I feel dumber for having endured
Fast & Furious. Following the exciting opening sequence,
I spent 90 minutes actively trying to engage with this film. And
yet nothing - the story, characters, music, action set pieces and
car chases - grabbed my attention. The experience was made especially
depressing when I stopped and considered that this is the fourth big-budget
entry in this stinking turd of a franchise, with a fifth on the way.
Who is watching this empty, heartless garbage? Is this series
someone's idea of what men like to watch? (There is not a doubt
in my mind that the filmmakers' thoughts about women go no further
than the bikini-clad extras they hire.) I love action movies,
but F&F doesn't deserve to be included alongside even mediocre
entertainment such as Commando, let alone a Die Hard or
Ronin. NASCAR seems weightier than this.
Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) is
a super-criminal who disbands his gang when he learns that police are
closing in on his location in the Dominican Republic. Leaving
his comrades and girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) behind, he goes
into hiding. Letty's immediate murder, however, pulls him out
of the shadows and back to Los Angeles, where FBI Agent Brian O'Conner
(Paul Walker) seeks drug lord Arturo Braga (John Ortiz) - who, incidentally,
is responsible for Letty's death. Former rivals Toretto and
O'Conner team up to pursue Braga - to smoke him out of his hole
and bring him to justice!
The plot is simultaneously
paper-thin and maddeningly incomprehensible in its mechanics.
Things happen suddenly and for no obvious reason, and locations are
confusing (how and when did they get to Mexico?). I think this
is partly attributable to the fact that dialogue is both limited and
lost amid the very busy soundtrack. Missing a line or two means
missing out on scant expository information. It's no help that
Vin Diesel's Ferrigno-esque tones test the limits of comprehension
under the best of circumstances.
We don't go to action films
for great acting, but competence always helps. The performances
here are resolutely wooden. Think mahogany or oak, not for their
richness or endurance, but for their impenetrability. Fortunately,
we don't have to deal too much with the unpleasant Michelle Rodriguez;
her character's early death obviates the necessity of staring at her
distractingly unnatural veneers for two hours. Still, Rodriguez
is far from the most offensive performer in the film.
That honor goes to the dead-faced
Paul Walker, who has reduced acting to a single facial muscle: every
once in a while, a crease appears on the inside of his left eyebrow.
That's it. Otherwise, there's no performance at all - just
the robotic reading of lines in the most idiotic California accent imaginable.
The idea of this eminent d-bag as an FBI agent is either laughable or
ominous; either way, the character is invested with zero credibility.
Director Justin Lin has visual
flair - an eye for LA light, Pyrex coffee cups in a diner, and the
atmosphere of a rave. He also knows how to direct an action scene,
ratcheting up the tension with an absurd Spielbergian layering of reasons
to fear for the safety of our heroes. Some of the more ridiculously
impossible stunts here are forgiven for the skill and sense of fun with
which they are shot and edited. But Lin is not to be forgiven
for the script he is working with; his auspicious debut film Better
Off Tomorrow left precisely no one predicting he'd later direct
Vin Diesel vehicles. Above all other contributing factors, the
film's dead weight comes from its lifeless, sterile, and unreasonably
amoral lead characters. We know virtually nothing about what's
happening inside their heads. A combination of poor writing and
thoughtless acting are to blame, both of which a competent director
can help remedy. I expect better from Lin, and know he's capable
Two discs are housed in a single-width standard keepcase, with a
card slipcover. A small paper insert contains instructions for
downloading the digital copy on the second disc.
The anamorphic transfer is in the movie's original 2.40:1 aspect
ratio. The transfer is relatively strong, yet suffers from a weakness
in the blacks. Shadows and night scenes are never as dark as they
should be, jam-packed with fine noise, making it feel as though you
are viewing them through a fine layer of gauze.
Three Dolby Digital 5.1 audio
tracks are available: in English, French, and Spanish. The English
mix is aggressive, with strong surround effects, particularly during
the opening hijacking sequence and when music is present. However,
because the mix favors music and the sound of car engines, dialogue
is often lost, as I mentioned earlier. Subtitles are available
in English, French, and Spanish.
A decent set of extras is available here. On the first disc,
there is a full-length commentary track with director Justin Lin
and a gag reel (5:00).
On disc two, we begin with
an interesting feature - a short film written and directed by Vin
Diesel called Los Bandoleros (20:23). This film, shot in
widescreen, tracks Dom and Letty's movements in the Dominican Republic
leading up to the opening of Fast & Furious. It kind
of fills in certain narrative gaps, and is an interesting idea, but
not essential viewing.
This is followed by no less
than eight featurettes that cover the making of the movie:
Under the Hood: Muscle Cars (6:55)
Under the Hood: Imports (4:58)
Getting the Gang Back Together (9:49)
Driving School with Vin
Shooting the Big Rig
Races and Chases (11:01)
High Octane Action: The
South of the Border: Filming
in Mexico (3:55)
In all, there's over an hour
of material here, and it amounts to a pretty thorough overview of the
film's production. The best piece is Shooting the Big Rig
Heist, if only because it details the challenges of setting up the
movie's best sequence.
Also included is a music
video for the song "Blanco" by Pitbull featuring Pharrell, and
trailers for all four films in the series.
Fast & Furious is
filmmaking without a heart or a head, just a carcass of a movie with
no ideas - only the smell of money. The commercial success of
these films ensures that our theaters will continue to fill up with
crap indistinguishable from bad video games and music videos.
A decent technical presentation and a sheaf of extras will attract fans
of the series - otherwise, skip it.
Casey Burchby lives in Northern California: Twitter, Tumblr.