The article “the” is missing from the latest installment of the “The Fast and the Furious” franchise, now in its fourth sequel — a probable maneuver to lead people into thinking this is the original and arguably the best “THE Fast and THE Furious” — and lure them into theaters. Grammatical antics ain’t enough however, to cover up the gaping plot holes, uninspired digitalized action and hammy dialogue that in certain places can get pretty excruciating: “I like a woman who’s 20 percent angel, 80 percent devil . . . ” HUH? Oh well. I know such complaints are superfluous given the fact that the franchise is designed to show cars and cars and cars and really not much else. “Fast & Furious” fills this requirement admirably: The film races vehicles and guzzles gas like the gulf wars never happened and as for the disintegration of the U.S. auto industry, it’s like — what’s that?
On the other hand, fast cars now emanate a nostalgic, almost romantic whiff of yesteryear. What with the rise of the ethical consumer and the opportunity to cash in on those eco-points, more drivers are shifting to hybrids and “smart” SUVs over what Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) in the film refers to as “a 10-second car:” 10 seconds for the driver to get in, start up, and see it careening on the freeway. And when the going gets tough, 10 seconds to blow it to smithereens, right onto the windshield of an enemy’s truck and into the enemy’s face. Where else are we going to get such engine-grease laden thrills if not in movies such as this one?
The director is Justin Lin, who kicked off his directorial career with a Sundance sleeper hit called “Better Luck Tomorrow” in 2002 — a satirical look at rich Asian-American kids in Orange County, Calif., spiritually adrift and seeking a sense of identity. After that, he turned into a mainstream filmmaker and helmed the third ” The Fast and the Furious” sequel called “Tokyo Drift,” which was a niftily observed portrayal of a white kid working off his speed demons on perilously narrow Tokyo streets and hitting it off with a half-Western babe in his class. Clearly, Lin has an eye for ferreting out the humor and angst buried inside Asian communities and the talent surfaced sporadically in “Tokyo Drift” as he dug into his locations and came up with not-so stereotypical images of Tokyo street life. But in this latest, Lin sheds all Asian concerns to concentrate on the cars and action, and the result is a streamlined, manufactured form of entertainment that sadly lacks any individual flourishes.
Still, fans of the series may rejoice to know that after that little detour into Asia, Lin reassembles the original F&F team consisting of Dominic, his nemesis Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker), his sultry sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) and his fiendishly fit girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez).
In this one, Dominic is a fugitive from U.S. law, hiding in the Dominican Republic — not that this deters him from driving like a maniac and stealing four enormous tanks of gasoline from a freight truck with more wheels than one would care to count. Lots of fun for Dominic, but when he hears that Letty has gone missing in Los Angeles, he sneaks back home. Naturally the LAPD is alerted within minutes of his arrival and Brian is assigned to track him down.
Strangely enough, the police can’t locate Dominic, in spite of his humongous body mass, biceps that threaten to tear through the sleeves of his extremely tight T-shirts and a strong penchant for revving it up in nice neighborhoods. Complicating things further is a working relationship that springs between Brian and Dominic once the pair team up to crack down on a Mexican heroin-transporting operation. Huh? Still, that’s easy on the brain compared to the illogical kinetics that occur with vehicles from a sleek Lamborghini LM002 to an evil, customized Subaru. You lose track of who’s the good guy, or more to the point, whose panting over (or under) which hood and why. Not that one cares, but it’s weird to see the cast getting this intimate with cars, as if they had all joined some religious clan promoting panautomobile love. Or maybe, as Brian so succinctly puts it: “As long as I like the body, I don’t care what make it is.”