It was at Barley’s Brewing Company in Columbus, Ohio. June 2015. Sunday evening, Origins having wrapped up for the year. We were having dinner with the Magpie crew and the discussion focused on movies. Mark Diaz Truman tells me I should see two films: The Purge: Anarchy and Furious 7. I respond with incredulity, and Mark essentially tells me not to be a movie snob. He explains that the Fast and Furious are very diverse superhero movies at this point in the franchise. I don’t feel in any rush to see them, but it plants a seed. Cut to today.
The Fast and The Furious is inarguably a massively popular film series with eight made and at least four more to come it appears. I have seen fifty-something school bookkeepers who attend church every Sunday and exude all the expectations of Southern femininity make sure they are at the new F & F film opening night. A movie series that has such a cross-demographic appeal must have something redeemable about it. So, I decided I needed to watch them all, starting at the beginning, knowing it would be rough going for awhile, but that there is a chance I might find something good along the way. For better or worse here we go…
The Fast and The Furious (2001)
Written by Gary Scott Thompson, Erik Bergquist, and David Ayer
Directed by Rob Cohen
LAPD officer Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) has gone undercover in the illegal street racing scene after a series of electronics truck deliveries were hijacked by crooks with highly specialized driving skills. He becomes embedded in the crew of Dominic Toretto, one of the top racers on the L.A. scene. O’Conner also sparks a relationship with Mia, Dominic’s younger sister which draws the ire of fellow crew member Vince, who also seems to have eyes on Mia. The clock is ticking for Brian as both the LAPD and FBI are demanding he gives them something before things deadly. Will Brian choose his oath as a police officer to serve & protect or will his allegiances fall to the Toretto crew?
The Fast and The Furious has not aged well. The soundtrack is one of the biggest things to stand out when you watch the film as it is always playing. While the produced soundtrack for sale smartly doesn’t include it, the first street race gathering is underscored by Limp Bizkit, the sound of which feel like being slapped in the face with a week old rotten fish. When hip hop is backing a scene, it seems much less out of place than early 2000s alt metal/nu metal. I mean, who really wants to listen to Hoobastank at this point?
There was a big moment that shocked me in the first race. A big chunk of that first competition isn’t even real cars racing, it is a blatant CG nightmare. I suppose this is because they wanted to make the use of nitrous look larger than life and it does, creating the effect of what it looks like when The Flash runs at top speed. So not the most realistic portrayal of street racing in that scene. The camera flies inside the engine at one point to showcase some more dated CG effects of poorly textured car parts moving around real fast. I was pretty underwhelmed after that first race and hoped the rest of the film wouldn’t be fake cars in fake races.
Thankfully, the rest of the car scenes appear to be completely real stunts with real cars. I’m not really a car guy so I don’t know how to equivocate one automotive stunt sequence to another, I know I loved Mad Max: Fury Road and The French Connection, but beyond that, I can’t speak with much expertise. Everything feels adequate, but from what I remember from fragments of trailers things appear to get more insane as the franchise goes on. The final race vs. a train was pretty good, and if it was CG, then they had me fooled.
The plot felt pretty standard for the time, definitely influenced by Point Break. There’s an undercover cop who gets embedded in a crew of thieves, that also specializes in an extreme sport/activity. Over time, the cop develops relationships with these people, and it becomes much harder to fulfill his duties as an officer of the law. It’s not a bad plot, but watching The F & F, I pretty much knew the plot beats before they came. The ending wasn’t a big surprise, probably knowing there are seven more of these helped.
The roughest part of this film was the acting. Vin Diesel does his standard thing, though he was slightly more charismatic back in 2001 than he has ended up in his later years. Michelle Rodriguez felt the most charismatic out of any character, and she barely had much to do. When she was on screen, she got across the toughness of her character but also felt real, not an eye rolling-ly badass cliche. Jordana Brewster was adequate. The rest of Dominic’s crew….oh boy, they were rough. When the mechanic kid showed up for the first time, uttered some lines, I immediately thought, “This kid is dead meat by the end of the film.” I was also confused as to why the three other dudes in the crew were white. Well, I don’t mean confused from the Hollywood mindset behind casting, but in the fiction of the film, why is Toretto in a crew of white wannabe douchebags? I assumed he was supposed to be Latino? Maybe I was wrong?
And then we get to Paul Walker….oh, Paul. Yes, he was a pretty face. But damn, there is not much beyond that face. Walker’s delivery is so stiff. I mean, if they were going for the Keanu in Point Break thing then I guess Walker did a bang up job. In a review of the film at the time, Walker was referred to as “an undercover cop who looks blond and boyish enough to be an understudy for Lance Bass of ‘N Sync.” And that is precisely what he feels like, an era-appropriate trend cast as the lead in a film. Now, maybe Walker improves as the series goes on, perhaps not. But this first outing was hindered mainly because of his terrible acting.
Predictions for the next film:
Having no knowledge of what happens in these movies and all the trailers sort of blending together in my head over the years, I will end each review with what I think the next film will be about or what might happen in it. Toretto and O’Conner have parted ways, so in the sequel, something has to bring them back together. I foresee three possible outcomes. The first is that O’Conner gets involved in another case and it causes him to cross into the street racing scene, and he needs Toretto’s help. The second, Johnny Tran’s gang is on Toretto, and he needs O’Conner’s help as a cop to keep his family alive. Or third, some entirely new threat is introduced, and the script just forces these two back together with little logic or reason.