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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Fast And Furious Four Pack

 
So rather than create an all new retrospective about the Fast and Furious films, I have compiled all of my previous reviews (written well before my writing evolved to being slightly better) and put them into one mega article to reflect my evolving opinions on the series as a whole.  This is all, of course, in anticipation for the upcoming Fast Five, which looks to be kind of amazing in a completely silly sort of way.  I mean you have almost every member of the cast from each previous film AND The Rock.  But I will save that for the actual review for that film.  For now, enjoy what I had to say about the previous films in this series.

The Fast and the Furious = 3 ½ Stars

 
Dom: Ask any racer, any real racer. It doesn't matter if you win by an inch or a mile; winning's winning.
Here is a goofy action movie about fast cars.  I say goofy because the whole thing is ridiculous; The plot, the dialogue, the characters, and the furiousness of it all.  The story (which even the director, Rob Cohen, acknowledges in his commentary) takes heavily from Point Break, of all movies, in order to provide some sort of structure to introducing audiences to the underground street racing scene.  Paul Walker plays Brian O’Connell, an undercover cop with a surfer boy attitude, who is trying to break into the underground racing scene in order to find out who is behind a string of truck hijackings.  Brian becomes involved with local street racing god Dom Toretto, played by Vin Diesel. The two become friends of sorts, and Brian gets more involved in their world. He also, of course, gets in a relation with Dom's sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster).  Michelle Rodriguez is also around playing a tough chick/Dom’s girlfriend.

Vince: He's got no call bein' up there, you don't know that fool for shit!
Leon: Yeah he's right, Dom.

Dom: Vince there was a time when I didn't know you!
Vince: That was in the third grade!

The story is extremely dumbed down for anyone to get what's going on.  The joy, I suppose, comes from seeing a bunch of nice cars rip through the streets, along with Diesel and Walker going through the motions.  What I get out of this movie is the hilariously bad dialogue, which includes signature Vin Diesel monologues, and the basic entertainment factor that somehow makes this an enjoyable movie for me.  It is not very good, but it is “very good.”
Dom: I live my life a quarter mile at a time. Nothing else matters: not the mortgage, not the store, not my team and all their bullshit. For those ten seconds or less, I'm free.

2 Fast 2 Furious = 3 Stars
Brian O'Connor: You ready for this?
Roman: Come on man; Guns, murderers and crooked cops? I was made for this, bro.
If the first movie wasn't ridiculous enough, this sequel tries to raise the bar (just look at the title of the damn movie), but you know what, it is hilariously crazy enough for me to enjoy it.  Paul Walker returns as the surfer boy/ex-cop on the run Brian, after letting Vin Diesel get away in the last movie (apparently he got far enough away not to come back this time around).  After an opening race to ensure us that this movies is in fact 2 fast and 2 furious, Brian is brought in by the cops and told that he must go undercover again, using his racing abilities to bust a drug dealer, played by Cole Hauser in snappy dressed drug lord mode. Brian requests aid from an old friend of his, Roman played by Tyrese. Now set in Miami, the two work with buddy movie clichés and hot new car models to get the job done.  Within this cast you also have James Remar (Dexter’s Dad!) as the tough FBI guy, Ludacris, and a smoking hot Eva Mendes doing exactly what she needs to do.

For some reason John Singleton has decided to direct this movie, acknowledging the fact that the purpose is to show off hot cars and hot bods, but he does a decent enough job getting across the image of this racing world in Florida.  His choice of bringing in Tyrese is also welcome. While the Diesel cool is lost, Tyrese is a very fun and likable guy and definitely tries to help us forget how poorly plotted out this movie is, ensuring us that this is supposed to be a summer movie about having fun.  Complete with over-the-top CG racing scenes, more terrible dialogue, and a plot that goes way past being loony (it has the classic “car jumps on boat” moment), this movie still manages to provide enough entertainment for me to enjoy it my own way.

[After Roman Pearce smashed the car window]
Brian O'Connor: Now put your blouse back on.
Roman Pearce: Hater.

The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift = 3 ½ Stars
Clay: You talking to my girl?
Shawn Boswell: She was just admiring my ride.
Clay: That? My grandma's Buick can smoke that piece of shit trailer trash!
Shawn Boswell: What about your daddy's Viper?
[Clay pauses, then chuckles]
Clay: This beast's got 500-horsepower and a Borla exhaust system. It does 0-60 in what, 4.3 seconds?
Shawn Boswell: Wow. You can read the brochure.
The best of the series, but still just plain ridiculously entertaining.  Going to see this movie, I was expecting to be able to make fun of it throughout and enjoy myself.  Surprisingly, this works well as an average car racing/action movie...that I was still able to make fun of throughout.  The thing about these Fast and the Furious movies is that they are all different in a way, but brought together by cars and lame dialogue. Each one has its own quirks and this one is no different. A lot fun for people in the right mood.

This time, we finally ditch surfer boy Paul Walker and switch gears to Texas bad boy Shawn, played by Lucas Black.  Following a ridiculous opening scene combining an over-the-top car race with cliché high school life, Shawn is kicked out of school and sent to live with his father in Tokyo.  There he must adjust to a new life in the city of Tokyo, which actually looks really good compared to other American movies taking place in this city.  It doesn't take long for Shawn to make friends with another American, played by Bow Wow, and find a place in the underground racing culture.  Shawn befriends some of the right people and makes enemies with the wrong in this racing atmosphere. He also has to learn the magic of drift races, something new for him and the series.  Obligatory story sets in, involving Shawn proving himself to other racers, his father, a hot girl, and of course - to himself.

Even though there is almost no connection to the previous films, except for a nice surprise at the end, this movie still manages to make a decent transition to create new ground for the series.  It has a fresh quality to it and is actually the best written, thanks to the use of the story model provided for The Karate Kid.  That may sound silly, but that story structure is essentially timeless, and works well for this film.  However, what should be expected from a second sequel of a franchise about car racing is cool car racing action. Director Justin Lin, who made the great Better Luck Tomorrow, certainly knows what he is doing here. He makes this movie good enough entertainment, while supplying the right kind of attitude for this franchise to not feel stale.  It is also helped by a solid soundtrack, the use of a lot more practical effects, with less CG trickery than the last sequel, and the presence of Sonny Chiba, who is always welcome.  It is very silly, but I have fun with this film.
Drift King: Do you know who I am, boy?
Shawn Boswell: You're like the Justin Timberlake of Japan.

Fast and Furious = 3 Stars


Antonio Braga: So, you know each other?
Dominic Toretto: He used to date my sister.
Antonio Braga: You're a lucky man.
Brian O'Conner: How's that?
Antonio Braga: You're still breathing!

The goofy Fast and the Furious series continues with this fourth entry. I've somehow always liked this ridiculous franchise for its terrible dialogue, but fun enough premise and racing action. This entry reunites the original leads and continues the trend.

The story begins with Vin Diesel's Dom character robbing tankers down in the Caribbean with his girlfriend Letty, played by Michelle Rodriguez (who has suddenly emerged as less mannish and actually attractive).  As the heat starts to catch up on Dom, he decides to move away. Trouble comes up when his loved one is killed, which brings him back to LA for revenge.  The other part of this story involves Paul Walker's Brian O'Connor character. He is once again working for the FBI in LA, trying to locate a Mexican drug supplier, Antonio Braga. Braga moves his merchandise by using top drivers to move across the border in a fast and furious, but secretive way.  The two stars collide when they both find themselves racing for spots on Braga's team.  Racing ensues, as well as drama for Brian as he reunites with Dom and his sister Mia, played by Jordana Brewster, who, if anyone recalls or cares, was screwed over by Brian after he admitted to everyone he was an undercover cop and essentially broke up Dom and his family.

The movie is assembled well enough for average entertainment and features a fantastic and fun opening sequence, but there are some major problems. Vin Diesel seems to be channeling Sly Stallone in the 80s. For some reason he just doesn't have the same charisma here as he did in the first film, instead just supplying lame one-liners.  The other problem is the terrible ending. The final racing seems a little to CG-y, and the final ending after that seems to come out of nowhere, despite its promise for another sequel.  But how do I still give this a passing grade? I find it entertaining. For some reason, I don't have a bad time when I watch these movies. The dialogue is just so bad that its hilarious and the car aspect is mostly well put together when it comes time to showing off this culture.  Director Justin Lin, who directed Tokyo Drift, does a good job at compiling a mostly satisfying feature that seems to accomplish what it should.  It’s got cool cars and a hot soundtrack, so what the hell.
Brian O'Conner: This is where my jurisdiction ends.
Dominic Toretto: And this is where mine begins.

So there you have it.  I admire this series for being ridiculous fun, which no one can take away from me.  Regardless of how much better other movies are and how much more I can appreciate better films, I am no snob, and I know what entertains me.

As a final note, here is the link to a really good article from The Boston Globe about how progressive this franchise actually is: 




Aaron is a writer/reviewer for WhySoBlu.com.  Follow him on Twitter @AaronsPS3.
He also co-hosts a podcast,
Out Now with Aaron and Abe, available via iTunes or at HHWLOD.com.

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