Dir: Justin Lin. US. 2009. 107 mins.
A technical team the size of a small army attempts to inject some life into Fast & Furious, the fourth entry in the urban auto franchise, but only succeeds in upping the decibel level of this grating, clamorous mess, to add toa script inane enough to make the comparative functionality of previous entry Tokyo Drift (also directed by Lin) look like high art.
Buoyed by a smart marketing campaign (‘New model, original parts’) which highlights the return of Vin Diesel and other cast members from the original 2001 film, Fast & Furiousshould open big and achieve moderate commercial success through its loyal core male twentysomething demographic. General action audiences may be harder to win over, however. The first two franchise entries each opened to $40 million-plus and grossed over $200 million worldwide. Tokyo Drift was a smaller hit at $158m but saw international takings leap to 60 percent of the overall gross, and a similar commercial fate seems likely for Fast & Furious. Lukewarm word of mouth may hurt the franchise’s future viability.
Taking place between the events of 2 Fast 2 Furious and Tokyo Drift, the movie opens with its one undeniably thrilling sequence, in which entrepreneurial automotive freelancer Dominic Toretto (Diesel) and girlfriend Letty Ortiz (Rodriguez) lead the hijacking of a gasoline tanker in the Dominican Republic. After this, the pair split, with Dominic not wanting to attract the heat he’s feeling from the police to those around him.
Meanwhile, former undercover cop Brian O’Conner (Walker) now works directly for the FBI in Los Angeles. When personal tragedy befalls Dominic, both he and Brian have a reason to take down Arturo Braga (Ortiz), a Mexican drug kingpin ferrying shipments across the border via an underground tunnel. Naturally, this involves lots of turbo-charged racing and other dangerous activities, which in turn worries Dominic’s sister Mia (Brewster), whom Brian used to date.
Director Justin Lin uses an aggressive sound mix to sell the action scenes. But as with Tokyo Drift, he has trouble delineating the spatial relationships so crucial to any understanding and emotional investment in the racing sequences. Of course, Chris Morgan’s screenplay does him no favours, setting two hugely important races underground, in cramped and dimly-lit confines.
But the film’s major failing is its poor plotting. The story hinges on tunnels with secret doors along the US/Mexican border, and a drug runner who hires drivers via high-profile, public street races, and then executes them just to avoid paying. Even within the confines of a series never particularly concerned with subtlety or reality, this doesn’t make sense. Wouldn’t these street-racers eventually notice the increasing numbers of their colleagues who have gone absent’ To make it worse, the dialogue also hammers home even the most obvious story points with cheesy declamations (‘Mexico is out of our jurisdiction!’ says an FBI leader) that strip every single character of guile or intelligence.
Given nothing of value to work with, the cast uniformly falls back on old tricks. With his furrowed brow, thousand-yard stare and gravelly voice, Diesel milks the same aloof-guy charisma that has defined his career. Walker sports a fierce stubble. Brewster frets.
One Race Productions
Neal H. Moritz
Chris Morgan, based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson