On the plus side, at least some of the action scenes in this film are put together in a coherent manner (an increasingly rare phenomenon). Also, Paul Walker no longer looks like he’s waiting for the director to tell him what to do next (that stint in Wayne Kramer’s Running Scared back in 2006 did him a world of good). What else can be said of Fast & Furious? Well, it’s not nearly as funny as Vin Diesel’s last picture, Babylon A.D., but whether that’s in this movie’s favor is as personal a call as deciding whether Mr. Diesel’s second chin is really getting that obvious, or if director Justin Lin just shoots him in profile way too often.
In addition, it can be noted that Fast & Furious has pulled down an astonishing $72.5 million already—nearly $30 million more than expected. (Losing those “thes” in the film’s title and putting in that ampersand paid dividends. Quick! Remake The Agony and the Ecstasy as Agony & Ecstasy!) Theater parking lots dotted with souped-up vintage Mustangs and Chargers perhaps explain the ticket sales. But as a Brit sports-car enthusiast, my pulse may quicken at the sight of a 1954 MG TF or an E-type Jaguar, but I’m unmoved by a jacked-up Camaro. It is a character flaw I worry about on a daily basis—or maybe not. Regardless, Fast & Furious obviously has its audience; I just don’t happen to be part of it.
As a mindless—verging on incomprehensible—action flick, Fast & Furious scales the heights of adequacy. That’s to say that people drive fast, perform improbable stunts, things blow up, and the leads glare at each other a lot. Neither the plot nor most of the individual set pieces, however, survive even cursory scrutiny.
Take the film’s admittedly well-done opening sequence. Watching Diesel’s Dominic Toretto (yes, it sounds like a syndrome) and Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty more or less pull off a completely insane scheme, which involves hijacking gasoline tankers on a dangerous mountain road in the Dominican Republic, is pretty thrilling stuff. The stunts are good. The staging is admirable. It generates some solid suspense, and it will undoubtedly afford the adrenalin rush desired by the speed-obsessed. However, don’t ask why they don’t just stop the truck, hold up the driver, detach all the tankers at their leisure and drive off with twice the haul they manage by the more extrovert display of daring. I’m willing to put this under the heading of John Ford’s answer as to why the Indians don’t just shoot the horses in Stagecoach (1939): “Because then you wouldn’t have a movie.” It’s harder to cut that kind of slack for the plot.
Ultimately, the story doesn’t make a lot of sense. Dominic ditches Letty because the law is closing in and he thinks she’ll be safer without him. Of course, this means she is killed shortly thereafter for no very good reason except that the movie needs a device to get Dominic back to the U.S. where he’s a wanted man. (And possibly Michelle Rodriguez has a good agent.) What follows is a lot of uneasy squaring off with FBI agent Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), who let Dominic get away at the end of the first film. This is combined with an equally uneasy reconciliation between Brian and Dominic’s sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster, who probably viewed returning to the series as a step up from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006)). All of this is wrapped around a plot to bring down a drug lord and revenge Letty’s death. There’s a not-very-mysterious mystery as to the identity of the drug lord, lots of duplicity and even a mountain with a secret tunnel right out of a cheesy Republic serial.
All this might be agreeably stupid at 80 to 90 minutes, but at nearly two hours the cardboard characters, the fast driving and the silly plot twists wear out their welcome long before the film sets up its inevitable sequel and the credits roll. Doubtless, there will be some who disagree with this assessment. That, as they say, is what makes street racing. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sexual content, language and drug references.