2009 | Director: Justin Lin
A quick recap of the “Fast” series so far: in “The Fast and the Furious,” Brian (Paul Walker) goes undercover to bust car thief and amateur philosopher Dom (Vin Diesel), but their mutual love of the dangerous world of street racing, along with Brian’s fling with Dom’s hot sister (Jordanna Brewster), give the young cop pause. Should he bust the violent, sociopathic guy who has stolen millions in innocent people’s property, or should he let him get away because of their lukewarm and unbelievable friendship? I’d pick the first option, but then, I’m fuzzy on the laws concerning automotive theft and aggravated assault, so I could be totally wrong.
Then, in “2 Fast 2 Furious” (which I haven’t seen, making the following my best guess) Brian and fraternal twin Tyrese Gibson try to build a ramp that will allow them to jump their stupid-looking cars over the Atlantic and into a giant toilet full of money—a goal complicated by the bumbling interference of Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Eva Mendes).
The following sequel, “3 Fast 3 Furious: Tokyo Drift,” brings in a newcomer played by Lucas Black, a creepy kid with a checkered past who decides to learn a useless new racing style so that he can beat a bunch of Yakuza racers down the spiral ramp of a parking lot in order to save the day from whatever. I forget.
So it should surprise no one that “4 Fast 4 Furious” (or “Fast and Furious,” as the studio insists on calling it in advertisements) is about cars again, or, more specifically, the racing, crashing, and worship thereof. What is surprising is that, despite herculean attempts by the painfully wooden cast to derail the production, “4 Fast” is a well-directed, suspenseful, and reasonably entertaining action film that makes up for its abundant flaws with a strangely endearing reckless energy. I did not see that coming.
This time around, Brian, Dom, Dom’s hot sister, and Dom’s angry girlfriend (Michelle Rodriguez) are back in action, as Brian, now inexplicably an FBI Agent, hunts a shadowy drug trafficker from the bowels of Mexico who has invaded the bowels of Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Dom is pulled back from his life on the lam by a spoiler-ish event that causes him to seek the most satisfying type of revenge—the vengeful kind. Naturally, the paths of Brian and Dom converge, reigniting their tenuous camaraderie and forcing them back into the ever-so-marketable world of racing with gaudily-painted cars that each look like something a child pulled from a specially marked box of All-Bran.
The worst thing about Paul Walker is not his perpetual expression of bemusement, but his voice, a maddening surfer-boy bray that evokes a post-stroke Keanu Reeves, only with less acting talent. But maybe he just sounds bad opposite Diesel, whose own Barry White-like vocalization commands instant attention. Diesel’s definitely the better thespian, but that’s kind of like saying A is a better strain of hepatitis than C. At least the casting is consistent: never before have so many actors who’ve looked so perfectly smug behind the wheel appeared in the same movie.
Yet “4 Fast” prevails, thanks to Justin Lin’s capable direction. Lin (“Better Luck Tomorrow”) guides the ridiculous actors through the preposterous plot without a shrug or a wink, focusing instead on editing, pace, and superbly-choreographed car chases. The story serves the action, in this case, but that’s preferable to asking the audience to suspend their disbelief of physics-defying car crashes for the sake of a story so trite about characters so dull. In this way Lin fulfills the series’ middling potential: a fun, earnest, mindless return to ‘80s action films where the good guys do outrageous things against high stakes and in the face of self-satisfied evil.
Rating: Three of Five Stars