The Fast and the Furious (2001, 2003, 2006, 2009, 2011, 2013)

As you may have noticed, I occasionally watch an entire series from start to finish to experience something closer to the whole of a story. The idea struck me when I sat and watched all of the Lord of the Rings movies in order and thought, "Good god! Why don't I watch every movies series like this?"

Well, the results thus far have been questionable. Lake Placid had mediocre bits and absolute trash. The same could be said of the Universal Soldier series. But maybe a series that was more of a box-office hit would do the trick. Time to find out...

The Fast and the Furious (2001)

The Fast and the Furious was the second movie I ever saw with Vin Diesel in it. The first was Pitch Black, and I'll have to remember to write up a review for that one. Both movies required that Vin's role was played by someone who could commit to it, and Vin carried them both very well. That's not to say he could not have improved, but there was a spot that needed filled, and he was remarkably shaped just like that hole.

This first movie honestly got a bad rap. It's got whacked-out rice cars that are way slower than they are portrayed on the screen, and the plot has holes big enough to drive a Mitsubishi Evo X with StreetGlow undercarriage lighting and a ridiculous wing through, but it's honestly not as bad as people remember (or assume).

Paul Walker does an okay job, but he's not as smart in real life as his character is supposed to be on screen. He's probably just supposed to be a pretty boy who happens to be a cop, but the role is of an undercover cop, dammit. It takes a certain amount of intelligence to pull that off, and he demonstrates none of it.

The women are kind of one amalgam of what women might be. They both represent sisters, lovers, and mothers. It's a shame, as I really like Michelle Rodriguez, and I think she's got more range than she's been allowed to show thus far. The men are nothing to note, either. They fill supporting spots to allow the real men do the heavy work of acting and being tough.

I suspect a theme for this series is going to be the racing. Apparently, when you drag race, you don't put your foot the whole way down. Instead, you wait until the guy you're racing passes, and then you shove your foot down. Sometimes, you just realize that you're in the wrong gear, and you shift. You have to do it with gusto! There's no heel-toe nonsense, either. That takes skill - we want undercarriage lights and NOS.

While we're on the topic, NOS does not increase top speed. It will make a car accelerate faster, but it won't increase the top-end. I wish movies like this would make the distinction correctly. This one, it seems, will not. In fact, the main character at one point complains that his car topped out at 130, and now he needs something... NOS!

Still, the movie has lots going on. romance, racing, fighting, shooting, dishonored Asians, crotch-rocket gangsters, and even a proper muscle car. The action is fast, and the acting is furious.


2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)

2 Fast 2 Furious? Really? Do you really think you're being counter-culture by naming your sequel something that won't sit next to the original in the movie store if they sort by title? Don't you think you're being a bit ludicrous? Hey, speaking of Ludacris, guess who is in this one. That's right, Ludacris - and he wasn't terrible.

Cole Hauser does not play a particularly convincing bad guy. Maybe he just wasn't into it, but he didn't come across as menacing or anything, and it makes you kind of wonder how he ever got this much power in the first place. At least he wasn't as milquetoast as Eva Mendes; she didn't even show enough skin to be interesting, and her acting was barely adequate.

Paul Walker did a slightly better job in this film, and Tyrese Gibson did a great job replacing essentially the supporting male lead that was left vacant by Vin Diesel. He was a believable almost reformed criminal who dislikes Paul for most of the movie and does... bad things that you might expect a criminal to do.

The cars were WAY over the top. the idea of an unremovable GPS system, the nitrus-bleeding show system, the pink freaking cars, and all the other crap that they shoved into these things are not doing them any favors. I appreciate a well built car as much as the next guy, and I can appreciate wanting to improve the abilities of your car by adding better shocks, tires, or whatever is necessary. And yes, there may be a desire to add things that are completely ornamental to improve the look of the car, but have these people never encountered the word subtlety?

So, the story of the movie was even more impossible than the last. But, it brought action and... well, mostly action.


