Review: Fast & Furious

Over the last eight years, I haven't shown much love for the "Fast/Furious" franchise. So please, when I write that "Fast & Furious" is the best film of the series, it's really not cause for a lynching. With an artistic recipe that calls for gaudy cars, awful actors, and frenzied visuals, I'll go as far as to consider "Fast & Furious" (IMDb listing) merely adequate, not appetizing. Still, after three previous films that delighted in kicking the art of cinema in the groin, I'll happily embrace the brooding, single-minded ride of cowboy vengeance the latest installment has to offer.

Living life as an international gasoline pirate with girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Dominic (Vin Diesel) is forced to return to America when tragedy strikes close to home. Vowing revenge on a drug lord who killed a loved one, Dominic finds his brutal investigation methods intersect with his old law enforcement pal Brian (Paul Walker), who's also hunting for the same villain. Reluctantly teaming up for a common cause, the boys head undercover as drivers for thug Campos (John Ortiz), crossing into Mexico to smuggle cases of drugs. Within striking distance of their ultimate prize, Brian and Dominic must summon the courage and the intelligence to not only find their man, but also thwart the clueless investigative practices of Brian's intrusive FBI colleagues.  

Really, it's all about the stunts; these "Fast/Furious" pictures should always be about the action. Not the iffy special effects, the wiffle ball passes at characterization, or the fixation on lipstick lesbianism to titillate the target demo. The movies have always made a certain impact when drumming up unyielding adventure for the leads, blessedly taking them away from the burden of big screen emoting. The oddly titled "Fast & Furious" sort of computes this requirement, as director Justin Lin (returning from his dreadful "Tokyo Drift" duties) amps up the action to celebrate the long-awaited reunion of the primary cast members (Jordana Brewster also reappears) from the original film.  

Opening with a marvelous, stunt-happy Dominican Republic assault on a tanker truck, "Fast & Furious" announces itself as a leaner, meaner creation, aimed more precisely than its rootless cousins. Revenge is the dish served cold here, instilling the faint air of focus to the events, as Dominic and Brian work diligently to bring the mystery bad guy to justice, leaving little room to pore over dramatic nonsense that, let's be honest here, nobody in this cast is capable of articulating. These heavily polished ladies and gentlemen are better seen than heard, and the less Lin gives them to do outside of frowning and grimacing, the better off the movie is.  

Lest this review start sounding like a recommendation, I assure you all that "Fast & Furious" remains dumb as rocks, chases diluted trends in fashion and automobiles, and turns a crucial climactic chase sequence into an absurd cartoon aesthetic the rest of the film pleasantly avoids. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, watching Diesel and Walker trade one-liners remains a sadistic torture device, and Lin's unimaginative direction fails to bring the central conflict to a needed boil. There's a lot to loathe in "Fast & Furious," but the glimmer of filmmaking evolution shines brighter than ever before, leaving me more bored with the end product than pantsed and assaulted. That's progress to me.  

It's hard to believe we're now four movies into this franchise, with a fifth promised at the end of "Fast & Furious." As long as the shiny, goofy looking cars burn rubber and tanned, buxom ladies spend more time kissing each other than the allegedly heterosexual lead characters, there will be an audience ready to lap up the results. Hopefully for the next go-around, the series will plunge even further into the crash-em-ups and flip-e-doos that feel so organic to the attitude of the series, and less into that thing called "acting" I'm assuming the entire cast is trying to pull off.

Filmfodder Grade: C