Countdown to FURIOUS SEVEN: The FAST & FURIOUS saga

THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS (2001, Rob Cohen) 73
[ review ]

2 FAST 2 FURIOUS (2003, John Singleton) 52
[ review ]

THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT (2006, Justin Lin) 44
[ “The Fast and the Furious” was a starmaking vehicle (pun intended) for Vin Diesel… Then came “2 Fast 2 Furious”, sans Vin Diesel, but still with Paul Walker… And now in “Tokyo Drift”, both original stars are gone. Enter Eminem look-alike Lucas Black as Sean Boswell, who in the opening sequence, races a high school jock. The prize? The jock’s girlfriend (and her pink slip?). This first car chase is sharply shot, tightly cut and totally over the top… And it leads to Sean being sent to live in Japan with his father (Brian Goodman). There, he soon hooks up with fellow expat Twinkie (Bow Wow) and discovers that Tokyo also has its underworld of modified cars, illegal racing and bimbos. Which is a good thing, because the pseudo-dramatic scenes with buddy Sung Kang, with the villainous Brian Tee or with romantic interest Nathalie Kelley are badly written and Black’s angry-young-man performance gets tiresome. Thank God director Justin Lin, who took over the series starting with this episode, gets to orchestrate a few cool action scenes, including a drifting training montage. You know how I love training montages! I also dug the bits with Sonny Chiba and the general fact that the film is set in Tokyo is pretty awesome, but this is still probably the worst “Fast and Furious” flick. We need Vin Diesel, man! And no, that surprise cameo doesn’t count. ]

FAST & FURIOUS (2009, Justin Lin) 57
[ After sitting out the last two flicks (I told you, that cameo doesn’t count!), Vin Diesel makes a glorious return in this fourth episode, which opens in the Dominican Republic, where Dom is about to hijack with the help of Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Han (Sung Kang, who’s back even though he died in “Tokyo Drift”, making this a prequel) and new gang members Leo and Rico (Puerto Rican pop stars Tego Calderón and Don Omar). After the heist, Dom tells his crew that he senses that the cops are closing and that they should all go their own way, including his beloved Letty. Then there’s a weird ellipsis and (SPOILER) we learn that she’s been murdered, apparently after going undercover to bust mysterious Mexican drug lord Arturo Braga . This forces Dom to go back on American soil to avenge his girlfriend’s death and it also makes him cross paths again with FBI agent Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), who’s also after Braga. Like in all these movies, the plot is a bit of a mess, but it’s great to watch Vin Diesel being a badass, beating up everyone who gets in his way. Alas, the car chases are good but not great. Among other things, most of them are shot too dark, at night or in tunnels. There’s also a sense that the film as a whole is tonally too dark, not fun enough, you know? Clearly, after an awesome original movie, the “Fast & Furious” franchise kinda stalled over the next three ones… ]

FAST FIVE (2011, Justin Lin) 80
[ review ]

FURIOUS 6 (2013, Justin Lin) 76
[ You’ve got a dozen heroes, nearly as many villains (their “evil twins”), a MacGuffin, a bunch of international locations… So yeah, the plot’s a mess, but these movies have never really been about plot – they’re all about the characters, the bonding, the endless talk about them forming a family and whatnot. That, and the kick-ass action, of course! The Rock, who took the series to another level in “Fast Five”, is back as supercop Hobbs, who goes back to Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew (Paul Walker, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Sung Kang, Gal Gadot) and convinces them to help him stop the evil Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) and his henchmen, mainly because this will allow them to reconnect with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), who’s somehow not dead… Again, this is a narrative mess, but moment to moment, it generally works thanks to the great cast. And then there’s all the fights (including some girl-on-girl ones between Rodriguez and the great Gina Carano!), the shoot-outs and especially the car chases, which are all kinds of insane! Justin Lin directs the hell out of all of this and manages to keep a grin on our faces throughout. Needless to say, I can’t wait for “Furious 7”! ]