The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

The first of the F&F movies to have a subtitle is The Fast and the Furious 3 - Tokyo Drift. This movie is a significant departure from the formula of the others and contains none of the original characters. It's actually more of a Japanese mob movie than it is about racing, and they seem to have simply taken a movie about an American going over to Japan and getting mixed up with the gangs and plunked cars into it.

Let's talk about cars for a second. I'm no car expert, but I am a bit of an enthusiast. It would be a very straight-forward applied physics experiment that would demonstrate that a car pointed in a straight line goes faster than a car with the rear end hanging out. Any Indy/NASCAR/FormulaOne/rally fan will tell you that you want down force to keep your power going to the ground consistently. Spinning the rear tires in a RWD car means that you're not getting the most speed out of your car.

Drifting is a style of driving, but it is not actually a way to race. At more than one point in this movie, there was the assertion that some personality conflict was going to be resolved in a race. And those races involved an excessive amount of drifting that does nothing but slow the car down. At one point, there is a stunt where a driver drifts a car at the most extreme angle possible up a spiral parking ramp. Impressive car control, but he'd go a lot faster by just straightening.

The acting is completely laughable, the storyline is forgettable, the dialogue is predictable, and the CG has some of the cars drifting at angles that are inconsistent with the rules of the known universe. And can I mention the father? The hero kid's military father is gruff and unlovable with no ability to take guff from anyone. Somehow, he accepts his son's need to "clean up his own mess" and risk his life doing the same thing that got him sent away from the US in the first place.

Likewise, the uncle of the bad guy (who is, of course, Yakuza) is compelled by a completely idiotic argument to allow the two to race at the end for the right not to leave town. There is basically no upside in letting them race, as the American remaining in the city does not have any upside for the illegitimate businessman. Nevertheless, a big group of kids watched the race on their tiny little flip phones (as the race was a long and winding road down a mountain) with no cameras to catch the action, so we are left to assume they have some kind of magic cameras following the "racers."


Fast and Furious (2009)

The anomaly that is Tokyo Drift is far in the rear view mirror when this movie starts. We dispense with the stupid drift-racing nonsense and pull out some straight-line speed. There is more american muscle in this movie than any of the other three. This includes a very nice Buick Grand National of which I am a fan. This movie was titled "Fast & Furious" with no subtitle or number. I'm surprised it wasn't called 4ast and 4ious or similar nonsense.

Michelle Rodriguez dies early. It's a shame, too, as her character was being built up for some possible positive female role-charactering. Instead, we're left with the very good looking Jordana Brewster to play what is essentially window dressing to the CG-enhanced racing. They do add another woman to the mix on the bad guys side (really, though, "bad guys" is a relative term in these films) who is just a gun-wielding hunk of window dressing.

And oh, the CG. I get that they didn't want uncontrolled wrecks happening, and there was no way they would be able to have these cars fly at high speed through a mining tunnel, but holy crap. Can you at least make the digital animation a bit more believable? No. No you can't.

I'm not sure why, but Paul Walker's character was drummed out of the FBI for letting Vin escape in the first movie - we learned about that in the second movie. For some reason, Paul's character is again working undercover. This breach of sanity goes with no explanation  and we are left to assume that he's such a fantastic driver that they absolutely need him for these kinds of things.

Speaking of driving, the old reliable traits are all here. If you want to get past someone, you need to downshift. You must have been running in the wrong gear this entire time that you've been in this high-speed chase. NOS still holds its special ability to launch a car forward using what can only be described as magic. It HAS to be magic, as science would seem to contradict some of the things that NOS is demonstrated to do to these cars.


Fast and Furious 5 (2011)

Fast Five starts off where the last movie ended - with a physics-defying jailbreak. Seriously, why are we to believe that a 1970 Dodge Charger RT would win- WIN - in a collision with a bus? Who has taken a leave of their senses: us or the movie makers? And the bus flips and crashes (with no damage to the Dodge) with no fatalities? It was full of prisoners who were chained but not strapped down, so that seems REALLY unlikely.

