Fast & Furious (2009): Fourth Chapter in Car Racing Franchise, Starring Vin Diesel and Paul Walker

There are several ways to look at “Fast & Furious,” the fourth car-racing chapter of the popular franchise, which began in 2001, but there’s probably no way to enjoy this coldly calculated machine which has become like one of the many videogames it has inspired in the first place.

 

The movie, which is by far the weakest entry of the four, will  probably be dismissed by most critics.  But it remains to be see how viewers, very young viewers (like under 18), in foreign markets, would react to it since they are the ones who made the series a global blockbuster. 

 

Perspective 1: Title–out of desperation, the producers have changed the title, going for something briefer and cooler, “Fast & Furious,” thus elminating two articles from the titles of the previous installments as well as the subtitles.  You may recall that the previous segment was called “The Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drift,” also directed by Justin Lin. 

 

Perspective 2:  Casting–As the franchise began to lose gas or steam, the producers have decided to being back the four original lead actors: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, and Michelle Rodriguez.  Thus, you can look at the film as sort of a reunion.  Sadly, though, with the possible exception of Rodriguez, who at least continues to have an active career in both indies and minstream pictures, none to the three other performers has developed much as actors, and delivering a stiff dialogue of mostly one sentences, doesn’t help either.

 

Perspective 3: Intertextuality–here a concept of film studies is necessary.  This chapter borrows/lifts elements not only from the previous films (which is legit), but also from other pictures, most notably “Grand Theft Auto” series (which while a common practice is not exactly legit). 

 

Perspective 4: Directing—When he was a young indie director, Justin Lin made a far more interesting picture, “Better Luck Tomorrow,” than helming this impersonal franchise.  You could say that the Sundance Film Fest continues to fulfill one of its functions by supplying the movie industry with fresh (and realtively inexpensive) directorial talent.  But what assignments do most of Sundance grads get?  How would Justin Lin develop as a filmmaker, if most of what he he has to do is in the new film is orchestrate stunts and oversee activities of what’s like an extended and glossier videogame.

 

Perspective 5: Narrative and Pop Culture—The first, best, and most enjoyable film in the series was a B-picture par excellence, a reinvention or reimaging of the equivalent of a 1960s youth beach party movie, with car racing, cockfights, and macho bravado, instead of campy parties and music. However, by 2009, the franchise has no new or fresh insights to offer, a result of the fact that popular culture has changed dramatically over the past decade, due to the Internet world, Reality TV, and multiple videogmaes, which owe their existence to movies like “Fast & Furious.” 


Back in 2001, one of the film’s novelties was the interfacing of race, social and gender, and the notions of working class minorities as action heroes and heroines, not to mention multi-racial groups, were not seen much in dominant Hollywood pictures. 

Perspective 6: Feminism– The women of the “Fast & Furious” are as strong-willed and skilled as their male counterparts.  Indeed, they are tougher than they used to be and speak in technical-instructional jargon, almost like the men. I leave it up to you to decide whether this is a sign of real progress and of greater gender equality.


To bring the series full circle, the producers again hired screenwriter Chris Morgan, who previously worked on “Tokyo Drift” in 2006 and more recently, on Angelina Jolie’s actioner “Wanted,” neither of which particularly well-written or well-structured.  Here’s what passes as the underwhlemingly engaging and overwhelmingly familiar plot. 

 

It’s been eight years since ex-con Dominic Toretto (Diesel) drove across the Mexican border pursuing a fugitive existence.  Living in a beach shack in the Dominican Republic with Letty (Rodriguez), the only member of his past, he tries to piece together a new life, but he knows the authorities will always follow him.

A tragic death brings Dom to L.A., where his feud with agent Brian O’Conner (Walker) is reignited. (Boys will be boys….)  However, forced to confront the same enemy, a sociopathic drug kingpin, Dom and Brian must develop a new trust if they are to outmaneuver him and avenge the tragedy he had caused.

Infiltrating the underground network means involvement in a heist squad that moves high-grade heroin across the border from Mexico.  Two lieutenants in the cartel, Campos (John Ortiz) and Fenix (Laz Alonso),  are the only ones who can provide the access Dom and Brian need.

So far it’s a boy-boy story, without much romantic tension. Demographics dictate that for the picture to appeal to male and female viewers, there should be some love/sex interests, though as noted earlier, “this “Fast & Furious” is very much a boys fare; never mind that Diesel and Walker are in their 40s!

Thus, Dom’s sister Mia (Brewster) and Brian are made to rediscover the family bond that was torn apart.  expectedly, however, the allies again find themselves pitted against one another in a ruthless race.   Switching from convoy heists on the Dominican Republic’s mountainous countryside to the Mexican desert, the men realize that the best way to get revenge is literally to push the limits of what’s possible behind the wheel.


Let the action, stunt work, and CGI effects begin and dominate the proceedings.

Cast


Dominic Toretto – Vin Diesel
Brian O’Conner – Paul Walker
Letty – Michelle Rodriguez
Mia – Jordana Brewster
Campos – John Ortiz
Fenix – Laz Alonso
Han – Sung Kang
Tego – Tego Calderon
Gisele – Gal Gadot
Don Omar – Don Omar
Penning – Jack Conley
Trinh – Liza Lapira
Stasiak – Shea Whigham