in Retrospecticus

Retrospecticus: The Fast and the Furious

It’s the eternal question: how can there really be five The Fast and the Furious movies? I thought that first movie was just a big long ad for NOS (it was). How can a franchise based on car fetishism and bro love become one of the longest-running in recent cinema history? Honestly, I don’t know. But I have seen them all now, so I can at least tell you how I feel about them.

The Fast and the Furious (2001)

The first entry in the franchise had more in common with Point Break than the 1955 from which it stole its title. Its a hyper macho story of Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), an undercover cop who infiltrates the Los Angeles street racing scene in the hopes of finding the crew responsible for a string of high-speed semi hijackings. Brian falls in with Dom (Vin Diesel) and his team, featuring Vince, who distrusts Brian, Dom’s girlfriend, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and Dom’s sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster). Everything seems great for Brian: the racing is fun, Mia seems to be into him and Dom quickly becomes a good friend. But after getting the wrong guys arrested, Brian has to face the reality: it’s Dom and his family that have been ripping off the truckers. It all comes to a head at “race war,” a big event for 10-second racers. Some people get killed, the heist goes bad, in the end Brian chases down Dom. Dom wrecks, but Brian lets him escape. Crazy, I know. Sure, the acting and writing might not be top notch, but the driving sequences are genuinely thrilling and the movie is just slick enough that it gets a pass in my book.

2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)

Vin Diesel and The Fast and The Furious director Rob Cohen decided that making xXx was a good idea, so the second film in the franchise had to follow Brian’s adventures after ruining the lives of Dom and his crew. It turns out Brian’s life hasn’t been so great since he let Dom go, in fact he’s turned to a life of crime, becoming a full-time street racer. His good friend Tej (Ludacris) holds a crazy race, which Brian wins, but results in him getting captured by the Feds. They offer him a deal: forgiveness for his crimes if he can help bring down a drug lord. Brian gets the same deal for his old buddy Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and the two go deep undercover with Monica (Eva Mendes) a customs agent. Brian and Roman are hired to run money for the drug lord and consider taking it all for themselves. However, motivated by a desire to save Monica, the duo come back and save the day, deciding only to skim a little off the top. This movie is by a significant margin the worst in the franchise. It’s like the whole cast is secretly in a bad acting competition, where everyone is trying to give the worst take that actually makes it into the final film. Devon Aoki would probably win that competition, but Tyrese Gibson gives her a run for her money. It does have a certain ridiculous charm to it, at 2 Fast 2 Furious is watchable, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to see it again.

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

After 2 Fast 2 Furious, it was time to clean house. That’s usually the case when Eva Mendes is the best actor at your disposal. So the next title in the franchise abandoned the cast, the setting and even the style of racing. Tokyo Drift opens with Sean (Lucas Black) getting in an accident after racing Brad from Home Improvement. As a punishment, Sean’s sent to live in Tokyo with his father. Yeah, that’s rough. Sean is not so happy about his situation, until he befriends Twinkie (Bow Wow) and gets introduced to Tokyo’s underground racing scene. After an embarrassing loss to DK, the nephew of a yakuza boss (Sonny Chiba), he’s taken under the wing of Han, who teaches Sean in the art of drifting. Long story short, Han ends up dead and Sean defeats DK in an epic final race. As the new king of the Tokyo racing scene, everything seems great for Sean until he meets a new challenger: Han’s old friend, Dom, in a cameo appearance. Tokyo Drift is dumb in all the right ways, and the performances are infinitely more tolerable than in 2 Fast 2 Furious, though still not great. The Japanese setting lends a magical element to the film, as does the preposterous style of racing. While this characterization of Japanese culture is a little frustrating, especially the insistence that “gaijin” is an insult when it’s not really, Tokyo Drift is a lot of stupid fun.

Fast & Furious (2009)

After mucking about with a bunch of people that were not Vin Diesel, the fourth entry in the series had to bring things back to basics. That meant basically giving it the same title as the first movie and getting the important members of the original cast to come back. Fast & Furious opens with an insane hijacking sequence in the Dominican Republic. It turns out Dom and Letty are rolling with a new crew featuring Tego, Rico and Han – oh my God, it’s a prequel to Tokyo Drift! The heat is pretty intense on Dom, so he decides to split the team up. This backfires when he finds out that Letty has died back in L.A. Meanwhile, Brian has worked his way into the F.B.I. and is tracking down another drug dealer, Braga. Dom comes back to the States to avenge Letty and it quickly becomes clear he and Brian are hunting the same person. Dom and Brian join Braga’s crew, where Dom catches the eye of Gisele, Braga’s liaison. Everyone gets pissed off, but eventually Dom and Brian apprehend Braga on their own. Dom decides to turn himself in, which backfires when he is sentenced to 25 years without parole. But, when all seems lost, Dom’s prison bus is surrounded by some vicious-looking racing cars driven by Brian and Mia. Fast & Furious is the least interesting entry in the series, it’s pretty bland. It’s just a really average summer action movie, lacking that special ridiculousness that makes this series so fun.

So, what happens next? How will Brian, Mia and the others get Dom out of that bus? I guess will have to find out together, in Fast Five.

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