We head to Central America where Vince, a lug-head from the first movie whose only purpose was to antagonize our hero, accepts all comers to his den of power such that he may feed and care for them in his gruff, mean-spirited way. This, of course, means that he needs help stealing cars. If only there was something our hero was good at...

After pulling out some very nice cars (including a Ford GT and a pristine '66 Corvette Gran Sport) it becomes clear that they were double-crossed - SHOCK! So now they've been setup to take the fall for the theft and the theft of the drugs or whatever was hidden inside the cars.

Eventually, a storyline gets running. They pull in as many of their old characters as they can. This includes Tyrese Gibson and Ludicrous from the second movie and - inexplicably - Sung Kang from the third movie. It is notable that in the third movie, Sung Kang's character died. His zombie appears to be identical to the living him.

So, at some point (after The Rock comes to bring justice to the anti-heroes) they decide that the heist that they are going to pull requires a fast car. Vin is portrayed as unbeatable in his old car, so they can race for pink slips with impunity. The first car they get is a Porsche 911 GT3 RS (a stupid fast car) and it is too slow. So, they go through other cars. The problem is, the GT3 is self-evidently faster than even a finely tuned Nismo 350Z or Mitusbishi Evo.

The cars are there to look good. Their actual performance or the way they accelerate is not relevant to the story or to any race. It reminds me of when I saw the movie Redline, and there were four supercars of different makes and models that all performed off the line identically. In this movie, however, it is all about what the director wants to happen. Four identical Dodge Charger police cars race down the road, and (even though each driver is flat out) they jockey for position as some drop back as much as 40 feet only to accelerate to come in line with everyone else, yet not to pass.

Eventually, the Rock joins our band of misfits (and one zombie) to fight against the really evil guy who single-handedly runs the criminal operations in all of Brazil. Still, imagine the modifications necessary for two Dodge Charges to be able to pull a vault weighing in at somewhere around 5-6 tons. That chase, by the way, was actually really nicely done. There is very little CG that I can see, and there is a whole heap of damage. the only thing that seems odd is the varied type of police cars involved. You'd think the police would standardize to make maintenance easier. Well, they can standardize now. I wonder how many officers were killed in this reality.


Fast and Furious 6 (2013)

Fast and Furious 6 finds our heroes relaxed and in the lap of luxury. After all, they had a hundred million dollars from the last movie, so they can live high on the hog. The first car action we see is an entirely CG race between Paul Walker and Vin. It's pretty clearly CG, as the cars are racing down a 2-lane road, both stay in their lanes, and neither of them slow down for turns at all. This does not bode well for the stunts in this movie, but I remember the crappy CG in the tunnel scenes in the fourth movie, but those were offset by the good scene in the fifth with the vault.

These movies are not about believability, but there are some parts of this movie where they are actively laughing at the gullibility of their audience. The final scene, for example, is where there is a runway which - by my estimation - is 1000 miles long. There are so many jumps from moving vehicles that result in no injuries that I scarcely believe they are even trying to sell it.

So, the dead guy from Tokyo Drift is back again - still pretending to be alive. The dead girlfriend (Michelle Rodriguez) comes back to life, and she was never really dead (even though they buried her). Paul somehow manages to get into prison (posing as an inmate) to interrogate a guy who conveniently shows up and presents himself for a beating. Strangely, even with the assistance of INTERPOL, they say that Paul has to be out of the prison within 24 hours or they'll know who he is, and he'll stay in prison for life.

Anyway, the driving is what is usually the focus for these movies, and the cars are much better than many previous movies. It's like they were targeting car guys with some of these picks, and I appreciate it. However, their standard fallback of jamming the pedal down or shifting gear in order to go faster exhibits itself here quite prominently. More interesting is the tiny little armored buggy that is the same speed as a modern musclecar which is also the same speed as a giant armored personnel carrier. Vehicles, distances, and speed are all pliable things that are given to interpretation to fit the expectation of the director.

All told, this was better than the last, and I understand that there is a seventh one coming out, so... I guess there is that to look forward to.



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