In my review of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, I elaborated on the inevitability of The Fast and the Furious‘s fall from the roots of its original two films. The first two films emphasized a strong sense of plausibility in its circumstances; when I say that, I mean that it resonated with its audiences in a manner that had them seeing themselves on-screen and the kind of ridiculous car tricks and stunts they attempt to pull off when they’re with their buddies. The chemistry of Paul Walker and Vin Diesel was undeniable, and the charm at hand was enough to sustain an entire film. The inevitability I spoke of in my review of the third film was that this series would slowly drift away from that focus and, in turn, be more about pushing boundaries and becoming a glossier, more implausible action spectacle than keeping the kind of down-home feel of the original films.
Fast & Furious, which, yes, is the fourth film, indicated by the lack of two “the”‘s in the title the franchise used up until this point, turns a fun and amiable series, thus far, into a gritty, CSI-style drama. It morphs into a primetime drama with some seriously expensive street-racing sequences that, again, somehow solve and uncover the most layered drug busts and thefts across the continental United States. The result is a film that, after probably the best opening scene of the entire series so far, slowly spirals into the drudgery of senseless mayhem and cheerless characters.
Poor Paul Walker has even sacrificed all the coolness and nonchalant mannerisms from the first two films to become one of the flattest actors on screen here, lacking all emotion. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that, from my count, Walker’s Brian O’Conner character gets beat up three times in this film, and at one point, takes a serious beating after a carwreck. The fifth film of this ostensibly neverending franchise should open with the maimed Walker and his comrades in the hospital struggling to swallow Vicodin with miniature plastic cups of apple juice if it even wanted to replicate anything close to realism.
Walker’s Brian O’Conner has been reinstated to the police force, and Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) has been relaxing in Panama City for the past few months when he gets a call from his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) that Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Dom’s mechanic/girlfriend, was killed in a potentially pre-meditated car accident. Brian’s investigating leads him to the name of Arturo Braga (John Ortiz), a heroin kingpin intent on smuggling copious amounts of heroin from the U.S. to Mexico. Brian and Dom, who are now rekindling old enemy territories with Brian returning to the force, must attempt to work together to avenge Letty’s death, with Dom also trying to remain out of trouble and stay away from police with his fugitive status.
As stated, the opening scene of Fast & Furious takes the cake for the franchise’s strongest, most entertaining opening thus far, and possibly the best scene in the entire series all along, as well. The scene involves Dom, Letty, and the remainder of his crew attempting to steal fuel tankers off of a big-rig truck, which is hauling six or so. The object is Rico Santos (singer Don Omar) and Teo Lego (Tego Calderón) to maintain speed with the rig in their vehicle so that Letty can hop aboard the truck, freeze the rig’s connection to another rig and smash it with a large wrench, which would allow it to properly latch on to Han’s (Sung Kang) truck for safe-keeping. Trying to elaborate on the interworkings of this scene is difficult in itself, but watching this unfold is every bit an action film fan’s dream, especially during the harrowing, incendiary conclusion.
This scene is the indisputable highlight in a film that greatly falters because (a) it takes itself far too seriously for a film about street-racing, (b) doesn’t have the actors nor the narrative weight to make this film anything other than a dime-a-dozen story of a group of guys trying to stop the Pablo Escobar of (insert drug or illegal activity here), and (c), forgoes profiling the admirable energy levels of its performers. Fast & Furious is about as much fun as getting to the final lap of a race, maintaining your speed, putting your vehicle on cruise control, and then flipping radio channels to see what you can listen to while you miss all the excitement and fun that got you there in the first place.
Starring: Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, Jordana Brewster, John Ortiz, Don Omar, Tego Calderón, Sang Kung, and Michelle Rodriguez. Directed by: Justin Lin.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality in North Central Illinois. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!