Watching The Fast and the Furious in 2017 is a lot like watching the first episode for a TV show that you’re behind on. You know it gets better and you just want to get caught up so you can talk about it with everyone else. Most series premieres aren’t that great but they’re good enough to make you want to see more. This film was made in the early 2000’s, a time when most mainstream filmmakers established mood in a soundtrack by playing whatever pop culture hit was popular at the moment. Cheesy dialogue, glaring plot holes, and stylish action sequences regardless if the technology was available to adequately pull off said style were simply perceived by audiences as a given when watching summer blockbusters. In spite of all this, The Fast and the Furious was a huge hit, taking in $145 million domestically off a $38 million budget while making stars of its principle cast members. It also established the blueprint for the franchise – cars, big action set pieces, B-movie one liners, and of course its representation of the word family.
Aside from being a complete product placement ad for NOS Systems, The Fast and the Furious is pretty much Point Break, except instead of surfers wearing ex-President masks to rob banks, you have street racers with souped up cars using very high stakes methods to take down cargo trucks carrying expensive modification gear. If you’ve ever seen Donnie Brasco or even In Too Deep, you can pretty much guess exactly where this film is going to go in terms of its premise. LAPD officer Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) infiltrates the world of street racing to bring down whichever crew is responsible for a series of truck hijackings. O’Connor earns the loyalty of Dominic Turetto (Vin Diesel), one of the most respected men in the street racing circuit. But as O’Connor goes deeper into this world, he begins to question where his loyalty truly lies.
There’s no question that O’Connor will connect with this lifestyle. It’s debatable how accurate the film depicts the street racing world, but it does so with the same conflicting affection gangster films depict mob families. It’s glamorizing not least because of the money or the cars, but because it’s filled with individuals who live by no other code than their own, who take what they want when they want it, but also love and support each other. By contrast, the police station where O’Connor reports to his superiors is depicted as a toxic environment run by a bunch of idiots who care little for O’Connor’s safety or for the people that could get hurt if the mission is a success. You’re never unsure of who you should be rooting for.
Surprisingly, the acting sells this movie. Your enjoyment will largely depend on how much you buy the chemistry between the leads. These actors have been clearly cast for what their screen presence represents as opposed to their acting range. Vin Diesel, coming off of the success of Pitch Black is on full badass mode, while Paul Walker plays the suave, cool, easy on the eyes protagonist re-channeling Varsity Blues that will certainly draw in the female crowd. Michelle Rodriguez is the exact same character she’s been in every movie since Girlfight, and Jordana Brewster shines with her girl-next-door looks and sweet smile. Nobody in this movie is going for an Oscar, but they do what the script requires them to do really well.
And let’s be real. No one is going into The Fast and the Furious for story or acting. They demand two things: awesome cars and adrenaline-pumping chase scenes. This movie delivers on both. The camera looms over engines, underglows, rims, NOS injectors, and car bodies in the exact same way it looms over gorgeous women wearing almost nothing. If you have a passion for cars, the shots in this movie may just make you inappropriately aroused. As for the chase scenes, director Rob Cohen stages and frames the action with complete precision. There is never a moment where you’re confused as to what’s going on. The stunts have clearly been performed on set without much CGI help, and all presented in one single shot – no quick cut nonsense here. The truck hijacking in the film’s last act is simply a great action scene.
There’s no question that The Fast and the Furious is one of the weaker films in the franchise. That’s because the sequels have been able to expand and improve on the world that this film establishes to the point where it has its own “mythology.” There are very few, if any, action franchises that have been able to continue for over 16 years. Sure, this film is by no means a redefinition of the genre but it’s a perfect example of the genre done right. If you’re not a car person, or you require more from your movie dialogue than “You break her heart, I’ll break your neck,” then this isn’t your kind of movie. And that’s okay. The Fast and the Furious is the launching pad for what we’ve come to expect from this franchise. Gleefully dumb crime plots, stylish cars, B-grade action mayhem, and charismatic characters we instantly love in a film that moves at the speed of a 560-hp V-8 twin turbo punch. And that’s definitely my thing.