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
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