PG-13...you are so hilarious. Honest to Pete, there is little to check off a list. There's just a lot of women being objectified and a solid core of bigotry. But again, if you had to check the actual things off a list...well?
DIRECTOR: Rob Cohen
I'm starting to feel ashamed for the list of movies I've watched lately. There was a very cool artsy fartsy quality to this blog and now I'm reviewing the first Fast and the Furious movie? C'mon, Mr. H? Where did your snootiness go? Is summer film season really affecting you that much? Also, I'd like to make a disclaimer. For those in the know, Mr. Henson and I are starting a podcast that will be discussing the Fast and the Furious films. We would like to thank the senior class for donating the funds for our equipment and I don't want to jump the gun on some of the things we'll be talking about in the podcast, but I also want to review this movie while it is still fresh. Worse comes to worst, this will be more of a brainstorm for the discussion we are going to have, so I'll have my thoughts on digital paper.
I watched this movie in college once to impress a girl. (Sorry, Lauren.) She was all about this movie and I thought I could go in open minded. Um, that didn't turn out the way I had planned it to and I loathed the movie. Like, seriously hated the movie. Since 2001, I've been vocally rolling my eyes every time a Fast trailer dominated TV and the beginning of movies. Then I started hearing rumblings that the tone of these movies drastically changed after Fast 5 into a weird amalgam of superhero and spy films. I heard that these movies stopped taking themselves so seriously and actually became fun. So Mr. Henson and I decided to shotgun them and see what the hubbub was all about. Now that I've rewatched it, I guess I have some new thoughts on the world's most financially successful franchise. (Okay, I'm making that title up. But people have seen these movies!)
It really helped that I went in with abysmal expectations. My hatred for this film was the perfect attitude to go in with. I watched the trailer for this one before watching it and I was just strapping in for the worst ride of my life --angry pun intended. 2001 was a weird No Man's Land for film. This is slightly pre-9/11 and movies really had that Training Day vibe. Blame Fight Club, because everything was desaturated and gritty was something really easy to achieve. The Fast and the Furious wanted to be the bro-ey movie of the decade and it weirdly achieves it. I'd like to state that I'm definitely not against car movies. Considering that I'm not a car guy, I love car movies. Vanishing Point and, shamefully, the remake of Gone in Sixty Seconds are super exciting films. Add to the fact that the James Bond franchise is just a car movie with guns and booze and I'm full on in. But that's why I've always been far more critical of this franchise. Car movies have always been about the fun and The Fast and the Furious has simply been about being "extreme." That review might not be completely fair because there is some fun to be had, but that fun is when we ignore the plot and just look at the car stuff.
That's a fundamental problem when making a movie. I will not back down from my initial opinion that this movie isn't good. It really isn't. But it is much more fun than I thought it would be and that's because I knew when to shut my brain off. The characters and the story are criminally underdeveloped and terribly executed (for the most part...I'll get to that.) It in the few times that the car sequences play out in this movie that the movie becomes entertaining. I understand that this is the first in the franchise and I'm sure that Universal didn't really know what it hand on its hands when it was presented this movie. I'm sure the world "sequel" was thrown around, but I don't know if they every considered making ten films out of this idea. (NOTE: There was a recent news article that said that the franchise is going to stop after the tenth film. I'll believe that when I see it. Or don't see it. I'm trying to prove a negative is what I'm saying.) So the long and short? The car stuff is absolutely great and really impressive, but there's just not a lot of it. Yes, the cars are throughout the movie and yes, those cars race. I don't care about street races in this films. I care about the heists. The heist with the shotgun strapping trucker is the best thing in the movie. I unironically loved that part. I was actually feeling a bit of suspense. It was really well shot and really well paced and I somehow gained a bit of sympathy for a character that I absolutely loathed throughout the film. The street races? Those are pretty weak. I feel like those drag races were meant for real gear heads and not film fans. The problem I had with those scenes is that they all came down to "hitting the button." I know that Gwenyth Paltrow should never be cited as a credible source for anything, but that was her big frustration with her part in the first Iron Man. Her part came down to hitting a button at the right time. That's not exciting for anyone. Yes, the car went faster, but I didn't really see the difference between Dom and Brian when all it takes is looking at computer screens and hitting a button.
Can I talk about the major surprise in this film? Vin Diesel. I've been pretty hard on Vin Diesel in the past, especially young Vin Diesel. I don't understand his career at all. I hate to bully a nerd, especially one who could absolutely destroy me both physically and professionally, but he is normally terrible in things. In the first Fast and the Furious, he is riveting. Every scene he was in, he commanded the screen. Could that be because everyone else on the screen was possibly the worst? Maybe. It could also be that Dom is in his wheelhouse --pun intended again. For some reason, Dom pulls the focus from Paul Walker's Brian so often that I grew to hate Paul Walker. Yup. I'm the guy who is the first to trash the memory of Paul Walker. I know the wound is still fresh, but there are some groan worthy moments that Paul Walker has in this movie. Part of the Wasteland that was the year 2001 was the casting of The WB hunks and assuming that they could really hold a scene. For him to have such a career means that he had to get better than what he presents here. Another odd performance that I really didn't like was Michelle Rodriguez's Letty. I might just not like Michelle Rodriguez. I like the idea of her. She gave Lost a sense of validity because she was a bonafide celebrity. But she really just plays aloof really well. That doesn't always work for a movie and it kind of just screams "This movie is gritty." If you are telling me you are gritty, you might not be that gritty.
The last thing I think I'll comment on is the fact that the plot is really weird. This movie is a street racing movie. It is the Step Up of cars. How can Paul Walker impress Vin Diesel with his adorable driving skills. I guess my comment about buttons probably affected someone during the production of the movie and they decided to make the street racing the B-plot that weirdly has more screen time than the A-plot because the new A-plot became about an undercover cop trying to bust truck thieves. Both elements of this movie don't need to be here because it is fundamentally two very different films and neither of them is executed very well. The B plot could really be something impressive if they focused on the escalating tensions between the Asian gangs and the violence that is stemming out of these street races. (*sigh* I just wrote that.) The A-plot would have been awesome if the truck thefts were getting more and more reckless and we actually saw Paul Walker's character really have to make a choice. Rather, we just get a light switch moment when Paul Walker just chooses what side he is on. (Let's also establish that the revelation to Dom didn't need to happen whatsoever.) There is a double edged sword that forms here. What happens is that we get two weak storylines that show that The Fast and the Furious has larger aspirations than most bro-ey movies, therefore forming a franchise. If either of those other plots were done well, this might have been a single movie, or at least just a trilogy.
We're probably going to be talking way more about this movie than what was said here. I'll try to link the podcast to this page, so keep an eye out for it. Also, I swear that I'll put some classier films on here. I have a Grave of the Fireflies review coming and I just got Blood Simple and Repo Man on Criterion Blu-Ray that I really want to watch. I'll give this page some film chops yet!
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.