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Fast & Furious (2-Disc Special Edition)

Universal // PG-13 // July 28, 2009
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Casey Burchby | posted July 20, 2009 | E-mail the Author

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 of it.


The Package
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 Video
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.

The Sound
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.

The Extras
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 Diesel (3:50)
Shooting the Big Rig Heist (9:46)
Races and Chases (11:01)
High Octane Action: The Stunts (11:21)
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.

Final Thoughts

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.

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