Director Rob Cohen has always ended up on my list of favorite directors. I wouldn't call really any of his movies outstanding, but he simply knows how to make strong popcorn movies - to make something out of material that might otherwise be mediocre on the page. Ok, so he wasn't able to make anything out of his last picture ("The Skulls"), but in all honesty, nobody could have done anything with that. His two before ("Daylight" and "Dragonheart") both ended up being fun, entertaining adventures. "Daylight" even provided Stallone with one of his better recent characters.
"Fast and the Furious" is another example of Cohen's talent of taking slight material and making something more out of it - another good "B" movie. Unfortunately, Cohen is reunited with "Skulls" star Paul Walker here, who looks like a Backstreet Boy reject and talks like Keanu Reeves in the "Bill and Ted" era, but the rest of the movie thankfully makes up for this inclusion. Walker plays Brian, who visits a run-down dinner every day to visit with Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster). Usually only her car mechanic brother Dominic (Vin Diesel) and his crew Vince (Matt Schulze), Leon (Johnny Strong), Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and the dyslexic Jesse (Chad Lindberg) eat there. Dominic is also buying car parts under the counter from Brian's boss to outfit his cars with, including NOS (in other words, Nitro - a dangerous and potentially explosive element used to give the car an added boost of speed at the right time.).
Brian doesn't simply have an interest in fast cars, though. He's more interested in finding the car group that's been responsible for hijacking trucks (they steal Panasonic DVD players). Brian thinks that it's either Dominic's group or a rival gang. Which is the real culprit is up in the air till towards the end of the picture.
"Fast and the Furious" delivers exactly what I would expect from a "Summer" popcorn movie. There's plenty of action, especially during both the opening and closing sequences - when there isn't action, there's certainly intensity and tension, especially provided by Diesel, who brings the same threatening presence that he brought to "Pitch Black". Brewster is also enjoyable as Dominic's sister, but the little romance that she has with Walker's character is obviously edited down to the bare essentials due to the PG-13 rating - there's so little to this element that it really could have been taken out of the picture. Michelle Rodriguez, who was so fantastic in "Girlfight", isn't really used much here, but she does get to knock out a bad guy with one punch, which caused the audience to errupt in cheers.
Technically, Cohen has also delivered a terrific experience. Supervising sound editor Jay Nierenberg and crew were given the direction to really provide the audio experience of what it would be like to be in these cars going 150 mph plus. This generally seemed to be accomplished, but I think this would be even more effective in a near-field environment - in other words, in a home theater watching the film on DVD. The sound also uses the film's soundtrack to maximum effect, as the rap and metal provides some seat-shaking bass and generally helps to keep the film's energy going.
The film does make some rather dumb choices. Ok, just the Walker character makes some stupid/unbelievable choices that I don't think someone working undercover would ever do. But the movie flys over the cracks in plot so quickly that we're onwards to the next race or event before we're even allowed to ponder the questionable actions of the characters. It's certainly nothing outstanding, but it's at least basically entertaining, and that's more than a lot of "Summer" movies have provided this season. And, after the movie, as Bill Murray said in "Groundhog Day", "don't drive angry."