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Fast & Furious

A Bromance (with Cars)

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Fast & Furious, is the fourth entry in the surprisingly durable car-centered franchise, and the first to reunite the co-stars from the first film, Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, actors badly in need of a commercial hit. And with Justin Lin (Finishing the Game, Annapolis, Better Luck Tomorrow), the director of the previous film in the franchise, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, back as director, Diesel and Walker are all set for their comebacks (or so they hope).

Fast & Furious is set between 2 Fast 2 Furious and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, making it a sequel to the second film and a prequel to the third. As the film opens, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his longtime girlfriend and partner-in-crime, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), are living and “working” in the Dominican Republic. Along with their four-member crew, Toretto and Letty have turned their skills in large-scale larceny to stealing tankers hauling “liquid gold” (i.e., gasoline). With the police closing in on Toretto and his crew, however, Toretto leaves Letty behind and relocates to Panama.

Back in the United States, the recently reinstated Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker), pursues a fleeing felon on foot. O’Conner’s on the trail of a shadowy drug lord, “Braga", who employs drivers to transport heroin into the U.S. from Mexico. While O’Conner obtains a potentially useful lead, Toretto receives unexpected news from his sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster). A wanted felon, Toretto risks capture and lengthy incarceration, but he feels compelled to return to the U.S. and illegal streetcar racing. O’Conner and Toretto’s paths cross as they vie to join the elusive Braga’s crew. To get to Braga, O’Conner and Toretto have to win a racing competition run by Ramon Campos (John Ortiz), one of Braga’s mid-level subordinates. Only the winner, however, will join Braga’s team.

No one, of course, expects originality from Fast & Furious, especially considering the history of the franchise. Written by Chris Morgan (Wanted, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Cellular), Fast & Furious reprises the antagonistic relationship between Toretto and O’Conner, restarts the romantic relationship between O’Conner and Mia (mostly as an underdeveloped subplot with Mia left holding the bag, literally, in several scenes), and throws in obligatory car-oriented stunts at regular intervals to keep the well-worn, we’ve-seen-it-all-before storyline moving at an artificially frenetic pace.

Unfortunately, Lin directed Fast & Furious with the same casual disregard for spatial geography or narrative intelligibility he showed in Tokyo Drift. Speed, in shot selection and editing, dictated every major (and minor) directorial decision. As with the previous entries, the characters and the performance take a backseat to the car stunts. With the exception of Finishing the Game: The Search for the Next Bruce Lee, a faux documentary ignored by both critics and audiences, Lin hasn’t returned to his indie roots or the promise he showed in his feature-length debut, Better Luck Tomorrow, and seems mostly content directing generic, big-budget, CGI-enhanced action films for moviegoers who love cars and other moviegoers who love the moviegoers who love cars.

Neither Morgan’s screenplay nor Lin’s direction ask much of Diesel and Walker, outside of furrowing their brows during the heavier emotional scenes. Undoubtedly charismatic, Diesel’s expressive range has limited him as an actor, but charisma can still take you to the A-list, if only temporarily. Walker isn’t as charismatic as Diesel, but he has more range (and, unsurprisingly, he’s improved as an actor). Both Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster are sadly underused, though. But moviegoers aren’t interested in seeing Fast & Furious for quality performances, but for the reunion of Diesel and Walker, the car-centered stunts, gratuitous T&A, and casual, consequence-free violence. At least on those points, Fast & Furious delivers.