Truth be told, up until very recently, not only had I not seen a single The Fast and the Furious movie, I wasn’t really in any great rush to do so either. I’d heard from various sources that the first outing was an over the top piece of guilty fun, but after that they all kind of tailed off. That all changed however when Fast Five came out in 2011 to extremely warm critical reviews.
Bringing some familiar faces from the rest of the series back into the fold and adding the man-mountain that is Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson was a clear statement of intent that this instalment was not doing anything by halves. Here was a movie that took being massively OTT to new heights and gleefully reveled in its ridiculous nature. Reviews suggested Diesel and Johnson came together like a beefed up version of De Niro and Pacino in Heat and the set pieces were by all accounts a glorious sight to behold.
As a man who harbours a major soft spot for action movies that embrace their trashiness, I felt it was high time I gave the whole series a chance prior to Fast Six being released on May 17th 2013. Despite the warnings that the series thus far was a fairly mixed bag, as an ardent completist, I had to take in the full range of The Fast and the Furious offerings.
So without further ado, let’s start at the very beginning……
The Fast and the Furious (2001):
Dir: Rob Cohen
Vin Diesel, hot off the back of Pitch Black and honing his tough-guy persona, stars as Dominic, the enigmatic leader of a gang of illegal street racing enthusiasts. As I type the phrase ‘illegal street racing enthusiasts’ I realise I sound like when a middle-aged relative asks you about ‘the latest rock bands’ or tells you that an item of clothing is ‘snazzy’, but just go with me. Dominic and his crew, Jesse (Chad Linberg) Leon (Johnny Strong), Vince (Matt Schulze) and Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez) are suspected of having a part to play in the recent high-speed heist of some expensive electrical equipment. The LAPD send Officer Brian O’Conner, played by painfully handsome Paul Walker, undercover to infiltrate the gang and suss out their criminal antics. Brian wins over Dominic’s trust through his racing skills, his commitment to helping him dodge cops, and of course his masterful ability at calling people ‘bro’.
The Fast and the Furious works as a solid stand-alone exploitation movie. The racing sequences are suitably high-octane and frenetic, even for people with minimal interest in cars such as myself. Diesel and his crew are all suitably badass and Walker makes a decent fist of portraying the conflict possessing his speed loving cop. Essentially, what the film boils down to is Point Break with colourful cars instead of surf boards. Hopefully that doesn’t ruin the ending for you too much, but let me offer an even bigger hint, if O’Conner had been near the sea, he definitely would have thrown his badge away in disgust. The climax between him and Dominic is full of unspoken machismo and leaves things open nicely for the inevitable sequel.
The movie holds few surprises and is full of the typical action movie clichés and dialogue that ranks amongst the cheesiest in recent memory. Eg:
“I live my life a quarter mile at a time. Nothing else matters: not the mortgage, not the store, not my team and all their bullshit. For those ten seconds or less, I’m free.”
However as brainless enjoyable cheap thrills go, it’s definitely well worth a watch with both the racing and truck-jacking set pieces undeniably impressive.
2 Fast 2 Furious (2003):
Dir: John Singleton
I like to think that with this first sequel they came up with the title first and then just built a film around that. “We’ve got this title, it’s got a pun and everything….we sort of have to make a sequel now”. The main thing we learn from the finished article that is 2 Fast 2 Furious though is that Paul Walker is no Vin Diesel. Whereas Vin’s Dominic exudes a gruff, quietly spoken tough-guy swagger, Walker’s Brian exudes a slightly irritating try-hard quality which I found quite hard to root for.
This time out, O’Conner is on the run from the law after his antics at the end of The Fast and the Furious (oops, spoiler alert). He has taken to earning money the way he knows best, illegal street racing. I still can’t pull that phrase off. He finds himself in Miami Florida and befriends a new batch of petrol heads including Ludacris’ Tej Parker and Devon Aoki’s Suki. One night though, he finally gets caught by the cops and is offered the chance to have his record wiped clean if he helps the FBI (I think…to be honest I lost track of which law enforcement agency it was….all you need to know is, it was ‘the man’.) bring down a known drugs kingpin, Carter Verone, by posing as one of his high-speed drug mules.
