Note: I have since reviewed the 2-Disc Special Edition DVD of Fast & Furious (2009). This review reflects my initial experience, and the "feature" part of my DVD review is a revision based on a second viewing.
I stare at a blank screen in front of me and wonder: is there another five paragraphs worth of words in me about the Fast and the Furious franchise? Yeah, there probably is. Whether or not there's another hour-and-a-half to an hour of material left in the series is a different question. There are moments of Fast & Furious that I really enjoyed, especially from returning star Vin Diesel, who I've always liked seeing on the big screen. The other half of the movie, however, involving Paul Walker and Jordana Brewster, thuds on the theater floor like an engine block dropping onto a thug's head.
Following the murder of an old friend, fresh off of knocking over gasoline tankers in the Dominican Republic with his girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) returns to the United States to enact some vengeance on the people responsible. Upon his arrival he finds himself again in the company of now-FBI Agent Brian O'Connor (Paul Walker), who's hot on the trail of the same drug-runner, and they end up wary teammates as each of them rushes to deliver their own brand of justice on the bad guys and get out without going home in handcuffs.
Director Justin Lin was responsible for the series' last entry, Tokyo Drift, a movie I was initially unimpressed by but came to like in the course of reviewing the new DVDs Universal released to promote Fast & Furious. Unfortunately, that film's appeal was in the setting: windy Mexican desert and downtown LA just aren't as interesting as the bustling metropolis of Tokyo. Lin's direction here seems strangely stunted, and I wonder if Universal placed a cap on the movie's runtime. Each dialogue-driven scene moves along just a little too quickly, as if another ten or fifteen minutes of the film hit the cutting room floor in order to make room for a few more spectacular car chases.
Yet the chases aren't that spectacular either. No, the appeal of the movie hinges entirely on whether or not you've been waiting for Diesel and Walker to return to the franchise that made them famous, and Diesel delivers, giving a few scenes (like the one where he describes his dream girl) an extra bit of low-key charisma that put a smile on my face. He's got the action-star thing down pat, always going for a quiet anger instead of big, over-the-top machismo. Walker, on the other hand, is a disappointment. His performance does make him seem more mature than his normal attitude (he's almost completely free of the Keanu-surfer vibe), but he's inescapably tuned out. I wouldn't say he's phoning it in -- I'm sure he showed up willing to make a good popcorn movie -- but his heart just isn't in it, and the movie sags. Return performances by Jordana Brewster and Michelle Rodriguez also feel like they're missing something extra. The relationship between Brian and Mia fizzles, and Rodriguez doesn't get enough screen time. Rodriguez seems looser and more relaxed here than I've ever seen her, and it's incredibly appealing but sorely underutilized.
You get what you pay for, and Fast & Furious advertises everything it contains: fast cars, thin plot, and the reteaming of the franchise's two biggest draws. It's far from perfect, but I imagine fans of the series will be pleased enough. The film's massive opening weekend box office looks as if they'll probably try to lure some of the crew back for another go-round, and if they do, it'd be nice if it focused on Diesel and Diesel alone. I don't know if the two hours spent watching it would be worth it, but I think I could crank out another five paragraphs about it.
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