Schlock Corridor: FAST & FURIOUS (2009)
Remember at the end of Easy Rider when Wyatt says, ‘We blew it?’ He was looking into the future and talking about Fast & Furious.
This is a terrible movie, with few of the pleasures that made the original films such good times. Fast & Furious goes beyond being just terrible and reaches into some kind of uber-serious moroseness that’s chastising you for having a good time. This time around everybody involved wants to let you know how serious they are, how much ice is in their veins, and how these characters are rugged and tough and hurting inside. It’s like Neal Mortiz woke up and decided he wanted to make a Michael Mann version of Fast & Furious, but since he’s Neal Moritz and not a great cinematic talent he ended up with a heaping piece of shit.
I wasn’t so hard on the film during most of the run time even though I was supremely disappointed by the fact that the first half was a tortured series of scenes where Dom is mourning and Brian is feeling guilty about being an undercover cop. I liked the really excellent opening gasoline heist, and I was even willing to ride it out during a very crummy CGI climax to that scene, where a burning tanker goes end over end toward Dom’s car and he has to time a drive under perfectly.
But man, everything after that is an almost excruciatingly attempt to be grim n’ gritty. Brian is now at the FBI (which confuses me, as I thought he was in the LAPD in the first one, and that he stole the FBI’s money in the second one…) but he’s bristling and disliked. He’s trying to infiltrate some drug gang who - surprise! - holds street races to choose their drug mules. His unit is also trying to capture Dom, who has been on the run in South America until Letty dies.
That’s Michelle Rodriguez, of course. She returned to the States and was promptly killed by the drug gang; in one of the film’s only wonderful moments Dom goes to the accident scene and reconstructs the whole thing out of a smudge on the ground. He just reimagines it all happening in front of him, like CSI on steroids. It’s hilarious.
Eventually Dom and Brian come face to face, they both become drug mules and then a whole bunch of stuff that makes little sense happens. This is probably the most ‘complex’ plot of the whole series, but it’s also the most arbitrary, and filled with the most plans and schemes that just make no logical sense (for a good rundown of these, read Matt Singer’s article on the subject). Dom wants to kill the drug lord, Brian wants to take him in but in the end they go rogue and head to Mexico to just get er done.
Where Tokyo Drift made the cars and racing the center of the film, Fast & Furious almost leaves them out totally. The fact that Brian is introduced in a foot chase can be read as a sign of how far his character has fallen, but the fact is that the film only has a handful of other car scenes. And most damningly, a number of them are CGI.
Yes, this isn’t the first time one of these movies has used CGI vehicles, but it is the most egregious. The film’s entire climax - a chase through drug mule tunnels at the Mexico border - is a giant video game sequence, completely weightless and without meaning. Things zip along at the speed of light, without sense or coherence. Justin Lin did really great work with the action in Tokyo Drift, and he even has the same second unit director here - so why did they go for a quick game of Zaxxon at the end? The two practical chase scenes - the gasoline heist and the race through the streets to pick the mule - are pretty good, and showed that neither of these guys had a stroke or something since the last film. But still it’s a PS2 game all of a sudden in those tunnels. And so a film that had already been kind of a drag, without the stupid earnestness of the first or the silly gayness of the second or the Karate Kid feel of the third, simply becomes barely watchable. If I can’t stand Dom and Brian this time, if the villain is barely there, if the plot is yet another driving fast for drug dealers story, you have to at least give me great action. Once that final CGI action sequence forcibly put its pixels on my chin I just said fuck this movie.
I will say this - the movie looks incredible. Cinematographer Amir Mokri really knows his shit, and some of the night time scenes are beautiful. He lights the driver’s faces in truly interesting ways. He’s worked with Michael Bay a couple of times, and the film has that Bay look to it, which I’m told is also the work of colorist Stefan Sonnenfeld. This movie looks like a real, meaty, old fashioned movie, which is nice.
I wonder how much of the film’s irritating downer tone had to do with Vin Diesel wanting to give Dom something to go through. It was a bad choice. Diesel simply isn’t capable of doing the necessary emoting; he rumbles his way through lines and furrows his brow and looks oily in a sadder way. And while Walker was fun with Tyrese in 2 Fast here he’s back in complete beta male form, a beaten puppy trying to earn favor from Dom. It’s actually pathetic.
The most interesting thing about Fast & Furious is that it’s a prequel to Tokyo Drift. Or at least the opening is; Dom’s new gang includes Han, who will teach Lucas Black the mysteries of drifting. He disappears after the opening sequence, when Dom breaks up the gang after the heat gets too hot, and you could assume that Tokyo Drift is actually taking place mostly concurrently with Fast & Furious. Except that Han returns, in a major role, in Fast Five - the film that redeems the series.