The Fast and the Furious is, at the very least, an intriguing franchise, for it gives gearheads the kind of inspiration and fantasy they need to have to keep sane. I’ve always found car hobbyists to face quite the paradox; the problem with cars is that they are grossly expensive, so if you’re a middle class man, having two is quite the luxury. However, if you’re deep into cars as a fascination, you presumably not only want one or two cars, you want several, and you want them customized and rigged to your liking. Customizing and optimizing the performance on one car is grossly expensive, but having a garage of half a dozen or more customized/optimized vehicles could cost as much as your house and your neighbor’s houses put together. This is why, each and every day, I’m more and more satisfied with my lack of interest in cars and my own obsession with the Honda Accord I drive.
The Fast and the Furious also gives gearheads that kind of adrenaline rush and visualization of their dreams realized because they, themselves, often don’t have the means, the vehicles, nor the kind of closed-range courses to carry out the kind of eye-popping stunts and mayhem the characters in these films cause. It caters to that level of unbridled excitement, when you’re actually racing in a vehicle and that moment where you get that indescribable pang in your chest reminding you know that you’re alive. I was fully ready to embrace this franchise for its fantastical elements, but unsure if I could still be entertained watching car chases and death-defying stunts for an upwards of two hours.
What’s pleasant about The Fast and the Furious is that it focuses on the relationships the characters have with one another in the midst of all the racing. The film’s slender plot revolves around Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), an undercover Los Angeles police officer sent to infiltrate a ring of truck hijackers and street racers in the heart of L.A.. Led by Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), a suave know-it-all when it comes to vehicles, the gang is known for their heavily armed carjacking activities of large eighteen wheelers, in addition to their work at auto-body shops where they modify and customize cars, some of which flirting with and others unabashedly breaking the laws of what is street legal. Also working in Dom’s crew are Leticia Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez), his longtime girlfriend and mechanic at his shop, in addition to his sister Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster), whom becomes the apple of Brian’s eye late in the film.
Brian’s infiltration of Dom’s ring soon becomes corrupted by his fascination with the culture Dom and his crew have created; it’s a culture that specializes in prompting and maintaining a longterm adrenaline rush in the most unique and heart-pounding ways. Despite Brian’s responsibility to uphold the law through all this, he finds his involvement with Dom going above and beyond the call of the law, as far as hooking up with Dom’s sister and helping Dom plot a crackdown of former partners that have turned into rival gangmembers following a reneged agreement.
No matter which way you slice it, The Fast and the Furious is slight in substance, but often very strong on a level of entertainment. At only one-hundred minutes, it pleasantly skates by without being too much of an assault on the senses and operates largely on the charm and infectious personalities of its actors. Walker is the standout of the crowd, maintaining a certain level of cool and street-smarts and his character never hitting the level of cocksure confidence, making him a more watchable and likable presence. That’s not to undermine Diesel’s role here, because without him, this film wouldn’t be as much of a bromance as it already is. From the first race, it is clear that Walker and Diesel have enough chemistry to create a bond between two opposite characters in terms of life paths in order to go on many more adventures with one another. The supporting cast of Rodriguez and Brewster are fine, though even in more masculine roles, the two feel like nothing more than decorative pieces of eye-candy that help further the plot along when convenient.
But perhaps such was just destined to be the case in The Fast and the Furious, a film where escapist tendencies take over and nothing else matters besides the moment when your car begins to redline or a part becomes misplaced in Dom’s garage of odds and ends. Being that this film largely predicates itself on male bonding and the thrill of racing from both an illegal and adrenaline-charged angle, The Fast and the Furious largely possesses a homey quality that makes it believable and grounded in reality, despite a certain conclusion with a certain train that, I confess, was still entertaining in the realm of cinematic incredulity. This is a fun and effective film in being every gearhead’s fantasy and being a damn fine piece of entertainment.
Starring: Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, and Jordana Brewster. Directed by: Rob Cohen.
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!