2001. It's hard to measure how much the industry's changed since then. Not every movie was a franchise-starter, a remake or a sequel, CGI had yet to consume the summer blockbuster, and every little detail wasn't hacked apart on the internet several months before release. I didn't see The Fast and the Furious when it was released, but if I had, I doubt I'd have guessed that it would go on to spawn three sequels, because it's pretty inconsequential. Still, regardless of what nerve it struck with audiences back then to make it an international blockbuster, the movie essentially holds up: whatever you thought of the movie, it seems no better or worse now than it did eight years ago.
Paul Walker plays Brian O'Connor, a rookie undercover cop hoping to crack a ring of thieves who have been striking semi trucks in and around sunny Los Angeles. His mark: Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), an ex-convict rising to the top of the underground street-racing circuit. Unfortunately, Brian finds himself intrigued by Dominic's skills and sense of family, and even more interested in Dominic's sister Mia (Jordana Brewster). With his superiors on his back (including Ted Levine) and Dominic's best friend (Matt Schulze) getting suspicious, Brian's forced to choose between the law and his loyalty to Dom before his increasingly personal ties to the case blow everything.
On one hand, The Fast and the Furious isn't a very good movie, but on the other hand, it never tries to be something it isn't. Show me someone who goes to a summer action tentpole about street racing, directed by Rob Cohen and starring Walker and Diesel and says afterward they got a movie they weren't expecting, and I'll show you a liar. The film also represents one of the better efforts in the three guys' respective catalogs, and I can't say I can think of a better car-based action film that's been made since, and while neither is a huge compliment, I guess that counts for something.
The worst thing in The Fast and the Furious is easily the terrible, terrible dialogue. Paul Walker has had his moments (namely Wayne Kramer's hyper-kinetic Running Scared), but the movie marks his first major movie role, and if anything's affected the world's opinion of him, it's his performance right here. He's occasionally at his worst: any attempt to use slang, talk cool, or land a snappy comeback is remarkably wooden; it becomes almost ironic that he's playing an undercover agent as he stumbles through each sentence. Conversely, I've always liked Vin Diesel, so my opinion may be biased, but he's actually pretty great, especially during the movie's memorable "quarter mile at a time" speech Toretto has about his father. The scene comes out of nowhere, but Diesel nails it nonetheless. His performance provides the movie with an all-important bit of balance: we see what Brian sees in Dom, and therefore the story works.
The movie also makes respectably good use of its supporting cast. Dominic's crew is filled out by Schulze, Michelle Rodriguez, Chad Lindberg and Johnny Strong, and while I wouldn't argue the fact that their character arcs are riddled with clichés and more poor dialogue (especially Rodriguez's excruciating tough-girl talk and Schulze's whiny-child routine), they all have believable roles to play as Dominic's friends. Similarly, if there's anything The Fast and the Furious might not get enough credit for, it's having a wide-spanning, multi-cultural cast that it even appears to respect. The movie doesn't really do anything with all that diversity, but rest assured that the mixed-race flavor of the street-racing scene hasn't had Hollywood White-Out applied.
Cohen pulls off some eye-popping action scenes, which are arguably the movie's strongest selling point. There are a good deal of both driving and physical stunts that are pretty impressive, and although he bathes the racing footage with computer graphics (apparently going fast isn't enough to put the audience behind the wheel), nine times out of ten you get to watch real stuntmen and women doing their thing. During the film's big truck sequence near the end, the final moment features a roof-grabbing bit of business a current movie wouldn't have even tried, and it makes the scene just that much better. Otherwise, Cohen keeps his head down, his eye on the finish line and the pace up, which is more than I can say for a lot of directors these days.
It's not rocket science: given the basic details, either you want to see The Fast and the Furious or you don't, and there isn't a whole lot of middle ground. It does what it sets out to do without a whole lot of fanfare, and it's still fairly enjoyable, despite my having seen it several times. It's like a sweet, pimped-out import car with a lot of NOS and a Power Wheels engine under the hood: looks good, moves fast, and doesn't have a lot of substance.
This two-disc set arrives in a single-width case with a flap tray. The front cover ditches the lame Photoshopped artwork from the "Tricked Out Edition" and returns to the boring theatrical poster art, right down to the same quote. There's a foil slipcover, and similar art underneath (minus the bright green border), and no insert is included. A $7.50 ticket to see the new film, Fast & Furious, is included in the form of a ticket-shaped sticker attached to the front with an online code on the back. The sticker on my DVD left an ink stain of the code on the front of my slipcover, but it rubbed away pretty easily. The menus are cool, with some pumpin' techno, and are simple to navigate.
My suspicions upon reading the bonus-feature breakdown on the back of the DVD were correct: a computer check reveals that Disc 1 of this 2-disc set is the same as the "Collector's Edition" released in 2001. Thus, the included 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is also 8 years old, and unfortunately, it shows. Occasionally, detail and clarity are pretty high, but the film is awash in a compressed haze most of the time. Any time the camera is far enough away to include three or four bodies, fine detail turns to mush, and I glimpsed a jagged edge here and there. On the whole, it looks alright, and some viewers won't even notice (it probably looked good on tube TVs of 2001), but given that these are meant to be brand-new "Limited Editions", it's a huge strike against them that Universal decided this very old transfer was good enough.
