The Fast and The Furious Series
The Fast and The Furious (June 5/01)
One pretty much gets what one would expect out of The Fast and The Furious - lots of car chases, lots of rap music, and lots of explosions - but it's all basically eye (and ear) candy. Paul Walker stars as an undercover FBI agent sent to infiltrate the world of illegal racing, where he soon encounters (and eventually relies on the help of) the leader of a local street gang (Vin Diesel's Dominic Toretto). The Fast and The Furious is not completely without interest, as it boasts genuinely exciting race sequences and an expectedly compelling performance from Diesel. Paul Walker is Paul Walker; if you saw him in The Skulls, you know what to expect (but then again, Keanu Reeves emerged from Point Break a bona fide action hero, so you never know). The acting's fine, but that's not really what's wrong with The Fast and The Furious. About 20 minutes into the movie, there's a thoroughly exciting race that's followed by almost a solid hour of exposition. And exposition in a movie like this is a definite no-no. Director Rob Cohen does a decent job of infusing the sparse car chases with a palpable sense of energy, though one can't help but lament his decision to edit such sequences as though he were Antoine Fuqua on crack. And double jeers to the obnoxious soundtrack, which features everything from Ja Rule (who's actually pretty good in his small role) to Limp Bizkit. The Fast and The Furious is ultimately entertaining enough to warrant a mild recommendation, particularly among viewers with a fetish for these kind of things (ie if you liked Driven, you'll surely enjoy this).
2 Fast 2 Furious
Though sporadically elevated by John Singleton's stylish directorial choices, 2 Fast 2 Furious ultimately doesn't fare as well as its mediocre predecessor - with the surprisingly tedious car chases certainly playing a key role in the film's undeniable failure. The storyline - which follows Paul Walker's Brian O'Conner as he and an old buddy (Tyrese Gibson's Roman Pearce) attempt to infiltrate the crew of a notorious drug dealer (Cole Hauser's Carter Verone) - has been peppered with a number of broadly-conceived action set pieces, but there's simply nothing holding such moments together. That Walker and Gibson are trapped within the confines of flat, entirely uninteresting characters only exacerbates such problems, as it becomes increasingly difficult to muster any interest in their ongoing exploits. Hauser's gleefully sinister turn as the central villain is the one bright spot in an otherwise forgettable effort, with the sequence in which he tortures a hapless minion with a bucket and a rat undoubtedly the highlight of the film.
The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift
It ultimately goes without saying that The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift is unable to live up to the promise of its surprisingly engaging opening half hour, as director Justin Lin - working from Chris Morgan's screenplay - inevitably bogs the proceedings down with elements that couldn't possibly be less interesting (including a hopelessly uninvolving love triangle and several thoroughly dull training sequences). The storyline follows rebellious American teenager Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) as he's shipped off to Tokyo following a high-profile arrest, although it's not long before Sean finds himself embroiled in the bustling city's underground street racing scene. There's little doubt that Lin does a nice job of initially offsetting the familiarity of the plot by playing up the title locale's inherently exotic nature, and it's awfully difficult not to get a kick out of the filmmaker's penchant for incorporating recognizable Tokyo landmarks into the narrative (ie Sean and a racing opponent "drift" through the city's famed Shibuya crossing). It's only as the film enters its increasingly stagnant midsection that the viewer's interest is seriously tested, as Morgan plum runs out of interesting things for the various characters to do and - in a blatant effort at killing time before the final showdown - subjects them to a series of aggressively tedious episodes and confrontations. The oppressive build-up ultimately does dampen the effectiveness of the climactic race, although - bottom line - the movie's striking setting and compelling lead performance ensure that it remains a slight cut above its immediate predecessor.
