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Fast & Furious? More Like Dull and Depressing

  • Christian Hamaker Contributing Writer
  • Updated Jul 31, 2009
<i>Fast & Furious</i>?  More Like Dull and Depressing

DVD Release Date:  July 28, 2009
Theatrical Release Date:  April 3, 2009
Rating:  PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, some sexual content, language and drug references)
Genre:  Action
Run Time:  107 min.
Director:  Justin Lin
Actors:  Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez, John Ortiz, Laz Alonzo, Gal Gadot

Vroom vroom! Vin Diesel revs up the franchise that helped turn him into a major star! Co-stars Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster and Michelle Rodriguez are explosive! Race to see Fast & Furious! It's no "drag"!

OK, enough with the puns and the ready-made publicity quotes. The reaction such comments elicit—eye-rolling, shoulder shrugging and let's-move-on impulses—are the same reactions the movie itself stirs. Fast & Furious, the fourth movie in a franchise that began with a film titled The Fast and the Furious, shows as much originality as its title.

Before diving into the film's ho-hum plot and performances, let's note the most worrying thing of all about the film—its astounding box-office take. As I write this review following the film's opening weekend, its box-office haul exceeds $70 million, crushing the previous highest grossing film from the month of April—Anger Management, which took in $42 million during its opening weekend back in 2003.

I don't begrudge viewers who want to park their brains at the door and just have a good time at the movies, but this movie does not even qualify as "a good time." It's no worse than any other mindless franchise retread-not much, in any case. But nor is it any better. Indeed, the audience I saw it with left the theater quickly and quietly after our screening, expressing no audible or palpable sense of excitement. Could it be that the film's record-breaking opening is followed by a record-breaking drop in attendance during the film's second weekend in theaters, after word of mouth catches up to it? One can only hope.

Diesel is back as Dominic Toretto, haunted by the death of his girlfriend, Letty (Rodriguez). Toretto has joined forces with undercover FBI agent Brian O'Conner—his nemesis from The Fast and the Furious and the main character of the first sequel to that film—in an effort to take down a Mexican drug kingpin. The uneasy peace between Toretto and O'Conner is due to Toretto's fugitive status. After hiding in the Dominican Republic, Toretto is lured back to the States to settle a score involving the death of one of the principal characters. By infiltrating the drug cartel, Toretto and O'Conner hope to punish those responsible for their friend's death and, in a weak attempt to justify the film's vigilante spirit, save the U.S. from a major drug supplier.

To do so, the two men will, of course, have to engage in some harrowing driving and gamesmanship with the kingpin's lieutenants, Fenix (Lax Alonso) and Campos (John Ortiz). Along for the ride is Dom's sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster), and Dom's romantic interest, Gisele (Gal Gadot), in roles so unnecessary to the story that the term "throwaway" would be too flattering.

Director Justin Lin also helmed an earlier entry in the franchise, The Fast and the Furious:  Tokyo Drift, as well as the dreadful Annapolis, which co-starred Brewster. With  Fast & Furious, Lin has directed a violent film but one that could have been much more explicit. Instead, he cuts away from the most visceral moments of vehicle impact and human carnage, often enough that the film has earned a "PG-13" rating rather than an "R."

Lin should be credited for, if nothing else, an opening chase involving Dom's friends and a gas tanker that produces the film's only spectacular moment: flaming wreckage and a perfectly timed maneuver by Dom to avoid it. It's reminiscent of the "Donkey Kong" video game, in which players must time the ascent of Mario, the game's main character, to scamper beneath bouncing objects that threaten to doom him.

Yes, the film's best moment is akin to a videogame. That's not saying much. But one memorable scene is better than no memorable scenes, and as of today, Lin has been crowned as the director of the highest-grossing April opener in movie history. Clearly he knows how to tap into the current tastes of American moviegoers. If only the rest of the movie had provided the thrills of that opening sequence.

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  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Smoking.  Drinking at parties and in bars/clubs.
  • Language/Profanity:  One f-word.  Numerous uses of the s-word.  God's name taken in vain multiple times (also "God-d-n").  Other crude references to anatomy or sexual terms.
  • Sex/Nudity:  Passionate kissing; sensual dancing; a man watches a woman as she sleeps; women kiss each other; a man draws a parallel between the "fine body" of a car and a woman.
  • Violence:  Gunfire; a man leaps through a glass window and is chased across rooftops; two men fall onto the roof of a car; reckless driving (of course); a female car crash victim watches the approach of a man who shoots her; fisticuffs and threats of violence; a man is dangled out a window as a way to extract information from him; a man slams another man's head against a wall; multiple explosions and car crashes; a man cocks a gun and points it at another man's head.
  • Religion:  A character holds a cross; a showdown is set in a Catholic church; characters say an uncomfortable grace before a meal.