Should I Watch..? 'Fast & Furious' (2009)
What's the big deal?
Fast And Furious is an action crime film released in 2009 and is the fourth instalment of the ever-popular The Fast And The Furious franchise. Reuniting the stars of the first film, the movie acts as a bridge between the second and fifth film and was intended to get the series back on track after the disappointing third film, Tokyo Drift. The film sees street-racer criminal Dominic Toretto team up with former colleague and now FBI agent Brian O'Conner to take down a drug smuggling operation operating over the US-Mexico border. The film stars Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, John Ortiz and Gal Gadot in her cinematic debut. Like the earlier films, it was a success at the global box office with earnings around $363 million but failed to catch much in the way of positive reviews with many critics calling it an uninspired remake of the original. It would be followed by another sequel, Fast Five, in 2011.
What's it about?
Five years after evading capture in LA, Dominic Toretto has moved to the Dominican Republic where he and his new crew make a living stealing petrol tankers. Believing that the police are closing in, Dom breaks the group up and seeks refuge in Panama while leaving his girlfriend Leticia "Letty" Ortiz behind to prevent her getting into any more trouble. But after three months in hiding, Dom gets a call from his sister in LA - Mia - telling him that Letty has been murdered.
Meanwhile, former LAPD officer Brian O'Conner now works for the FBI and is on the trail of enigmatic Mexican drug lord Arturo Braga. Following up a lead, Brian tracks down street racer David Park who helps recruit drivers for Braga's operation. To his amazement, Brian discovers Dom already there as he is pursuing his own investigation into Letty's murder and despite their complicated past, they realise that they can only get to Braga by working together.
Leticia "Letty" Ortiz
Release Date (UK)
10th April, 2009
Action, Crime, Thriller
What's to like?
If you don't like surprises then this is the film for you. In all seriousness, both the cast and crew know exactly what is demanded from them by fans of the series so it's no great shock that they stick rigidly to the formula. Lots of fast cars modified to the nth degree, scantily-clad women as far as the eye can see and scenes of tender bromance to make said eyes water. If you enjoyed the first film especially then you'll get a real kick out of this which feels almost like a reboot after two somewhat wayward sequels.
Of course, if you enjoyed the first film then you might even enjoy the achingly cool hip-hop soundtrack which has a more Latino-flavour than before due to the heavier presence of such characters. The racing scenes feel as kinetic as ever, especially the opening scene involving the theft of multiple fuel tankers. The film feels more jacked up and ridiculous as ever with Toretto's unquestioning faith to his dead lover despite almost every female character offering themselves to him and O'Conner's rebellious nature getting him embroiled in a fist fight with fellow FBI agents. This is as brash and dumb as they come but fans won't mind one bit - it's not like they watch the film for the narrative, is it?
- With opening weekend earnings in the US of $72.5 million, it not only claimed the record for an April release but was also the highest three-day opening for Universal Pictures, beating The Lost World: Jurassic Park in the process.
- The 1973 Chevrolet Camaro used in the final chase (dubbed "F-BOMB") is a replica of a car owned by David Freiberger, the long-time editor of Hot Rod magazine. The original had a 1500 bhp twin-turbo engine whereas the one in the film only had a 300 bhp V8.
- This film takes place before Tokyo Drift - when Dom tells Han to go his own way, he says he'll head to Tokyo which is where he appears in Tokyo Drift.
What's not to like?
If you're new to the franchise then you'll probably start to wonder what all the fuss is about. For starters, Walker and Diesel are not the most charismatic of leading men - Diesel especially displays about as much emotion as a plank, despite the apparent tragedy fuelling his desire for revenge. Most, if not all, of the driving scenes involve CG and green screening the backdrop (although this isn't as noticeable as before) and the film's narrative feels as cheap and hackneyed as they come with twists being signposted very early indeed. Even by the standards of the first film, this feels a long way from being fresh and innovative.
What's worse, the action displays little sense of being believable. Despite the number of chases in downtown LA and with all the crime-fighting tools at the FBI's disposal, at no point does an actual cop get involved. The cars are all fitted with a sat-nav that seemingly makes driving feel more like playing a video game and there are times when you can completely lose track of who is where and what they are doing. But my biggest gripe is with the film's use of female characters, almost all of whom are dressed like sluts in some rapper's music video or they are conquests for our heroes once they can prize themselves out of the driver's seat. The only exception is Liza Lapira as O'Conner's FBI colleague and she felt more of an actual character than anyone else, male or female.
Should I watch it?
Unless you are on a personal crusade to watch the entire series, it's probably best if you skip this one. It is a very slight improvement on Tokyo Drift but only by virtue of having Diesel and Walker back in the lead roles, weak as they are. It's too noisy, incoherent, childish and silly to take seriously but for fans of the earlier films, it's a decent enough look at pimped-out motors, gripping street racing scenes and buttocks squeezed into spangly hot-pants.
Great For: fans of the first film, boy-and-girl racers, sellers of car-modifying kits
Not So Great For: first-time visitors to the series, Hispanic viewers, anyone over the age of 30
What else should I watch?
The original The Fast And The Furious in 2001 at least had the advantage of being the first in the series, focusing on street racing and modifying vehicles to get the best out of them. Compared to most of the sequels, it offered a previously-unique take on the car-genre of films which had stagnated since the likes of The Cannonball Run and Smokey And The Bandit. However, the next film - Fast Five - deliberately steered away from street racing and turned the series more into an action heist involving cars. It turned out to be a smart move as the series has gone from strength to strength ever since.
It could be argued that The Fast And The Furious series (or at least, it's financial success) is responsible for a wave of imitators and a renewal of interest in cars in cinema. Whether it's Pixar's Cars, an adaptation of video game Need For Speed, the rebooted version of Death Race or the Wachkowski's adaptation of classic manga Speed Racer, it seems the hunger for car-related films isn't reaching the end just yet. And as for The Fast And The Furious, their ninth film is currently on the way...
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