(In theaters, May 2015) I’ve been a fan of the Fast and Furious film series since the first 2001 installment (even though my faith was sorely tested by the second film), but I never expected its seventh installment to be so purely enjoyable, even as it features a poignant emotional send-off to a fallen star. Series lead Paul Walker died during the production of the film, and part of Furious Seven’s impossible mandate was to find a way to deliver hugely entertaining action sequences while acknowledging Walker’s final departure. The first part of the mission is obviously achieved: Furious Seven contains bigger action sequences, a decent number of laughs, some innovative camera work (including cameras that move in-synch with people crashing through glass tables), decent villains, likable heroes and a decent amount of innovative stunts even in a series that seems to have done everything possible on four wheels. The action moves fluidly across continents, juggles several recurring characters and a few new ones, harkens back to its perennial theme of family and is just about everything one could wish for in a summer blockbuster. But no one expected the film to be able to deliver such an effective good-bye to Paul Walker, who is last seen here literally taking a fork in the road to stay safely with his new family, accompanied by a montage and a sad song meant to make even the least emotional members of the audience get a huge lump in their throat. It works far better than even the most cynical pundits will allow: Walker was in many ways the heart of the series, and Furious Seven couldn’t have given him a better or more appropriate send-off. Incredibly enough, it doesn’t feel manipulative or crass: it feels like the end of the road, even knowing that the series will have another sequel in two or three years. Well done.
(Video on Demand, December 2013) I am unapologetic about my enthusiastic love for this series ever since the first 2001 installment: I’m not much of a car guy, but I love the blend of action, machines, and humor that the series offers. Fast Five was a notable pivot in that it took the series away from strict street-racing action (no more girl-on-girl kissing!) towards globe-trotting heists and adventure, with considerable broadening of the franchise’s appeal. Now Furious Six capitalizes on this shifting dynamic, and takes audiences to Europe in the search for bigger and better action scenes. The highlight is a highway sequence that pits muscle cars against a tank, leading to a climax set on a massive cargo plane rolling down a seemingly endless runway. With “vehicular warfare” (oh yeah), we are far from the Los Angeles street-racing origins of the series and yet not that far, given how the series has adopted “family” as an overarching theme and eventually manages to bring back everything to the humble neighborhood where it all began. Fast and Furious 6 successfully juggles a fairly large ensemble cast, while giving a big-enough spotlight to series superstars Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, with able supporting turns by Dwayne Johnson and a spot for newly-resurrected Michelle Rodriguez. The script is more blunt than subtle (the ham-fisted dialogues really bring nothing new to the film) and the direction could be a bit less tightly focused so to let the action scenes breathe, but for existing fans of the series, this is nothing except another successful entry. There are even a few jokes thrown in: The street-racing sequence is introduced by Crystal Method’s circa-2001 “Roll it Up”, while Johnson not only gets at least two jokes referencing his wrestling background (mentioning “The Walls of Jericho” and a final tag-team fighting move with Vin Diesel) but also a few Avengers shout-outs in-between “working for Hulk”, “Captain America” and “Samoan Thor”. By the post-credit end, the film not only straightens out the series timeline to include Tokyo Drift, but introduce a wonderful bit of casting in time for the next installment. It’s going to be a bit of a wait until the next film…
(In theaters, April 2011) My unexplainable love for The Fast and the Furious series suddenly gets a lot more explainable with this surprising fifth segment: Reaching well beyond the street-racing antics of the previous volumes and deeper into the criminal action/thriller mode, Fast Five manages to satisfyingly weave together plot threads and a dozen characters from the four previous films, while delivering inventive action sequences. The prologue effectively sets the tone and the film’s lack of regard for physics: thus reassured, we can enjoy the rest of the film, the over-the-top action sequences, the reunion of the series regulars and the colourful Rio de Janeiro locale. This has to be one of the best pure-action movies of the past few years: It’s snappy, it’s competent, it doesn’t take itself seriously and when it clicks, it really works. Vin Diesel growls as well as he can, and he’s joined by Dwayne Johnson for a head-on collision between two of the most credible action heroes of the moment. While the script isn’t perfect (a few lulls; a few nonsensical plot development; little refinement by way of dialogue), it’s pretty good at giving a few moments to everyone in the cast, at setting up the interesting action sequences, and even at winking at the audience: There are a number of inside jokes for series fans here, perhaps the biggest being a cut that skips over the film’s usual street-racing sequence. The cars may not be as nice at the previous films, but the action sequences are quite a bit more striking. I wish, however, that director Justin Lin would open up his action sequences a bit more, lay off the crazy editing and let the long-shots speak for themselves. (Fortunately, he’s already much better now than in the previous two films.) Don’t leave during the credits: there’s a short scene that will please series fans while setting up a promising sixth instalment.
(In theaters, April 2009) It’s useless to try to judge this film by most conventional standards. Its sole goal, after all, is to stroke the pleasure centers of automobile enthusiasts (a group that mostly overlaps with Y chromosomes) and its success it directly tied to how much automobile goodness it crams on-screen. The return of the first film’s cast isn’t a bad idea, but the boys have all the fun while the girls are kept off-screen or hastily taken out of the picture. At least Vin Diesel and Paul Walker have some fun rekindling their on-screen rivalry. Action-wise, the standout remains the opening chase sequence: The rest of the picture is a bit too over-edited and CGI-enhanced to make much of an impact. As for the cars, well, they’re a satisfying mixture of modern rice-burners and classic American muscle. It’s a shame that the cheerful multicultural shock of Tokyo Drift isn’t as strong here, but make no mistake: Between the colorful Southern California locale and the reggaeton soundtrack, this is still a twenty-first century motion picture for the young and licensed. It’s fun, it’s not often boring and, most of all, it shows fast cars and girls kissing girls –there’s no denying that it’s another entry in the ongoing franchise.
