Here is a franchise that just keeps going and going, it may be slowed from time to time, but it cannot be stopped, it just gets rebuilt bigger and badder than it was before. The Fast & The Furious proved to be a big hit when it first arrived in 2001, it was followed two years later with a successful sequel (despite the absence of Vin Diesel). It would be another three years before the franchise would return to theaters, this time taking on a whole new set of characters and shifting the story overseas to Japan, this entry began to show a little wear at the seams as fans seemed to miss the original characters. Now, in 2009 we get a film with a tag line that seems sure to bring back some confidence back to the franchise: "New Model. Original Parts."
Fast & Furious features the return of all four principals from the 2001 original. That is right, Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, and Michelle Rodriguez have all returned to the film that helped put their names on the map. It certainly is welcoming to have them back, it makes this entry seem a little more worthwhile, despite the fact that I enjoyed the third entry, Tokyo Drift. I also have to wonder if the stars' desire to get on board was a play to help there own sagging careers? Diesel had turned his back on sequels after the first film thrust him up the star ladder, but aside from the family film The Pacifier has not had a big box office hit since xXx, another series he has previously said no to sequels on as well. Whatever the story may be, they are all here and seem to bring some heft to the new film.
This entry begins in South America with Dom Toretto (Diesel) leading his gang of drivers, including Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), on a daring heist of a gasoline land train (a sequence seen in truncated form in the teaser trailer). It is an exciting – if implausible – sequence that really brought me into the film and got me excited for what was to come. Unfortunately, it became a case of diminishing returns as I never got that sense of real excitement during the rest of the film.
While the action down south is going on, Brian O'Conner (Walker) is back in LA working a case with the FBI in order to bring down a drug smuggling ring. Guess what? The smugglers are using street racers to move their product from point to point. Rather brilliant, no? It gives you an open door to get some dynamic race sequences.
Anyway, the plot arranges itself in such a way that Dom must return to the States, where he reluctantly re-teams with Brian as they both follow their individual motivations for infiltrating the smuggling ring.
At this point the plot is rather inconsequential. It is there to merely string along the action sequences where our returning human stars play second fiddle to the real stars of this piece — a wide array of souped up imports and a liberal sprinkling of good old American muscle.
Directed by Justin Lin in his second go-around with the franchise (he also helmed Tokyo Drift), the movie has a slick look to it. For the promise he showed with characters in his first major feature, 2002's Better Luck Tomorrow, he seems to be equally adept at delivering exciting action set pieces. Now, if he could only find a way to bring those two elements together in a single piece.
I did not enter the theater expecting a great story, but I was hoping for a little more than what I got. Chris Morgan is the man behind this go-nowhere screenplay (he wrote the screenplay for Tokyo Drift as well). I wonder if there was much studio interference in the writing process, as the story does not seem to go anywhere. It is almost like the only direction the production staff received was to get Diesel and Walker together, make sure there are a number of car races, and get the film turned in.
While I was left cold, bored, and uninterested by the story, I did enjoy the racing action. I am guessing that will be enough for many who go to see this, and there is nothing wrong with that, I just really wished there was more to it. I kept waiting for the story to take off, but it never did. The entire exercise is a lot of set up with very little payoff.
Bottomline. I would be lying if I said I was not entertained. I was, I enjoyed the car sequences, and Diesel does prove to be a solid action lead. However, this is not a movie that delivers on its potential.