Way back when, The Fast and the Furious happened. And I ignored it. I hadn’t seen Pitch Black or Iron Giant so I didn’t really care about Vin Diesel. I cared less about 2 Fast 2 Furious, the one Vin Diesel skipped for the seemingly more lucrative XXX franchise. I assumed the world agreed with me that the 100 minute Mini-commerical The Italian Job was the superior car-based movie that summer. And when none of the stars returned for Tokyo Drift, I assumed we were done with these movies.
Then something weird happened. Everyone came back for Fast & Furious, and then the whole franchise shifted: gone was the blatant, blatant I say, Point Break knock-off. Instead, with Fast 5, it went from “series of second-rate car-based heist movies” to “series of car-based action movies so ridiculous they became awesome,” to the point that internationally Furious 7 beat out Avengers: Age of Ultron at the box office. And I missed all of it. So, let’s get caught up before And The 8 comes out.
And while I’m doing that, let’s put them under a narrative microscope.
The Fast and the Furious
- Some films are timeless. No matter how old they’ve become, they still resonate just as much with audiences. But then some films ask me to recall a time when combination TV/VCRs were considered high-end merchandise. It’s like when Vincent in Pulp Fiction complains about a milkshake costing five dollars, and I struggle to remember a time when that was an unreasonable price to pay for a full-sized milkshake.
- Okay, yes, that stevedore clearly just sold the truck full of TVs (from fancy to “fits in your dorm room”) to the thieves. But if the second season of The Wire teaches us anything, it’s that life for stevedores has gone downhill. The unions struggle, the hours aren’t always there, and sometimes crime is the way you get food for your family. Unless I’m allowing life at the port of Baltimore to unfairly colour how it is at the probably-busier Port of LA. That might be it. In fact, asking these movies to live up to the “painful reality of life” narrative that was The Wire might be unrealistic.
- Doesn’t mean I’m gonna stop.
- The opening car-based heist felt like a lot of work to steal a bunch of $300 televisions. I’m just saying. The truck wasn’t even that full.
- Paul Walker is introduced. And at some point the director just pointed a shaky camera at a green car driving a visually dull track, with no real sense of speed, and said “Nailed it. Don’t need any more footage for those eight seconds.”
- You get the feeling that Brian (Paul Walker) is trying to show off to Mia (Jordana Brewster) by ordering the dullest sandwich possible for two weeks straight. Tuna on white with no crusts? It’s amazing she remembers you’re a person long enough to make the sandwich.
- It’s hard to imagine that these four people driving their extensively customized racing cars through a relatively poor LA neighbourhood might be up to something illegal.
- Paul Walker is doing his very best to emulate Keanu Reeves in Point Break. Which is… not a good choice. Ever.
- “Here we are at the meeting point for the illegal street race. How many songs can you fit into the background? We’re trying to sell soundtracks here.” -An executive at some point.
- Is this movie the reason NOS energy drinks exist? Because I’m starting to think it is. And that is not a positive.
- Brian is supposed to infiltrate this gang of street racers, but so far he blends in about as well as Lady Gaga in Amish country, and I’m not super convinced he’s that good at driving. This plan has some serious flaws. I mean, having Keanu Reeves infiltrate surfers? That at least made sense.
- One million dollars worth of cameras and DVD players? Let me see… I guess that’s only 2,000 of them, but that still feels like it would take all four of the recent hijackings they mention. There HAS to be something more lucrative they could be doing.
- So, Vince, the dick who keeps trying to fight Brian because he hasn’t noticed that being super territorial is not one of Mia’s turn-ons… he betrays Dom (Vin Diesel) at some point, right? After he notices everyone is sick of his shit? Can that be soon?
- You know, I’d heard that these movies tended to have a huge lull in the middle where the action stops and everyone just talks about family, honour, and cars. That seems to be the case. But maybe we’ll have another action beat while Brian tries to prove that the Latino gang are the bad guys and not the 50% lovable band of street racers he’s hanging with. Given that he clearly hasn’t seen Point Break and doesn’t know where this is going.
- “We can’t let the Chinese gang know we’re in their territory. Get our whitest, flashiest car and we’ll sneak over there.” -Dom, being bad at plans.
- Dramatic irony is achieved when the audience knows something the character doesn’t. When Oedipus calls out to find the man who murdered his wife’s former husband? Dramatic irony. When Cat Grant talks to her employees about Supergirl, not knowing that Supergirl herself is in the room? Dramatic irony. Is that what they’re going for here by having Brian be the last person to realize Dom’s gang are the car-based thieves? Because they can’t imagine the audience doesn’t know.
- Crazy thought. If you’re only mostly sure you’ve found the right gang, maybe don’t take the undercover guy on the raid. Just in case.
- How obvious has it been who the thieves are? Brian’s boss just tells him. “It’s Dom. Deal with it.” No revelations, no new evidence, just “We’re running out of movie, time to decide who you betray.”
- No, yeah, you’re right Brian. In the middle of a quasi-legal racing festival filled with criminals is the exact place to confess to your girlfriend that you’re a cop after her brother. Smooth.
- And for the climactic heist, everyone just gives up on disguises. Or the cover of darkness. Sensible.
- Oh, that wasn’t the climax? Odd…
It’s not that the first Fast/Furious is bad, per se, it’s that it’s hollow. No, wait, hollow isn’t good. I guess it is bad. Sorry, my mistake.
It’s Point Break with half the action and a third of the story, and Point Break is not a good enough film that you can afford to strip away anything. Point Break at least tried to build a bond between Bodhi and Johnny Utah (Jesus Christ that movie was ridiculous) that would explain why Utah is so unwilling to accept that Bodhi is robbing banks to fund his surfing, and why he’s conflicted about bringing Bodhi in. Where Fast/Furious is concerned, Dom’s okay, I guess, but the motivation for Brian not thinking Dom’s crew are the thieves rests entirely on Dom’s sister Mia and Brian’s desire to get with that.
And Jordana Brewster does her best. I’ve also kind of bought Chuck Bartowski being willing to commit some mild treason for her, so… I guess? Sure? This makes a little sense? Also all the people Brian works for are demonstrably jerks, and let’s face it, Dom was stealing electronics and not killing anyone. This ain’t exactly the James Gang here.
Also, the writers can barely make themselves car about the car-facilitated heists. There’s one at the beginning, one that goes bad towards the end, and that’s not even the climax. The actual climax is Brian and Dom chasing down the Chinese gangsters that have been the Worse Gang for the last hour and a half. Point Break had a Worse Gang too, but they were shuffled off the mortal coil at the halfway point.
As far as the “extreme sports” hook that any Point Break knockoff or remake requires, car racing is, in theory, more exciting than surfing. But it also seems to be more expensive, because there are only, like, four races, and they’re all straight lines. Cars go fast, one car tries to go more fast, then other car goes much more fast, race over. Not exactly high-octane thrills.
There is no hint of the larger franchise in this movie. No sense that eventually these people are going to be travelling the world fighting terrorists in cars that make the Batmobile look like a beat-up Yugo. Frankly, I’m not stunned that it took a few movies to get Diesel back in, since I don’t know where he’d have thought there was to go with the character. Of course he’d have thought Xander Cage and Riddick would be more fun, and there’d be no need for anyone to come back to these characters.
If only he’d known. If only any of us had known. But as I said, I don’t see how anyone could have.
Next time… the Fast/Furious universe expands as Paul Walker picks up a new crew. It’s 2 silly, 2 pointless, but if I’m gonna deep-dive this franchise, I’m-a do it right.