Call me naive, but until I saw director Rob Cohen's "The Fast and the Furious," I didn't know there was a such thing as underground car racing gangs in the United States. Not being a mechanic or car aficionado, I also had no idea how cars could so quickly speed up to 140 mph. While the jury's still out on how realistic "The Fast and the Furious" is concerning its details on automobiles and racing, I, nonetheless, learned quite a bit from the film--more so than any usual moviegoing experience. I also learned that no matter how many slam-bang action scenes are put into a movie, the entire effort cannot work without a serviceable screenplay.
Set in the seedy world of street racing teams, Brian (Paul Walker) is an undercover cop who has managed to get in with one such group, led by Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel). While his mission is to prove that they not only illegally race, but also hijack trucks on the side, Brian finds himself apprehensive of doing so when he not only becomes good friends with Dominic, but also falls for his sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster).
The plot of "The Fast and the Furious" is such a flimsy amalgamation of cliches and tedium that it not only remains wholly predictable from beginning to end, but also doesn't even find its premise until at least a half-hour in. Until then, we are treated to literally one scene after the next of people racing hot--no, make that very hot--cars. When the story finally shifts into high gear and we find that Brian is, indeed, a cop, the stakes are undoubtedly heightened. Unfortunately, this means that the pacing must slow down and the characters actually have to speak. They are not helped much at all by the underwhelming screenplay by Gary Scott Thompson, Erik Bergquist, and David Ayer. That it took three separate people to pen such a thin script is quite humorous, and just a little mindboggling.
The action sequences, by the way, are so thrilling that they almost single-handedly save the film from its countless flaws. The tight, precise editing aids in making each and every car racing sequence a high-throttle joy to behold, and a climactic scene involving a botched truck hijack is downright nailbiting. It's very easy to forget about such "frivolous" things as character involvement and story developments when your body is being overtaken by such rapid-fire images of excitement and danger. But once each scene has taken its toll, you are grounded back to the reasons why the movie, as a whole, is simply not finding the footing it should.
The cast is professional and attractive, but little else (with two exceptions). Vin Diesel (2000's "Pitch Black"), that of the muscular build, shaved head, and baritone voice, turns in another effective, highly modulated performance as the loyal Dominic. As his younger sister, Mia, Jordana Brewster (2001's "The Invisible Circus") is a strong actress with a brain to go along with her stunning beauty. While it would have been nice to see Brewster act as more than virtual wallpapering, at least she has more to do than Michelle Rodriguez (2000's "Girlfight"), as Dominic's sensual, hard-edged girlfriend, Letty. Who knows if Rodriguez is any good? All she is asked to do is make brooding, "I'm-so-tough" faces on cue. Finally, Paul Walker (2000's "The Skulls") gets his very first leading man role as undercover police officer Brian, and he doesn't impress. There just doesn't seem to be anything behind Walker's facial expressions, and so his character doesn't win the audience's sympathies as it should.
Despite several slow patches and an ending that doesn't know when to quit (yet still manages to leave characters and relationships hanging without closure), "The Fast and the Furious" offers mindless summer movie fun for 105 minutes. If anything, the action leaves a cursory adrenaline rush. When the movie is over, though, don't expect to think about it again--because you won't.
©2001 by Dustin Putman