(In theaters, June 2006) There’s something about this series, I don’t know what, that hits all of the buttons that come pre-installed with the Y chromosome. I’m no car freak, and yet plunk me in front of a The Fast And The Furious instalment and watch me cheer over the hot cars, the race sequences and the kissing girls. (It’s not a Fast And Furious film if there are no kissing girls.) Here, the action takes us to Japan, a move that plays heavily on the cultural dissonance and the most outrageous aspects of Tokyo culture. Here, drift-racing clubs take on the air of an cosplay convention and some movie-magic transforms drifting from a tire-squealing risky manoeuvre to a romantic, even heroic endeavour. The film makes no sense, of course, but that scarcely matters once the action has begun. Yup, the hero is a moron; sure, he looks twenty-five; no, he couldn’t have done all of that without being Pearl-Haboured by the Yasuka. But who cares: There are cars, there are girls (whoo, Nathalie Kelley), there are races and there is plenty of fun. As a B-movie, it’s remarkably successful… and it’s even better than 2 Fast 2 Furious.
(Second viewing, On DVD, July 2007) A year later, this film holds up surprisingly well. Yes, the cars and the action scenes are still the only reason to see the film: The emphasis on drifting makes it feel fresh and original, and the script knows how to vary the thrills of the action sequences. On the other hand, well, the script is still as bland as it was in theatres, with too many incoherences to count and a final act that really misses Sung Kang as the film’s most intriguing character. But what makes the film hold together even as other cheap teen action films fade away is the unusual Tokyo setting, the rapid pacing and the go-for-broke modernity of the atmosphere where reggeaton, a southern white boy, a latina girl and American hip-hop all mix joyously in a Japanese setting. It almost makes one hopeful for the future of the younger generations. In the meantime, there’s still the cars, the girls and the terrific soundtrack to enjoy.
(In theaters, June 2003) Cars, crime and chicks in sunny Miami; what else could you ask for? Okay, so Vin Diesel is missing and so is a lot of the energy of the original The Fast And The Furious. But it doesn’t matter as much as you think: This time around, the cars look better, and if no one can outfox Michelle Rodriguez, Eva Mendes and Devon Aoki are totally appropriate eye-candy. Paul Walker doesn’t have to struggle under the shadow of Diesel, and he emerges as a mildly engaging protagonist. (The homo-erotic subtext of his character’s relationship with buddy Tyrone can be a little ridiculous at times, though; how many jealous glances can we tolerate before bursting out laughing?) It’s a shame that about half the car chases don’t really work; dodgy camera moves, overuse of CGI over stunt driving and over-chopped editing don’t help in building a gripping action scene. At least the two highway sequences are nifty. The last stunt is weak and so are many of the plot points before then, but 2 Fast 2 Furious goes straight in the guilty pleasures category; a fine way to spend a lazy evening.
(Second viewing, On DVD, March 2004) Fast cars, curvy women and sunny Miami: Even the second time around, it’s hard to be angry at this film even as the dialogue is painful, the action scenes aren’t particularly successful and the ending is lame. At least the DVD offers some consolation through a series of interesting making-of documentaries and a few extra car-related goodies. John Singleton’s tepid audio commentary does much to demonstrate the uninspired nature of the film’s production. Competent without being particularly commendable, adequate without being particularly satisfying. This one goes out straight to Eva Mendes fans and car buffs. Not that there’s anything wrong with being either.
(In theaters, June 2001) Yes! After a diet of pretentious pseudo-profound cinema and ultra-hyped moronic flicks aimed at retarded teens, it’s such a relief to find a honest B-movie that fully acknowledge what it is. If you like cars, you’ll go bonkers over The Fast And The Furious, one of the most enjoyable popcorn film seen so far in 2001. The plot structure is stolen almost beat-for-beat from Point Break, which should allow you to relax and concentrate on the driving scenes. There aren’t quite enough of those, but what’s there on the screen is so much better than recent car-flick predecessors like Gone In Sixty Seconds and Driven that director Rob Cohen can now justifiably park in the space formerly reserved for Dominic Sena and Renny Harlin. The film’s not without problems, but at least they’re so basic that they’re almost added features. The protagonist is supposed to be played by Paul Walker, but don’t worry; bland blond-boy gets each and every one of his scenes stolen by ascending superstar Vin Diesel, whose screen presence is of a rare distinction. Feminists will howl over the retrograde place of women in the film, but even wannabee-sensitive-guys like me will be indulgent and revel in Jordana Brewster and Michelle Rodriguez—not to mention the other obligatory car-babes kissing each other. Despite the disappointing lack of racing in the first half, there is a pair of great action sequences by the end, the best involving a botched robbery attempt on a rig with an armed driver. That scene hurts, okay? I still would have loved a better ending, but otherwise, don’t hesitate and rush to The Fast And The Furious if you’re looking for a good, fun B-movie.
(Second viewing, On DVD, March 2002) There isn’t much to that film, if you look closely; three or four action scenes, conventional plotting, a few hot young actors and that’s it. But once again in B-movie-land, it all depends on the execution. Here, the young actors are really hot (from Walker to Diesel to Brewster to Rodriguez), the direction is unobtrusive enough and the film is infused with a love of speed that manages to make all quibbles insignificant. The ending is still problematic, with all its unresolved plot-lines, but the film holds up very well to another viewing. The DVD includes an amusing director’s commentary, deleted scenes (some good, some less. Unfortunately, the director once refers to an alternate ending that’s not included), a rather good making-of, three rather bad music videos and a bunch of other stuff.