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The Fast and the Furious

movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Fast and the Furious

Starring: Vin Diesel, Jordana Brewster
Director: Rob Cohen
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 107 Minutes
Release Date: June 2001
Genres: Action, Suspense

*Also starring: Ja Rule, Ted Levine, Chad Lindberg, Rick Yune, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Hill Harper

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
No Rating Supplied

Some of my fondest memories from childhood are of family trips to the drive-in. Dad would slowly weave through the lanes looking for a spot that afforded a good view of the screen with no neighboring carloads of teen-agers. After ricocheting around the playground and visiting the refreshment stand - seedy, vaguely threatening and always alluring - my sister and brother and I would settle in for a few cartoons and at least two, sometimes three, feature films. More often than not, the movies were wholesome fare, but every so often my parents would select something more risqué.

I remember Mom fretting over the appropriateness of such "trashy" selections; convinced they would irreparably warp our little minds. "Don't worry," my father assured her, "as soon as the kids eat and watch the cartoons, they'll fall asleep." But I never did. Peering from the back seat with saucer eyes, I drank in the lurid images of juvenile delinquents gone wild: smoking, drinking, fighting, making out and driving like hell-bent lunatics. Such glorious decadence! Even then, I realized that the exploitation flicks were cheap, formulaic and, most of the time, poorly acted. It didn't matter, though. In fact, it even helped. The chintzy predictability was oddly comforting.

"The Fast and the Furious" is a throwback to the drive-in era. A 105-minute exercise in high-octane car chases and macho posturing, the film is pure drivel, which is exactly why I enjoyed it. After sitting through a seemingly endless steam of inept comedies and pretentious action movies, it's refreshing to see a production so unrepentantly cheesy. The movie simply is what it is, an instantly forgettable diversion for those in the mood for cheap thrills, swaggering men, bad girls and melodrama as aggressive as it is dumb.

Directed by Rob Cohen, the man responsible for the indefensible Ivy League Secret Society thriller, "The Skulls," "The Fast and the Furious" is set in Los Angeles, specifically the underworld of illegal street racing. The story begins with a wicked-good truck heist, in which the harpoon-equipped drivers of several souped-up cars relieve the trucker of a great deal of electronic equipment. The increasing frequency of such crimes has caught the attention of the LAPD and FBI, and the authorities have a plan.

Their secret weapon is Brian Spindler (Paul Walker from "The Skulls" and "Varsity Blues." Damn, what a résumé!), a pretty boy officer who constantly looks as if he is recovering from a blow to the head from a blunt object. Brian's job is to infiltrate the dominant gang in the street-racing subculture and learn if they are involved in the rip-offs. To do this, he employs a brilliant plan: After securing a job in an auto parts shop, he goes to a convenience store/diner run by racing leader Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and, day after day, orders tuna sandwiches on white bread (with the crusts cut off, natch) from the powerful man's younger sister, Mia (Jordanna Brewster).

His chronic tuna-ordering leads to a confrontation with a gang member, triggering another big-ass action scene incorporating grunting males staking their turf, an encounter with Johnny Law and a wild car chase. By the time all is said and done, Dominic admits Brian into the inner circle, a move which infuriates the more hotheaded of his crew.

The rest of the movie goes just as you would expect it to go. Brian bonds with Dominic and woos Mia (as with most male-oriented flicks, the relationship between the boys is far more intense than the one between the boy and girl), periodically slipping away to report to his antsy superior officers. Brian bumps chests with alpha males threatened by his easy acceptance, with Big Daddy Dominic stepping in to settle things down. In-between the testosterone-fueled snarling, the flashy street races continue, as do the heists. It all builds to a dandy climactic action scene spiced with overwrought dialogue and lots of meaningful glances.

While Paul Walker is laughably miscast as the undercover cop, Vin Diesel anchors the proceedings as the charismatic Dominic. With a shaved head and muscular frame, Diesel casts an imposing presence nicely tempered by moments of tenderness. You've likely enjoyed Diesel's work before: He was one of Tom Hank's troop in "Saving Private Ryan," he played the mysterious tough guy in "Pitch Black" and he provided the voice of the robot in "The Iron Giant." Diesel is destined for big things and who knows, this may be the movie that does it for him. After all, any guy capable of delivering lines like "I live my life a quarter-mile at a time" with a straight face deserves to be a star.

Filled with action set pieces and oozing attitude, "The Fast and the Furious" is trash, but it's my kind of trash. To best enjoy it, I suggest you track down a drive-in (thankfully, there are a few left), weave through the lanes until you find a spot that affords a good view of the screen with no neighboring carloads of teen-agers, stock up on junk food from the snack bar, then sit back and savor the stupidity.

Copyright © 2001 Edward Johnson-Ott

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