill in the blanks in your mind, and that you'll want to return for the fifth installment based on what you have to assume is going to happen.  It's a ballsy choice, and it pays off.  It's not a cop-out, cash-grab ending (like the end of the second "Pirates of the Caribbean" film), it's a wink to the audience that yeah, you're gonna come back the next time around because this film has delivered the goods.

Aside from the second film in this franchise, all of the films have been pretty dead-on in terms of how to keep a franchise interesting.  That's pretty remarkable, considering most of the movie franchises that have had enduring success have been based on a series of books (like the "Lord of the Rings," "Harry Potter," or "Twilight" series), and have had some sort of road-map available before they even got started.  Consistently, the "Fast and the Furious" films maintain their flavor, juggle an increasingly large cast of characters, and offer up exotic locales for cars to go really fast in.  It's not Shakespeare, but I'll be damned if they don't have me coming back every couple years for another installment.

3 / 5 - Blu-Ray

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