Ken Li: magazine article “Racer X”
Gary Scott Thompson: screen story
Gary Scott Thompson}
Erik Bergquist} screenplay
Brian O’Connor: Paul Walker
Vin Diesel: Dominic Toretto
Michele Rodriguez: Letty
Jordana Brewster: Mia Toretto
Chad Lindberg: Jessie
Johnnie Strong: Leon
Matt Schulze: Vince
Rick Yune: Johnny Tran
Mrs. Manor and I recently bought the Fast and Furious movie series, installments 1-6. We were able to get them very cheaply–$5.00 each–at the local WalMart, and since Number 7 has been doing very well at the box office, and I’ve enjoyed Vin Diesel in some of his films, we thought, why not? Therefore gentle readers, you may chose, by reading this and the reviews that follow, to live vicariously through me. I may save you some money and time (hint, hint).
The first installment of the series has no less than three screenwriters. The movie was very much overstaffed in that regard. There is nothing at all new or original about the plot. In fact, it is predictably formulaic and contrived to appeal to a target audience of adolescent, and slightly older–but never quite grown up–males. To that end there are fast and colorful cars, racing and stunt driving without a thought given to reality or safety, more or less random violence without the slightest logic or motivation, slinky and alluring young women with less body fat than many male bodybuilders, and a hunky young, blue-eyed cop—Paul Walker–so new and inexperienced no rational police agency would allow him to drive a patrol car alone, yet here he is the almost entirely unsupervised sole undercover agent in an investigation so significant the LAPD and FBI are involved.
A primary feature of the entire film is long, languishing shots of Walker’s blue eyes, which are apparently calculated to appeal to the girlfriends of the main demographic of the movie.
And what is the national security-shaking topic of this investigation? Terrorism? An assault on Fort Knox? Assassination of the President? Nope. A group of thieves driving three souped-up Japanese cars are stealing semi loads of Japanese consumer electronics. This is only one place where the plot slides directly through implausible and dives over its head into ridiculous.
Think, gentle readers. If your intention were to steal a load of DVD players and similar items, wouldn’t you simply stop the truck with a roadblock or fake police car on a lonely road, grab the driver and sedately drive off with the whole thing? As John Belushi used to say: “but nooooooo!” This particular gang chases down semi trucks with their three little Japanese cars, a guy leans out a sunroof and shoots a grapnel through the truck’s windshield, pulls that out, then shoots another one into the cab and attaching himself to that line, flies through the air into the truck, where he grapples with the driver, etc. Right. Throughout this stunning action sequence, the truck driver drives at more or less the same velocity in a straight line down the road, though he could easily crush his tormentors like bugs.
The police, of course, have to get an undercover agent inside this fiendish, but overly complex gang. Apparently they’ve never heard of helicopters or GPS trackers on trucks, and Walker is it. Essentially by behaving as a jerk, he tricks his way into the subculture of illegal races, all of which take place on city streets until the climactic moments in the plot when everyone has to flee because the police finally show up, but appear unable to catch a cold.
The king of the racers is Dominic Toretto—Diesel–who is apparently a restaurant owner and a father figure to a group of street racing misfits. Toretto has spent several years in prison for nearly beating to death a racer who was responsible for the death of Toretto’s father, also a racer.
In the meantime there are the usual police clichés. The rebellious and conflicted O’Connor argues with his boss and with the FBI agent, who thinks him—correctly—an inexperienced and reactionary twerp likely to blow the entire, improbable investigation. The more experienced cops are certain that Toretto and his “family” are the thieves—they wear full-face helmets when thieving—but O’Connor is, of course, rebellious and conflicted.
The movie almost succeeds in convincing the viewer that Toretto is innocent and some of the other racers, particularly a group of menacing Asians who shoot up everything in sight with Mac-10-like submachine guns with standard, inexhaustible movie magazines, are responsible, but lo and behold, it was Toretto all along, and when the Asians, who O’Connor mistakenly busts, retaliate and kill a member of Toretto’s family, it’s off for a long, bloody car and motorcycle chase that ends with O’Connor giving Toretto the keys to his car so he can escape.
And that’s the end of the movie. The theme is there is honor among thieves and conflicted cops—or something.
The acting in the movie is workmanlike, and everyone acquits themselves tolerably well with a script where character development is supplanted by characters pushing a nitrous oxide button which results in a Star Trek-like warp speed moment of blurring lights and rapidly climbing speedometer needles. A large part of O’Connor’s betrayal of the law and his career is the downfall of young males everywhere: women and fast cars. O’Connor falls for the lean and winsome Jordana Brewster, who plays Mia Toretto, Diesel’s sister. Michelle Rodriguez is badly underused. This is not a movie ripe for a young unknown to display Brando-like acting chops. The characters are barely more complex than cardboard cutouts.
The driving action sequences are reasonably well done, as is the cinematography, though music serves mostly as a bridge between roaring engines and similar automotive noise pollution.
Considering that the movie is about driving fast, roaring engines, smoking tires and an anti-establishment ethic—even within the police—one shouldn’t expect a coherent plot, character development, or even rationality. Within the limited ethical boundaries of that kind of universe, the characters are admirable, but in the real world—not so much. In reality, the two main characters are a violent convicted felon who has turned thief and manages to get most of his crew killed or seriously injured, and a young cop who allows him self to be coopted by the felon and in helping him, becomes a felon himself.
These are not compelling anti-heroes; they’re juvenile stereotypes, which was all that was required to launch a franchise. The Fast and The Furious succeeds at being what it is: moderately entertaining juvenile male fare, but probably worth no more than $5.00 at WalMart. But what do I know? On a production budget of $38 million, this movie has made $206.5 million to date.
Stay tuned for future installments.