The Fast and the Furious (2001) Movie Review: Start Your Franchise Engines

"My hobbies are fast cars and fast women because uh... that's why my... the guys in my car club call me the 'cruiser'." - Cruiser
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With the sixth movie in the series, the creatively titled Fast & Furious 6, about to hit theaters on May 24, 2013 and the recent announcement at CinemaCon of the seventh, the equally imaginative Fast & Furious 7, intended to be released on July 11, 2014, now seemed like the best time to check out the franchise, which has already earned over $1.5B at box offices around the world.

Based on a Vibe magazine article about street racing in New York City, The Fast and the Furious opens with an impressive action sequence as an unknown group of thieves using modified cars commandeer a semi.  The film cuts to Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) racing his souped-up car around the Los Angeles Dodgers parking lot.  He then heads to a diner for a tuna fish sandwich where a group, led by Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), runs him off.  Brain meets up again with Toretto at an illegal street race.  Unable to afford the $2,000 buy-in, Brian puts up his car.

After the race's conclusion, everyone scatters because the cops are on their way.  A police car spots Toretto but Brian swings by in the nick of time to help him escape.  Through the magic of movies, Brian and Toretto end up in Little Saigon, which most viewers probably won't know is about 40 miles south in Orange County, but since I used to live next door in Westminster, it was a distraction.  While there, they encounter Johnny Tran (Rick Yune), who may as well have been called Asian Gang Member #1 considering the complete lack of personality Tran and/or Yune displayed.  In order to look like a badass, which the he fails miserably at, he orders Toretto to stay out of his territory; claims he is going to win the upcoming racing event, Race Wars, which I can't decide if the name is clever or dumb; and has his idiot cousin Lance (Reggie Lee) destroy Brian's car with a machine gun.

Toretto invites Brain into his home where his crew is throwing one of those parties you only see in the movies.  Vince, (Matt Schulze) who has disliked Brian from the start, though based on what ain't exactly clear, begins to puff out his chest until Toretto points out Brian picked him up while everyone else looked out for themselves.  This is a key scene because it signals a weakness in the script, which I still can't believe was written by at least three writers.  Even though we've spent a very short amount of time with them, it's difficult to believe Toretto's tight-knit gang, which includes his girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), would ditch him.  So there must be a reason the writers wanted Brian to find Toretto, and there is, which they soon make clear after Brian gets "arrested" and his identity as an undercover cop investigating the semi robbery is revealed. 

Brain develops a mutual respect with Toretto and something more with Mia, both of which may compromise his mission.  At Race Wars, we thankfully get back to the fast cars and scantily clad women, but unfortunately there's more acting and plot that we are subjected to, such as a fight between Toretto and Tran.  But it's over soon as another semi robbery gets underway.  This time there's a clever twist as the trucker is armed with a shotgun, so things go terribly wrong for the bad guys.  It's a well-crafted action scene that director Rob Cohen and the stunt team should be proud of, but the one flaw is there's no emotional connection to the characters, so who cares if things go terribly wrong? 

Though a bad guy, the writers want Toretto to find redemption.  He strives to protect his pal Jesse (Chad Lindberg) from Tran, but fails miserably.  Toretto and Brian seek revenge against Tran and Lance, but it feels like a hollow victory.  Even worse is Brian's nonsensical handling of Toretto at the movie's conclusion. 

The Fast and the Furious is a mostly forgettable movie aside from some very good sequences of driving and action and a decent soundtrack that could have used a little more hard rock.  If the movie hadn't made back more than five times its budget at the box office, I don't see how it could have become the major franchise it is today with such empty characters.

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