Movie Review: Fast & Furious
By Matthew Huntley
April 13, 2009

She really misses The Island. Lousy DUI getting her fired.

At the beginning of Fast & Furious, Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are up to their old tricks - stealing lucrative goods while speeding along in their souped-up cars. This time, they're on a mountainous road in the Dominican Republic and the product is fuel. Letty jumps from Dom's Buick Grand National GNX to a gas truck and uses liquid nitrogen to unhinge one of the tanks.

Now, I'm not exactly sure what Dom, Letty or their gang of gear heads plan on doing with the gas once they have it (it's not like they can just turn it in to any gas station), but never mind. Such concerns aren't meant to be concerns at all in a Fast and the Furious movie. What matters are the cars and truck continue to speed down the hill, out of control. And of course, one of the tanks catches fire and starts flipping - literally flipping - in between the mountains. Dom, being the expert driver that he is, times it just right so he's able to sneak under the tank and avoids getting crushed. And yet, afterward, he doesn't seem the least bit amazed by what just happened - that he survived an unbelievable, death-defying stunt. Maybe he's just too used to it.

Maybe we are, too, which is why when the title Fast & Furious finally comes on-screen, we're less motivated to cheer and get pumped this time around. We feel like we've already seen this before. Something has gone missing from this franchise, and even though the four original cast members are back, the freshness and frisson are not. The original actors - Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordanna Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez - are there physically, but mentally they seem to have grown up and moved on. Maybe that's why I liked The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift so much - the new cast and setting brought something youthful and different to the mix.

Don't get me wrong. I did have a good time watching this movie, but unlike the original, which still holds up as a fun, guilty pleasure, I have no reason to ever watch it again.

To bring you up to speed, Dom and Letty are still living as fugitives in the Dominican Republic, but the feds are onto them, and to protect Letty, Dom decides to leave her. Years later, he gets a call from his sister, Mia (Brewster), who informs him of some news that brings him back to LA, the same city where Brian O'Conner (Walker), now in the F.B.I., continues to look for him.

Brian enters the movie running after a lead that would help bring down a notorious drug trafficker. As it turns out, Dom is after the same man, although for a reason I won't reveal. Both Brian and Dom compete to become the reclusive drug lord's next driver, and in a high-energy and well-choreographed race sequence, the two push and maneuver their way through the streets of downtown LA, once again not concerning themselves with anyone or anything they might destroy in the process. (It's funny how the movie updated itself from the original by having Brian and Dom both use GPS systems to navigate the streets. What happened to their instincts?)

There's no need to go any further with the plot, because the Fast and the Furious movies have never been about their plots. They're all about the things on the surface - the shiny, robust cars; the hot women; the hip hop music; the action and adventure. The dialogue is worse than ever, which is to be expected, but what I found most discouraging was how little the movie was about the things I just mentioned. The screenplay pours on the drama surprisingly thick this time and sort of leaves the shiny, pretty things in the background. No offense to director Justin Lin (The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift), but he's not a dramatic director, and when you try to make a drama when the acting, writing and directing aren't up to a certain standard, it's hard to care about what happens. I would have rather been entertained by the glossy stuff.

Still, there's enough pumped up action and high octane chase scenes that sustained my attention, and I did get a kick out of seeing Vin Diesel playing his iconic role, which he does well. But a movie like this is made for its superficial qualities, and it while delivers moderately on those qualities, it's not up to the level I was hoping.

To be fair, I have a lot of nostalgic affection for this series (I saw the original on opening night with my best friend from high school, the summer after our freshman year of college), so it's likely I think this movie is better than it really is because of my fond memories attached to it. But I'm at the point where I don't want them to make another installment, because if they do, I might not be as forgiving of its flaws.