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FAST AND THE FURIOUS, THE (director: Rob Cohen; screenwriters: Gary Scott Thompson/Erik Bergquist/David Ayer; cinematographers: Ericson Core/Jonathan Taylor; editor: Peter Honess; cast: Paul Walker (Brian O’Conner), Vin Diesel (Dominic Toretto), Michelle Rodriguez (Letty), Jordana Brewster (Mia Toretto), Rick Yune (Johnny Tran), Ted Levine (Sergeant Tanner), Chad Lindberg (Jesse), Noel Guglielmi (Hector), Ja Rule (Edwin), Matt Schulze (Vince), Vyto Ruginis (Harry), Johnny Strong (Leon); Runtime: 105; Universal Pictures; 2001)
“But if you don’t mind being taken for a mindless adrenaline ride across the glittering blacktops of Los Angeles, this could be excused as a guilty pleasure treat.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A thoughtless formula movie about street racers, that moves so fast from one scene to the next it could be geared for those who suffer from ADD (attention deficit disorder); it should give you a few jolts and cinematic thrills, but the price paid is that logic is the first thing thrown out of the car window. It seems as if it was made for those who worship drivers of souped-up, high-tech cars (a billion dollar underground industry). The theme of this summertime movie could be that there’s little difference in morality between criminals and undercover cops, and that’s probably giving the film too much credit for thinking about anything but the box office. It’s all about racing cars that seem like rockets when equipped with nitrous oxide; it’s the driving scenes that keep you from nodding off and since they use real cars, with real stunt riders, that’s what grabs your attention throughout and makes you a captive of this meaningless but childishly fun tale.

It starts off fast-paced with a colorful hijacking of a truck by a gang of racers and ends fast-paced as the two antiheroes, their relationship being the key to the story, Walker and Diesel, are racing across a train crossing for no purpose at all except to give the viewer one more cheap drag car thrill before its amoral ending.

The film’s best attempt at dialogue goes something like this…first place racer (Diesel): “It don’t matter if you win by an inch or by a mile; winning’s winning.” Evidently the losing racer (Walker) is left speechless over such a powerful statement. But if you don’t mind being taken for a mindless adrenaline ride across the glittering blacktops of Los Angeles, this could be excused as a guilty pleasure treat.

Cheesy director Rob Cohen’s (“Dragonheart“/”Daylight“/”The Skulls“) film is about an undercover policeman who infiltrates a street racing gang to get those who are hijacking 18-wheelers, and it’s also about how groups of Asians, whites, and blacks form street racing gangs, snarl at each other, bet against each other in street races, and shoot at each other to maintain their rivalries. To keep things swinging there are sexy girls strutting in leather pants around the industrial site the racers congregate at, willing to give their bodies for a good street racer. There are also swarms of Storm Trooper-like cops rounding up these deviants.

The young undercover cop, Brian (Paul Walker), gets tight after a bad start with the top street car racer Dom Toretto (Diesel) by saving him from an arrest. Dom’s dysfunctional loser family of hijackers and racers include: his mathematical genius high school flunk out engine man Jesse, his childhood pals Vince and Leon, and his sexy Mexican girlfriend Letty (Rodriguez-“Girlfight”), who is as tough as anyone in the gang (she punches one guy out with a shot to the jaw). There’s also the nice girl sister of Dom’s, Mia (Brewster). In this flick she goes for being a nice girl, though it’s a stretch considering she’s somewhat involved in the gang activities and her most joyous scene was racing through the nighttime streets of L.A. on a joy ride.

Not only does Brian hit it off with Dom, but he falls in love with the pretty Mia. This romance leads to the conflict he has of turning over her brother to the cops, as he becomes closer in spirit with the gang than with his colleagues. The rogue undercover cop, who’s not only under the command of local L. A. Sergeant Tanner (Levine) but the by-the-book F.B.I command team, must learn how to walk a blurred line between doing his job and reacting to his emotions.

The gang mostly drives modified Honda Civics and fire crossbows with cables attached by string at the truck’s windshield, so that one of their members can climb the rope and get in the truck when it slows down. They then overtake the driver and hijack his goods; this should keep them in highly charged pistons until the next truck heist. This was exciting but meaningless stuff; there was no artistic accomplishment derived from this by-the-numbers action pic. The acting can’t be faulted, but it was left on the skid marks on the road, as this script was too inane to provide any realistic characterizations. The two women had badly underwritten parts, Walker was forgettable in his role, and Diesel was all high-octane energy, acting either angry or looking tough with his shaved head while constantly flexing his muscles. He gave this film whatever acting charisma it had to have, so at least one human could look as good as the cars. This was the kind of film where you could have walked in for the last 15 minutes and would have had no trouble following the story. It’s one of those bad flicks that is irresistible because there’s a charge to it that rides through its mundane story and allows it to almost get away with its ludicrous dialogue. The line that made me crack my biggest smile went like this — Dom to Brian: “I live my life a quarter-mile at a time, for those 10 seconds, I’m free.”

If you are looking for a film about reality or one that has a philosophy, or one that just makes sense, I would avoid this one. But if you want to see a film about people whom you probably wouldn’t like if you met them on the road in real-life, but on film you can be tolerant and even might find them oddly enjoyable — then this popcorn movie might taste buttery to you. It has those other recent car movies, Driven, Gone in Sixty Seconds, and Grand Theft Auto, beat by a city mile.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”