Brian grudgingly agrees on the condition that he can select his partner. The Feds reluctantly agree and O’Conner decides to recruit childhood pal and ex-convict Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson). From here it’s all action as the pair first have to prove their abilities to Verone and then undertake a dangerous mission on his behalf. All this and there’s even time for a half-baked love interest involving Eva Mendes’ undercover agent Monica Fuentes.
On pretty much every level, it pales in significance to the original. For a frenetic action movie it really is surprisingly dull and pedestrian. The leads are nowhere near charismatic enough, the racing sequences just seem like sub-par carbon copy remakes and the dialogue somehow manages to be even ropier. Eg:
“You ready for this?”
“Come on, man. Guns, murderers and crooked cops? I was made for this, bro.”
While the original at least had a bit of character development with Brian’s internal conflict and Dominic’s relationship with Letty etc, this outing focusing far too squarely on the set-pieces, which really aren’t good enough to make up for the film’s failings. It’s no surprise they brought Vin back when they needed to turn the series around. Not that the entire blame can be laid at Walker’s feet for the film being a bit of a damp squib, but it certainly lacked a believable badass in the lead role.
The Fast and the Furious – Tokyo Drift (2006):
Dir: Justin Lin
Granted I am yet to watch parts four and five, but I am confident this film marks the low point for the Fast and the Furious franchise. Granted, in 2 Fast 2 Furious, plot took a backseat somewhat to racing sequences and stunts, but in Tokyo Drift, it’s as if they had the idea to film some cool racing sequences in ‘Tokyo’ and loosely pritt-sticked some semblance of story around them.
Now obviously I don’t expect Citizen Kane, but the sense of fun and trashy cool which made the original so watchable was absolutely nowhere to be seen. I should say at this stage however, I know for a fact that this is by no means a commonly held perception. Several other people I know have suggested they rank Tokyo Drift up there with the best of the FATF bunch, which just goes to show there really is no accounting for taste.
This time round, Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) is a seventeen year old who….wait a minute. Seventeen? Really? Him? I genuinely thought he must be a substitute teacher when he first turned up at school and raced the elder brother from Home Improvement (really). There is no way he is seventeen. He makes the cast of Grease look like bona fide teenagers. Anyway, old man Boswell gets in a small town jam and gets sent to live with his father in Tokyo. There he befriends some nice street racers and gets on the wrong side of some evil street racers connected to the Yakuza. You can guess the rest from here. First of all, I’m pretty sure the Yakuza have better things to do than race school kids on multi-storey car parks, but secondly, they all seem a pretty amiable bunch compared to what many other films have taught me.
The main difference in terms of the race sequences this time around though is that the top-speed hurtles to the finish are out and tight and twisting ‘drifting’ is the order of the day. The driving sequences are still pretty impressive the first few times, and all credit to the stunt drivers who did some mightily precise drifting, but even these get pretty tedious after a while.
Aside from the stuntwork though, the actual nuts and bolts of the storyline are incredible cliché and predictable. By the end of the film, I really couldn’t have cared less if Grandad Boswell won or not. I was too busy trying to work out where I knew the main girl in it from. Turns out she was the girl from Bruno Mars’ Just The Way You Are video. Anyway, that aside, this is a dull and lifeless affair and not one I could really recommend to anyone.
Incidentally, it’s worth noting that since a certain character who dies in this movie goes on to appear in the later instalments, one can assume that Tokyo Drift actually takes place after the rest of the series. Which does also mean that the cameo at the end of Tokyo Drift is something of a spoiler with regards to who makes it through parts 4-6.
