Director: Rob Cohen
Aaah, Vin Diesel. You might not know him yet, but believe me, you will. He made good of bit parts in “Saving Private Ryan” and “Boiler Room”, gave “The Iron Giant” his deep, low voice, and in my “Pitch Black” review, I suggested he could become the next Schwarzenegger. Scratch that; he already is. If you’re one of my regular readers, you know that I love the big guy, but even I must admit that in his late fifties, he might not be quite the action star that he is for much longer. Heck, some would say that he hasn’t been for years. Well, worry not thrill seekers, Vin Diesel is here to help. He kicked some serious alien ass in last year’s “Pitch Black”, but I think “The Fast and the Furious” is the film that is gonna take him up there. Thank director Rob Cohen for that, who shoots him like a tanned, bald-headed, muscular god.
Diesel plays Dominic Toretto, café owner by day, champion of the illegal drag racing in the streets of Los Angeles at night. He’s the kind of guy who inspires respect and admiration to all, whether behind the wheel of one of his modified bolides or just walking around and throwing attitude. He’s got his own private posse of car maniacs who always follow him around. He’s, as his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) puts it, “like gravity”. Yet when blond haired mechanic Brian Spindler (Paul Walker) starts coming in everyday at Toretto’s for tuna sandwiches (no crusts), it’s not for Dom’s pretty eyes, it’s for Mia’s. That doesn’t please her brother much, but when Brian gets him out of a jam with the cops after a race, he becomes one of the guys.
I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that it turns out that Brian has a hidden agenda. He’s actually an undercover cop investigating a string of truck hijackings by masked drivers who expertly surround 18-wheelers with their Honda Civics (!), shoot a bat-rope into the cab then climb into the rolling truck, get rid of the trucker and get away millions of dollars worth of DVD players, cameras and VCRs. The FBI and the LAPD blue boys figure it must be the work of one of the local opposing street racing gangs, be it the Blacks, the Latinos, the Asians… Or could it be Toretto’s gang? Spindler is determined to find out, but his attraction for Mia and his friendship for the man he’s trying to bust don’t make things easier…
Okay, screenwriters Gary Scott Thompson, Erik Bergquist and David Ayer (do you really need three heads to rip off “Point Break”?) must have been sitting in the back when the originality fairy flew by, but if their script is little more than succession of B-movie stereotypes and macho bullshit, it’s damn good at it! Most of the characters can all be summed up in a few words: Michelle Rodriguez is the car loving tomboy, Matt Schulze is the angry young man, Chad Lindbergh is the tech geek, Rick Yune is an evil rival… The leads have slightly meatier parts, enough for Diesel to show that he has acting chops and for Walker to show he doesn’t. In any case, it doesn’t matter. The drama works on its own modest, derivative, by-the-numbers terms, but when all is said is done, “The Fast and the Furious” is mostly car porn. I’m not a car junkie to any degree, but even I couldn’t help but be dazzled by the gorgeous machinery and the high speed driving.
The movie is a technical marvel. Rob Cohen and his crew took a relatively small budget (38 M$) and managed to craft the most badass flick of the summer. Unlike hacks like Simon West and his horrible “Tomb Raider”, Cohen knows how to tune up action scenes that’ll make your pulse race. I was hanging on to my seat through the whole last act; the last, botched hi-jacking is a little masterpiece of tension and insane stunt work. Great cinematography and editing all around, as well as a very, very effective soundtrack by BT. The hotshot record producer blends together original beats and various hip hop, techno and rapcore tracks to create a nearly wall-to-wall music tapestry which, combined with extra loud sound effects, makes you feel the speed on screen. You can almost smell the exhaust and the burnt rubber!
“The Fast and the Furious” won’t change the way you look at life nor move you with its artistic brilliance, but as a plain roller coaster summer movie, it rocks and it rolls.