English Dolby Digital 5.1 is included, and it fills the surrounds with lots of activity, but the winner is the English DTS 5.1 track, which really blasts you from all sides with the thunderous revving of car engines, gunshots, crashes and more. As out-of-date as the picture is, these audio mixes are still fantastic. French Dolby Digital 5.1 is also included, as well as English subtitles for the hard of hearing, but Spanish-speaking fans are out of luck.
A feature-length audio commentary by director Rob Cohen kicks things off. When it comes to the artistic merits of The Fast and the Furious, he's pretty pretentious (he even compares it to West Side Story at one point), but the rest of the time, he has plenty of information to share on the plot, characters and directing style, and there aren't too many dead spots. The only other flaw is his insistence on using terms like "dope-ass" throughout.
"The Making of The Fast and the Furious" (18:01) splits its time beteween cars and car culture and the making of the movie. It's pretty superficial, but it's breezy and it isn't just the trailer with interview segments dropped in. The imaginatively-named "Featurette on Editing for the Motion Picture Association of America" (4:36) is a much more interesting and candid look at Cohen and editor Peter Honess trimming to get a PG-13. I can't say I agree that the cuts made the film better, but it's a cool featurette.
Eight deleted scenes (6:22) are all pretty minor edits. Audio commentary with director Cohen is included, which doesn't add a lot (mostly explaining that they were cut for time or pacing). There is also a bit of bonus audio on the deleted scenes menu where Cohen talks about the nature of deleted scenes in general. They're also weirdly framed, shifted up near the top of the screen. A lot of the film footage on the disc is presented like this.
Multiple Camera-Angle Stunt Sequence and Movie Magic Interactive Special Effects let you see various angles of the last two big stunts in the movie. They're interesting, but they probably could have been combined with the narration-free "Visual Effects Montage" (3:44) into a more comprehensive stunt/effect documentary. Storyboard-to-Screen Comparisons (7:45) may be worth a look, although I didn't find them too interesting.
Three music videos ("Furious" by Ja Rule, "POV City Anthem (Radio Edit)" by Caddillac Tah, and "Click Click Boom" by Saliva) and a promo for the soundtrack are included. There is also a menu in the special features with song-based chapter selections. I wonder if anyone has ever used these.
The last two extras on Disc 1 are the movie's theatrical trailer and "Racer X": The Article that Inspired the Movie, which is an interesting read but is spread over 20+ pages. At least you don't have to listen to the repetitive menu music while you read it.
If all of this sounds familiar, it's because, again, Disc 1 is an exact copy of the 2001 "Collector's Edition", including the roster of extra features.
Disc 2 contains the new material, and boy, is it brief. "Dom's Charger" (4:23), which contains mostly new interviews and not surprisingly talks about Dominic Toretto's favorite car and its' appearances in both the original and the new Fast & Furious. "Quarter Mile at a Time" (9:44) is an interesting little featurette on long history of street racing. Since it's only ten minutes, it doesn't go too in-depth, but hearing about drag races in the 30's is a trip. As far as new stuff goes, that's it.
Everything else is old hat. Next up we have a bunch of material produced for the "Tricked Out" edition, which is promotional in nature for 2 Fast 2 Furious, including the Turbo Charged Prelude to 2 Fast 2 Furious (6:14), a lame, dialogue-free montage of Paul Walker racing to Florida, "Sneak Peek at 2 Fast 2 Furious" (5:13), an over-cut, overly-loud promo piece, and "Tricking Out a Hot Import Car" (19:13), a TV special awkwardly hosted by a Playboy bunny, filled with a lot of tricks that a warning screen informs you not to use at home.
"Hot Off the Street" (4:53) turns out to be a reel of additional deleted scenes (although one is indistinguishable from a scene included on Disc 1). The DVD refers to them as "extended", but that just means they're additions to scenes that made it into the movie. They're no more or less interesting than the other batch: fans will watch them once and immediately forget about them. Bafflingly, "More Than Furious" (2:23) is also a deleted scene, yet it gets a menu selection all to itself. Like the other batch, these are framed the same weird way, halfway up the screen.
Lastly, we have the same Paul Walker Public Service Announcement (0:39) that plays before the film on disc 1 (no explanation for why it's included twice), and trailers for the Riddick and Wanted games, and the Back to the Future trilogy re-releases. Disc 2 also contains a digital copy for your iPod, PC, laptop, Mac, or other portable device. Only the bonus features on the newly-produced Disc 2 are subtitled in English, French and Spanish, which is lame.
I like The Fast and the Furious for what it is, but every time Universal puts out a new movie in the series, they've re-released the films on DVD ("Tricked Out" for 2, a Franchise Collection for Tokyo Drift and these new 2-disc sets for all three in honor of Fast & Furious). This newest iteration gets points for including ALL of the existing extras, but the material is still only okay instead of great, and the transfer is just plain obsolete. Even those who don't own the movie yet should skip this warmed-over cash-in until they've got a Blu-Ray player or Universal does the title right (I'm sure Fast and the Furious 5 is right around the corner).
You can also read my reviews of 2 Fast 2 Furious - 2-Disc Limited Edition, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift - 2-Disc Limited Edition and Fast & Furious (2009) - 2-Disc Special Edition here, here and here, respectively.
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