Should I Watch..? The Fast And The Furious
What's the big deal?
The Fast And The Furious is an action thriller film released in 2001 and is the first instalment of the Fast And Furious franchise. Inspired by an article about illegal street racing in New York, the film stars Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster and rapper Ja Rule in a brief cameo. Filmed mainly in California and the Los Angeles area, the film became a surprise box office hit despite mixed reviews upon release and eventually grossed more than $200 million worldwide. The film would also make Walker and Diesel household names as well as the series of films both men would become closely associated with. The latest instalment, The Fate Of The Furious, is the eighth in the series and earned global takings of $1.23 billion, further strengthening the series' claim to be one of the most financially successful of all time.
What's it about?
After a series of audacious heists in the LA area, the FBI assign local undercover LAPD officer Brian O'Conner to investigate a local street-racing gang led by Dominic Toretto. Working at a mechanics shop, O'Conner soon meets Toretto and his crew - girlfriend Letty and friends Jesse, Vince and Leon. Brian also meets Toretto's sister Mia and an instant attraction develops. But before he's chased off, Brian manages to appear at the next meet with his Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX and asks to race Toretto. Brian loses but earns Toretto's respect by helping him evade the police.
The further Brian digs into Toretto's background, the more convinced he is that the actual culprit behind the robberies is Little Saigon gang leader Johnny Tran. But his bosses aren't convinced - has Brian gone too far undercover and can he solve the case without blowing his cover?
Leticia "Letty" Ortiz
Gary Scott Thompson, David Ayer & Erik Bergquist *
Release Date (UK)
14th September, 2001
Action, Crime, Thriller
What's to like?
Considering that it's a big budgeted B-movie, The Fast And The Furious is actually a lot more fun than it has any right to be. The film is an intoxicating blend of nitrous-fuelled action, a ludicrous number of hot women in tight clothing and square-jawed antiheroes. The film's many driving scenes are well shot and exciting, especially the heist scenes which feature a sports car diving underneath the trailer of an eighteen-wheeled truck and out the other side. It has a infectious energy to it as well as a real passion and knowledge of the street racing scene. The sheer number of cars, adorned with a variety of modifications, look good and make some serious noise.
Considering most of the cast were relative unknowns at the time, it's not surprising to see Diesel rise to the top as the charismatic Toretto. And considering that Brewster has little to do but show up and look pretty, she does a decent job of fleshing out her underwritten character. Walker might struggle to convince as an undercover cop but behind the wheel, he seems to come alive as though the spirit of James Dean has come out to play. But this isn't a movie for studied performances - it's bright, loud and dumb fun at its very best.
- Diesel's line about having any beer you want so long as it's a Corona was intended to paraphrase Henry Ford's famous quote about the Model T Ford being only in black. But he never said it and besides, the Model T was available in numerous colours when it was released. Black wasn't even an option at first.
- The first street race is over a quarter of a mile in distance which takes 10 seconds to complete and two minutes of screen time. It also shows the cars travelling at speeds of 150 mph, something a Bugatti Veyron is unable to do in a quarter of a mile.
- Director Rob Cohen has a brief cameo at the start of the film as the old pizza delivery guy held up by the first race meeting.
What's not to like?
And when I say dumb, I mean it. The Fast And The Furious lives in a world where an empty street to speed along can be found at the drop of a hat. The dialogue is much less convincing than the endless tyre squeals and there is also far too much product placement - every car goes faster than the one before it and gives us a nice clean shot at the badge so we all know if its a Nissan or Dodge or Chevrolet. I also disapproved of the cheap-looking CG around the windows of Walker and Diesel's racers which didn't convince at all and reminded you that you were truly looking at humble origins. Lastly, I also didn't like the blatant sexism the film seemingly possessed where only the men race while the women are only there to either distract the losers or motivate the winners.
Of course, it's impossible these days to watch The Fast And The Furious without thinking about the tragic loss of Walker who was killed during the production of Furious 7. But if anything, the movie serves as a fitting epitaph - it might be a thinly veiled remake of Point Break on four wheels instead of a surfboard but the fact that this remains a decent flick is testament to the film's strengths.
Should I watch it?
Petrol-heads will be in sheer heaven during The Fast And The Furious which is a noisy, fast and energetic look at the oily glamour of street racing and the joys of modifying your ride. It's nothing spectacular but it's fun in a mindless sort of way, which is exactly all it needed to be. Still, it's hard to assess how this low-brow rubber-burner became such a global hit...
Great For: blokes who miss Top Gear, street racers, fans of the series
Not So Great For: LA residents, the elderly
What else should I watch?
Consensus seems to be that the series wouldn't really find its mark until the fifth film - Fast Five - which would ultimately lead onto the world-beating Furious 7 released in 2015. Fast Five would drop the whole street-racing thing and instead focus on being an action heist film with cars which would appear to have paid off in handsome fashion. The series has maintained the formula ever since and shows no signs of applying the handbrake any time soon - the ninth film is due in 2019.
Car movies are rarefied beasts these days, thanks to this series scaring off the competition. But going back to the 1970's and 80's, they seemed much more prevalent. Smokey And The Bandit is a redneck classic featuring hairy-lipped ladies man Burt Reynolds in a black Trans Am against Jackie Gleason's unforgettable Sheriff Buford T. Justice. Reynolds would also burn rubber in The Cannonball Run, which would feature a trans-American race similar to the modern Gumball rallies held today. Both of these movies would have more a comedic slant to them than any of the Fast & Furious movies, though. Viewers looking for a more drug-addled addition might fancy the classic Vanishing Point although don't expect any cohesive story-telling.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox