The Fast and The Furious
Director: Rob Cohen
Starring: Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez
It's striking how many similarities there are in the two films - both feature lead actors with monotone voices (are Paul Walker and Keanu Reeves brothers?), prominent gangs who specialize both in overly ridiculous criminal actions and a specific "X-treme" sport, the love interest female serving the main character food at a restaurant, the standard "cop who gets too far undercover" storyline, busting the wrong gang (skinheads in PB and Johnny Tran's group in TFATF), and almost the exact same ending. It's understandable that the filmmakers would want to jack the plotline of Point Break - it's a freaking brilliant piece of cinema*. Films do this all the time - Speed is a derivative of Die Hard, etc. - so there's no shame in trying to make something that has already worked succeed again under different parameters. Sometimes this can be fun (The Rock, Sudden Death, Cliffhanger, Air Force One), and other times it can suck somethin' awful (Passenger 57, Under Siege 2, Executive Decision). Luckily for the audience, Rob Cohen doesn't take his film very seriously and allows us to enjoy it rather than picking apart the nonsensical actions of the characters.
Undercover agent Brian O'Conner (Walker) is searching for a team of drivers who use black Honda Civics to hijack semi-trucks and sell their payloads to the black market. Being a competent driver, he gets hooked into the underground racing scene and meets the "Bodhi" character of TFATF - Domenic Toretto (Vin Diesel). After saving Toretto from arrest following a busted late-night street race, O'Conner earns the trust of Toretto and falls in with his group of friends, hoping to use Dom's connections to learn the identities of the hijackers. With the cops on his case, and Dom's distractingly hot sister on his mind, Brian realizes (SPOILER ALERT!) that - whoa - it's actually Dom and his cronies who are responsible for the robberies! Has Brian gone too far undercover to do his duty as a policeman, or will he sacrifice duty for honor and keep a promise he made to Dom in the beginning of the movie?
The aspects of The Fast and The Furious that make it worth watching are the directing abilities of Rob Cohen and (predictably) the driving sequences featured throughout. Cohen built his resume directing Dragonheart (Sean Connery as a dragon) and Daylight (Stallone as Kit Latura) before hitting it big with this flick, and his style and flashiness are on full display here. Strangely, while Cohen's over-the-top nature and camera tricks would be considered overkill in most movies, it actually works well within the confines of this particular story. The first race scene is a great microcosm of the whole movie: Brian challenges the leadership of Domenic to prove his worth, and using a series of sweeping camera tricks and a mix of CGI and practical effects, Cohen and his editor piece together an adrenaline-fueled stacatto of clutch, gear shift, NOS, and finish line that comes together quite well. The editing can't be ignored here - it's one of the reasons why the movie feels sleek and not overly cheesy (during the race scenes, anyway). The plot elements of this movie could easily make a horrible direct-to-DVD film in the wrong hands, but Cohen and Co. crafted an unexpected summer blockbuster in 2001. The stunts (especially the train sequence at the end) were well orchestrated and enjoyable, so they succeeded in more ways than one with this flick.
Diesel's performance gave audiences an introduction to the "Vin Diesel" persona that most people associate with the actor nowadays - previous to this movie, he starred in Spielberg's highly acclaimed Saving Private Ryan and wasn't considered a ridiculous "extreme" actor yet. Paul Walker's fame fell to new depths after the release of TFATF, finding the actor starring in films like Into the Blue (terrible) and Timeline (one of the worst). Interestingly, his 2006 film Running Scared was actually surprisingly solid - I'd highly recommend it for both Walker's performance and some really cool camera work.
Another thing this movie accomplished (that even Point Break couldn't) was creating a sense of family around Toretto and his group of friends. Part of this is probably because of the brother-sister relationship of Dom and Mia, but overall there was a palpable bond between the members. There's Jesse, the ADD-suffering computer tech/mechanic; Leon, basically hired muscle who has like four lines in the whole movie; Vince, Dom's friend since childhood; and Letty, Dom's manly-but-still-a-chick girlfriend. By simply giving the audience a small look into their home life through a BBQ scene and a montage featuring the group working on Brian's new car, the filmmakers solved the problem that Point Break had - we didn't care about any of the minor characters because we didn't know anything about them. If only the writers had written the side characters in TFATF to be more than one-dimensional caricatures, this movie might be viewed more favorably in the public eye.
While this film undoubtedly influenced the amount of rice burners we see on the streets - not a good thing in my opinion - it still should be seen as a fun summer flick that is worth watching if you're looking for a masculine jolt of energy. Stay tuned for reviews of the sequels over the next few months before the new film comes out this summer. Until next time...