There’s a special place in my heart for movies that don’t even pretend to be about anything more than what’s on the poster. To anyone wondering why the fourth installment in the Fast and the Furious franchise grossed over seventy million dollars in its opening weekend, it’s because after six months of message heavy Oscar-bait and already saturated by the overhype of the summer blockbusters, people are itching for a movie that’s just plain fun.
And fun it certainly is. Even if you’ve never seen the preceding three F&F movies, it’s still an enjoyable ride with a simple plot. Petrol-head outlaw Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) returns to Los Angeles under less than favourable circumstances, looking to infiltrate a gang led by the mysterious Braga. Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker), ex-mole in Toretto’s old heist crew is now with the FBI, with his own plans to bring down Braga. Throw in Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster’s characters from the first film and the gang’s all here. There’s even a nice nod or two to the otherwise unrelated third installment, Tokyo Drift.
But you don’t watch F&F movies chiefly for their plot, and the main question one everybody’s lips is: Are the cars any good? Well, yes, they are, in a way.
Eschewing the eye candy vanity mobiles of the second (A pink s2000? Sacrilege!) and the drift-zen vibe of the third, Fast & Furious goes for a mix of mainly old muscle cars and tuner classics in straight across-town street races like the first. There are no trick-door neon-spangled graffiti-clad beasts here. It says something that the latest car on display is a vaguely modified Subaru Impreza (that too the new liftback version, and not a gold rim in sight).
Anybody going in expecting exotic European supercars will find the film disappointing; this is a film that knows that an R34 Skyline elicits more warm feelings from car nuts than the latest, shiniest Nissan GT-R, and goes with it. It’s a curiously old school slant for a shiny summer movie, but I think it’s a refreshing change to movies just being about what looks good. (And the film is all about bringing the old cast and setting back, so I guess it fits perfectly.)
There is, of course, CG effects at work, but I didn’t notice them as much in the car sequences themselves, which is good. But if anything, there’s far too little fetishising of motors in this installment. The longest car showpiece spends too much time on a GPS screen; it’s a knowing nod to the countless videogames that the F&F series has spawned, but it’s distracting. And the most thrilling action sequence is a foot chase! (Perhaps it’s because it comes in a car movie rather than say, a Bourne movie. Oh well.)
The characters fare a little better than the cars this time. The women aren’t given much screen time, but it’s always nice to see Jordana Brewster, even if it’s only for two scenes. And new hottie Gisele (played by Gal Gadot) is nice, if severely underutilised as well. So the meat of the film falls to main man Vin Diesel, whose dialogue delivery is so corny you strangely end up loving him nonetheless. Really, it’s so bad it’s great, and if it works all, it works because of Diesel’s gravely-voiced charms alone. He knows it’s bad, he knows you know it’s bad, and he says it anyway.
I’ve never thought of Paul Walker as a bad actor — so if you think he’s the Luke Skywalker to Keanu Reeves’ Darth Vader look away now — and I think that as he gets older he’s getting more fun to watch. He plays O’Conner still filled with the boyish enthusiasm as in the first, but showing an edginess now and then that results in the some of the films best — and most violent — moments. The bad guys (represented by John Ortiz & Laz Alonso) are sufficiently serpentine and menacing, though anybody whose watched half a gangster movie knows what twists and turns are next.
In the end, Fast & Furious lives up to the standards set by its predecessors, and is a worthy continuation of the story of the first movie. But — and this is a big but — I don’t think it’s as good as Tokyo Drift. This may be because I consider that film to be a sublime work of pop-art — I’m not kidding here — and nothing short of another masterpiece from Justin Lin would satisfy me.
But do go, see it, marvel at the stunts, the cars, and Vin Diesel’s howl-inducing lines, and have some fun.