' ' Cinema Romantico: The Fast and the Furious

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

The Fast and the Furious

I confess my obliviousness to the entire "The Fast and the Furious" series. I had seen none of them, and had no desire to see any of them, but every time I would roll my eyes at a mention of the latest entry into the series (the sixth or seventh or eighth or possibly ninth, I can't be certain) I felt a little guilty. Only a little - the bare minimum of little - but it was enough to make me realize I should at least check out the original if I was going to talk trash. So I did.

One of the film’s establishing images is bro-ish Brian O'Connor (Paul Walker) at the wheel of a souped-up Mitsubishi Eclipse in an empty parking lot attempting to push the boundaries of a what a Mitsubishi Eclipse (even souped-up) should be able to accomplish. He fails, and we know he fails because he pounds the dashboard and vexedly bellows "Shit!" Now I know this sort of film is not “about” the dialogue but still, when the first word of the first “Fast and the Furious” is “shit”, well, it’s legitimate to argue that the walls of meta have just been breached.

The movie takes place, partly, in the world of underground L.A. street racing, a roost that chiseled, cutthroat Dominic Toretta (Vin Diesel) rules with a casual menace. Into this world - or, more accurately, into the dingy little roadside bar that Toretta owns and his sister (Jordana Brewster) tends - wanders Brian O'Connor. Brian wants in the world so bad he is willing to put his car on the line for a drag race. Dominic accepts. Brian loses. Oops!

Except that Brian saves Dominic when the cops come calling and, thus, a friendship is born, a romance blooms (with Mia, I mean!) and Dominic's wildcard best pal Vince (Matt Schulze) is suspicious of this wayfaring stranger at every turn. And he should be. That is because Brian is actually an undercover cop, hot on the trail of a group of highway bandits who plunder in-transit semi trucks. The police are able to detect that a group of street racers are the same group pulling the heists because of a tire type which just is not quite as cool as surfboard wax which is how the police detect the thieves in "Point Break" which reminds me that "The Fast and the Furious" is almost ashamedly a "Point Break" reboot without actually calling it a reboot (or without the brilliant Bigelow Touch).

Brian O'Connor is Johnny Utah. Dominic Toretta is Bodhi. Mia Toretto is Tyler Endicott. Rick Yune as rival street racer Johnny Tran is the stand-in for Anthony Kiedis and his gang of merry bandits who turn out to be the wrong bandits solely to pad the running time. I have no idea on this earth how anyone could possibly deny the blatant comparisons. I mean, "The Fast and the Furious" follows the "Point Break" guidebook right down to the end, when Brian lets Dominic get away just like Johnny let Bodhi go back out to the ride his last surf.

That last one is key. "The Fast and the Furious" seems intent on setting up a sequel while "Point Break" only to seeks to serve its own story. Not to mention that Paul Walker, all squints and hair mousse, the cinematic equivalent of a soggy Sonic Burger, makes Keanu Reeves look like a multiple Tony Award winning thespian. Diesel, meanwhile, can't hold a bottle of his beloved Corona to Swayze. Whereas Swayze infused his inner being with utter belief in every absurd mysticism he uttered, Diesel just tries to skate by on his muscles, baldness and voice. His charisma is entirely surface level.

But for all my criticisms, I want to bestow one mighty compliment. Honest, I do, and it deals directly with the love story subplot of Brian & Mia which, admittedly, feels like a love story you'd find on The CW. Brian's identity must be revealed, of course, and I fully expected the whole way through for Mia to find out secondhand and then confront Brian and holler at him and Brian declare "I was going to tell you!" and Mia sort of half-hit him and storm away shouting "Don't ever talk to me again!" and so on and so forth. Except...

Late in the film Brian tracks down Mia, takes hold of her and says "Mia, I'm a cop." I did a double-take - maybe even a triple-take. I was dumbfounded, awed and ecstatic. It was truly unbelievable. Movies that want to be films often refuse to let their characters to take responsibility for their actions and yet here was "The Fast and the Furious", of all things, nutting up and, for but an instant, letting Brian behave like a real person.

I'm a little like Dominic Toretta, in that way. Look, you don't just get my respect, free of charge, by throwing down a cool $38 million to be a movie and be on a movie screen. You gotta earn it. And "The Fast of the Furious", in the spite of the rest of its ripped off engine parts, in that one single moment, did. Even I'll drink a Corona to that, Dom.


Red said...

This has always been one of the most entertaining movies to me. Granted, it came out when I was 12 and I hadn't even heard of Point Break at the time, but awesome to watch nonetheless. I still pray for they day that the franchise kills off Paul Walker.

Nick Prigge said...

I kind of wish Point Break wasn't so ingrained in my mind. I don't know, maybe I would have watched it differently. It was hard to separate for me, though. But yeah, either way, Paul Walker is still Paul Walker.