Fast and Furious (2009):
Dir: Justin Lin
I would have loved to have been in the brainstorming session when they were working out the name for this one. I’m pretty sure it was a 4am job, the deadline set by the studio is literally hours away, “screw it, let’s just take out the two ‘the’s’ and go with that.” Anyway, the lazily monikered Fast and Furious saw director Justin Lin bringing back some of the big guns after the relative under-performance of Tokyo Drift at the box office. That movie took only half of 2 Fast 2 Furious in the US and around $80 million less worldwide. Wisely, Lin brought back Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez, Paul Walker and Vin Diesel (whose cameo at the end of Tokyo Drift doesn’t really count as a return) to add a bit of star power and coax the fans back in.
In order to outline the plot I have to drop a fairly big spoiler, so should you wish to approach Fast and Furious completely afresh, skip over the next few paragraphs. …
This time out, we start off on a pretty impressive highway stunt involving Dominic, Letty, Han (of Drifting fame) and some new cronies stealing fuel from a moving tanker in the Dominican Republic. Already this sequence harked back to the glory days of the first FATF movie. A criminal gang using expert driving skills to steal stuff at high speed. Give me that over teenagers circling a car-park any day. Dominic decides he doesn’t want Letty to get caught when the law inevitably catches up with him and so he does a runner in the dead of night. While hiding out in Panama City word then reaches Dom via his sister Mia that Letty has been killed during a smuggling operation. Meanwhile Brian O’Conner is now suited and booted and working for the FBI full time. When his hunt for a drug dealer Arturo Braga intersects with Dominic’s hunt for Letty’s killer, the pair are reunited once more as they become drivers for Braga’s smuggling operation in order to get closer to the man himself.
It’s good to have Vin Diesel back front and centre in the franchise as what he lacks in acting ability, he more than makes up for in quiet charismatic bravado. The story holds a fair bit of semblance to 2 Fast 2 Furious, in that it sees our expert drivers infiltrate a drug dealer’s gang, but Fast and Furious seems far grittier and downbeat than both 2 Fast and Tokyo Drift. I guess it depends what you look for in these movies as to which ‘type’ of FATF movie you prefer. Both 2 Fast and Tokyo Drift are arguably far more fun and focused on portraying a light-hearted adventure than The Fast and the Furious and Fast and Furious. The latter two movies are grittier (it’s all relative I know) for me and just feel like far more dramatic movies because of it.
I never thought I’d say this but I just much preferred the movies with Vin Diesel in. His hulking persona and general street-gang badassery was infinitely more interesting than Paul Walker’s bro-ing in 2 Fast and the general shoddiness of Tokyo Drift. Amazingly though, Rotten Tomatoes actually rates this below both 2 Fast and Tokyo Drift. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, democracy doesn’t work.
The film is not without its flaws however and it is a long way from being anything but slightly above average. The dialogue is as wooden as ever and one of the showpiece chase sequences set in underground tunnels proves extremely hard to follow. Without regular cuts to grimacing faces, I wouldn’t have been able to tell which car was which. I also didn’t fully understand why the Feds employed O’Conner in the first place. Surely after the first two movies they had learned their lesson. The man may be an exceptional driver but he is clearly too fond of the criminal life. The film’s ending, which I won’t reveal but let’s face it, the existence of Fast Five is a bit of a give away, just cements his lack of commitment to the law.
It’s not exactly presenting anything new and the excessive exposition just seems to be a way of linking the crash-bang-wallop driving sequences together, but it’s still a moderately enjoyable action flick overall.
Fast Five (2011):
Dir: Justin Lin.
As I already mentioned, it was the warm reception granted Fast Five which prompted me to go back and watch the whole ‘saga’ from the very beginning. After finally reaching Fast Five and watching it unfold in all its glory, I can safely say it is head and shoulders above the other instalments. It isn’t even close. The nearest rival, the first The Fast and the Furious, was a solid enough action movie, but this is an all-out, batshit crazy testostertastic action extravaganza.
