Fast & Furious
Directed by Justin Lin
Runtime: 107 min.
Sometimes movie stars matter. After Julia Roberts’ weak display of industry dominance in Duplicity, the power of movie stars has never seemed more questionable. But Vin Diesel and Paul Walker both get spectacular entrances in Fast & Furious (the kind people only fantasized De Niro and Pacino had in Heat) while audiences cheer their tough good-guyness. In last year’s instant (undeserved) flop The Edge of Love, actors Keira Knightley, Cillian Murphy, Matthew Rhys and Sienna Miller are all almost overwhelmingly erotic objects; they make an unflattering moment in Dylan Thomas’ biography the stuff of psychological intimacy, the stuff of cinema. Hollywood doesn’t know what to do with movie stars beyond packaging the pre-sold ones (case in point: the box-office flop of Beyoncé and Jeffrey Wright’s Cadillac Records). Now Fast and Furious underscores this with treadmarks.
“Still a Buster!” Diesel says when his stoic action hero Dominic Toretto outwits Walker’s stalwart Brian O’Connor. It’s kinda cold, because in this street-racing franchise, Diesel and Walker are such a good hot-and-cold match that their comradeship complements two styles of masculine intensity.Their bond has long surpassed outlaw/lawman opposition. As Brian confesses, “First thing I learned from Dom: Nothing really matters unless you have a code.” Fast & Furious is about the code of honor among men from different social backgrounds as Dom and Brian urge each other towards speed, courage and popcorn heroics.
It’s also kind of a drag that Fast and Furious is not better than it is. Director Justin Lin (from The Fast and the Furious:Tokyo Drift) doesn’t have the love of design that made the 2001 The Fast and the Furious a deliriously beautiful noir.Three road-racing set pieces are elaborately revved-up and funny—in a crashtest-dummy way. But the action movie sweepstakes have recently raised expectations—especially with Olivier Megaton’s marvelous Transporter 3 (just out in a don’t-miss DVD) and Paul W.S. Anderson’s terrific Death Race. Here, the flipping cars and stunt-athletics turn cinema into a demolition derby—rowdy but not blissful. Closest Lin gets to bliss is the hokey moment Dom psychically imagines a road incident involving his ride-or-die lovematch, Michelle Rodriguez. Lin spins the camera 360 degrees as the past envelops Dom’s consciousness. It updates Brian De Palma’s breathtaking Vision on the Staircase sequence in The Fury, yet nothing else in Fast & Furious justifies such an hallucinatory leap.
By paring down the franchise, Lin not only left out the prepositions; the character motivations for Dom and Brian are rote.There’s no meaningful connection between the drug criminals’ underclass striving and Dom and Brian’s; sociology is reduced to a delirious chase through tunnels facilitating Mexico’s illegal immigration. Diesel and Walker deserve better. Since their first pairing, these actors have displayed impressive ambition that neither the film industry nor film audiences have sufficiently appreciated. Diesel tried expanding his urban thugness through a humorous turn in Just Kill Me, and his Chronicles of Riddick was far more imaginative graphic-comic-cinema than Watchmen. In Running Scared,Walker made one of the best action movies of the past two decades.That performance—and in Noel where he was dreamily paired with Penelope Cruz—proved Walker possessed unquestionable movie stardom. Diesel and Walker’s careers have lost screen time; maybe Fast & Furious will get them up to speed.