REVIEW: Fast & Furious
Check your disbelief at the door. Done? Good. Now enjoy the ride.
Vin Diesel and Paul Walker (as well as co-stars Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster) are back for the fourth installment of the franchise birthed by 2001’s The Fast and the Furious. It’s gone through some title-tweaking since then to settle on the article-free Fast & Furious, and returns a previous director for the first time. Justin Lin, who helmed the third film in the franchise, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, is back at the reins. Whereas Tokyo Drift was a film that tried to stay true to the spirit of the first two films with less budget but more grace, Fast & Furious ups the ante by bringing back the excitement and explosions with shameless aplomb.
And why shouldn’t they? This was a franchise built on high-octane thrills and intense action sequences, and F&F delivers exactly what its audience expects. Diesel and Walker bring a familiarity back to the franchise. They may not have turned in the best performances, but they’ve brought back what made their participation in the franchise so successful to begin with–acceptably interesting characters who get by more on presence than performance. And they stay out of the way of the true star of the film–spectacle. It’s a popcorn flick that is form-fitted for fans of the series to settle back into, and then be blown away once again. This isn’t a classic or even something like Michael Bay’s Transformers, but it’s one hell of a good time that will entertain you as long as you let it.
So don’t question the logic of the film. Some films are logical to a T and tell a believable and dramatic story. Some films may be illogical, but have a sustained internal logic that help even outlandish plot developments make sense, at least within the context of the movie. This isn’t either one of those films. There are plot directions and character decisions that either ooze cliché or spur befuddlement, but at the end of the day, none of it matters. Those elements of the story are strung together just competently enough for you to stay with the movie and be invested enough in the characters to follow them through some truly exhilarating sequences. It’s got the wild stunts and exotic locations that anchored the earlier films, but turns everything up a notch. Of course believability is necessarily sacrificed, but you checked that at the door, right?
The thing I found most interesting about this film was the development of director Justin Lin. He’s proved himself to be a capable director through his indie features, Better Luck Tomorrow and Finishing the Game. However, he hasn’t had much success crossing over into mainstream films. His growth seemed to stall with films like Annapolis, and even Tokyo Drift (though he did do a good enough job to convince the studio to let him helm the fourth). But with Fast & Furious, Lin has proved himself capable of steering a big budget blockbuster, even one rife with huge stunts and sprawling action sequences. The depth of the characters and plot isn’t as crucial in a big event film such as this because as long as they hit a baseline that will satisfy the basic questions of “why are they doing this?” and “why does it matter?”, then the film has done enough. Lin seems to understand this, and has delivered a film that reinforces established characters just enough for us to remember why we care about them, and then join them for the journey. Lin’s handling of the action is what really makes or breaks this film, and he pulls those scenes off with deftness and flair.
It’s appropriate, then, that the weakest points of the film are the moments when it tries to take itself too seriously. While the lives of the characters are indeed at stake in the movie, we don’t need a piercing study of how this affects them. Inner turmoil is great, but don’t oversell it for characters who we don’t expect to be that three-dimensional to begin with. We’d rather see them dropped back in the action. When our wish is indeed granted, the film excels at entertaining us. I can’t speak for viewers who never liked the franchise, but fans of the original will definitely enjoy this one. It won’t change your life, but it’ll definitely get your heart going. And with a title like Fast & Furious, that’s all I really want, anyway.