I think the reason I loved Fast Five so much compared to the other movies in the series was that it’s the least like a Fast and the Furious movie of the bunch. The other movies are far more engrossed in the drag racing element of the story and focused on the Point Break-esque bromances formed over a shared love of driving. The escapades they get caught up in, be it drug muling or car hijacking, always seem to merely be a means to an end of generating some solid car porn. Fast Five isn’t a racing or car porn movie though, it’s a bullet-ridden over-the-top crime thriller with an ensemble cast made up of the series’ finest. It’s Ocean’s Eleven meets Bad Boys 2.
The story follows directly on from Fast and Furious and starts off with Brian and Mia springing Dom from a prison bus by very subtlety ramming into it and making it flip about a dozen times. I’m pretty sure that would have seriously injured everyone onboard the bus, but it’s a great early indicator that logic and rules of nature have no place in this movie. The action then cuts to Rio where the gang are hiding out and becoming involved in a bit of local car-crime work. When it is revealed Mia is pregnant with Brian’s baby, they decide to leave the life of crime behind and carry out one last big job to pay their way. To do this they need a crack team of criminals and so they flick through their phone books and recruit the likes of Tyrese Gibson’s Roman, Ludacris’ Tej, Sung Kang’s Han and Gal Gadot’s Gisele to help them out.
The job involves taking down a corrupt business man turned drug lord who has up to $100million stashed away around the city. It’s a dangerous plan and one made all the more difficult by the fact that the gang are also being chased by the Diplomatic Security Service fronted by Dwayne Johnson’s gargantuan Luke Hobbs.
There are so many insane moments peppered throughout the film which freely defy logic. How do Dom and Brian escape a Rio gang with such ease? How do they survive a massive plunge off a bridge without so much as a scratch? How doesn’t that closing stunt with the safe kill hundreds of civilians? And especially, where the hell do they manage to get a replacement safe from with such ease? However, you just have to let it all wash over you. If anything, it’s all part of the fun.
It’s bigger and louder than any Fast movie thus far and there’s barely any racing involved. Dom and Brian actually win a car at one stage and they skip right over the race and go straight to them driving off in their newly won motor. There is one race crow-barred in though where Dom, Brian, Roman and Han decide to bet a sizeable amount of their own cash on a drag race involving stolen police cars. Considering the great lengths they are all going to in order to earn their money, it sure doesn’t take them long to start frittering it away. One of them is an expecting father lest we forget.
The dialogue is as ropey as ever in parts, “this just went to mission impossible to mission in-freakin’ sanity”, but the cast as a whole does sterling work even if the cheese factor is cranked all the way up to eleven. Dwayne Johnson is a great addition to the cast and his bruising fight with Dom is a particular highlight. In just five films, the central characters have gone from boy racers who dabble in some petty crime, to a crack team of paramilitaries who don’t bat an eye lid when gunning down a whole army of bad guys. They’ve come a long way.
The stunts are all truly spectacular and for this great credit must go to director Justin Lin. The closing sequence involving two cars dragging a safe through the streets of Rio is completely ridiculous but mightily impressive in its audacity.
Overall I enjoyed the Fast and the Furious movies more than I expected, though I have no interest in ever watching parts two and three again. Going into the first movie, my expectations were admittedly pretty low as, frankly, I couldn’t care less about cars. I don’t mind a well made car chase in a movie, but in general terms, cars just don’t interest me one bit. In the case of the first and fifth movie in particular though (and to a far lesser extent the fourth), there is noticeably something else going on than just fast cars going fast.
Where the series falls down for me is with the movies that simply don’t have anything else going on. I think this is another strong contributor to me much preferring Fast Five to the movies that preceded it. In that movie, there are cars involved, but they really aren’t the focus at all. In Fast Five, the heist and the chase are what are important and it’s all the better for it. If they can keep that level of unashamed fun and overblown action, then Fast Six should be an absolute treat.