Fast & Furious
Set after 2 Fast 2 Furious (but before Tokyo Drift), Fast & Furious follows Vin Diesel's Dominic Toretto and Paul Walker's Brian O'Conner as they reluctantly team up to take on a shared enemy (John Ortiz's Campos). There's little doubt that the novelty of seeing the original film's central cast - in addition to Diesel and Walker, Jordana Brewster and Michelle Rodriguez pop up in supporting roles - back in action initially sustains the viewer's interest, with the over-the-top yet effective set piece that opens the film undoubtedly setting an appropriately energetic tone. It's just as clear, however, that the almost egregiously familiar atmosphere ultimately becomes far more problematic than one might've anticipated, as the increasingly flimsy storyline ensures that the movie's quieter moments pale in comparison to their high-octane counterparts - which undoubtedly plays a substantial role in Fast & Furious' slow-but-steady transformation from an agreeable popcorn flick to a downright irrelevant exercise in tedium. There subsequently reaches a point at which even the film's unapologetically overblown action sequences prove unable to compensate for the progressively uneven vibe, with Fast & Furious' few positive attributes - including an expectedly charismatic turn from star Diesel - ultimately rendered moot by Chris Morgan's pervasively dumbed-down screenplay.
A slight cut above its immediate predecessor, Fast Five follows Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) as they assemble an all-star crew of criminals and set out to steal millions of dollars from a ruthless drug lord (Joaquim de Almeida's Hernan Reyes) - with the gang's efforts consistently thwarted by a tenacious federal agent named Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson). There's little doubt that Fast Five, for the most part, comes off as an entertaining yet hopelessly bloated actioner, with the movie's 130 minute running time (!) often threatening to render its positive attributes moot. It's consequently not surprising to note that the film is rife with scenes and subplots of an overlong and downright needless variety, as director Justin Lin, working from Chris Morgan's screenplay, devotes far too much screen time to the crew's preparations for the final heist - which effectively ensures that the movie possesses as flabby and uneven a midsection as one could possibly have imagined (ie it often feels as though Lin and company are merely spinning their wheels in the buildup to the climax). It's just as clear that Fast Five benefits substantially from the inclusion of several undeniably entertaining sequences and performances, with the former represented most keenly in a thrilling foot chase through the streets of Rio de Janeiro. (In terms of the acting, Diesel, Walker, and rest of the protagonists are fine - yet it's Johnson's magnetic, almost absurdly macho turn as uber-agent Luke Hobbs that stands as the most effortlessly engaging element within the proceedings.) The end result is a frustratingly protracted piece of work that should have been so much better, with Lin's pervasively excessive sensibilities diminishing the film's overall impact. (It's worth noting that even the climactic action sequence, which is admittedly quite exciting in its early stages, manages to overstay its welcome.)
The latest entry in a seemingly unstoppable franchise, Furious 6 follows Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker), and the rest of the crew as they reluctantly agree to go after a notorious criminal mastermind named Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) - with the gang spurred into action by the revelation that Michelle Rodriguez's Letty is still alive and working for Shaw. There's little doubt that Furious 6 fares noticeably worse than its surprisingly entertaining (yet far-from-flawless) predecessor, as the movie remains unable to capture and hold the viewer's interest for the duration of its unreasonably overlong running time - with the been-there-done-that atmosphere compounded by an emphasis on hopelessly underwhelming attributes. Ranking high on the film's list of less-than-competent elements are the visual choices of director Justin Lin, as the filmmaker manages to drain the energy out of almost all the movie's action sequences - with, in particular, the mishandling of the various hand-to-hand fight scenes especially disappointing given the presence of Gina Carano in the cast (ie it's impossible to tell if the former MMA fighter is even doing her own stunts). The film's arm's-length feel is perpetuated by a midsection that's been suffused with pointless, time-wasting asides and subplots, and there is, as a result, never a point at which one is able to work up any interest in or enthusiasm for the various characters' continuing exploits. And while the viewer's interest is sporadically buoyed by appreciatively over-the-top set pieces (eg Toretto saves another by literally flying through the air), Furious 6 is, by and large, further proof that the action genre's best days are far, far behind it.