Thursday, June 21, 2001
"Bullitt" is to blame.
Ever since the 1968 thriller showcased Steve McQueen's Ford Mustang pursuing a villain's Dodge Charger through the treacherous streets of San Francisco, the car chase has been a staple in American cinema.
Inevitably, the fallout from this rousing sequence is that entire movies have been written around car chases. Some films, like last year's "Gone in Sixty Seconds," fail on nearly every artistic level. But then there are those such as "The Fast and the Furious" that work in a purely kinetic, grab-some-popcorn-and-turn-off-your-brain kind of way.
"The Fast and the Furious" delves into the world of illegal street racing, where L.A. club kids seek out isolated city blocks to stage races instead of raves. Paul Walker ("Varsity Blues") stars as Brian, a wannabe racer who is bent on entering this underground world. He finds the opportunity by buddying up to Dominic (Vin Diesel, "Saving Private Ryan"), one of the premier drivers on the scene.
Brian swiftly finds out the dangers of the sport when he runs afoul of an Asian gang, the police, the feds and even Dominic, after he begins dating the racer's sister Mia (Jordana Brewster, "The Faculty"). And there also is some concern about a band of masked drivers who have been hijacking trucks. (Anyone who has ever seen the movie "Point Break" will likely guess what Brian's relationship to this group is based upon.)
Director Rob Cohen recovers nicely from last year's abysmal thriller "The Skulls" (which also starred Walker). He knows how to manipulate the medium by creating engrossing, vivid action sequences that seem to have a rhythm all their own. Intensified by a pulsating techno-metal soundtrack, Cohen uses speed the way most filmmakers use lighting or color. This is particularly apparent in the film's best and most grueling sequence, where a truck heist on a lengthy stretch of highway goes all kinds of wrong.
Things rarely slow down long enough for the viewer to notice that these events are completely unlikely. The action, which at times is riveting, is so illogical that the plot seems to exist in a Bizarro comic-book world. (Could there be a less efficient, more precarious way to hijack a truck than what these daredevils come up with?)
When extraneous items like conversation or romance do threaten to halt the action, it just feeds coins into the guilty-pleasure meter. The dialogue is earnestly silly ("Ask any racer, it don't matter: If you win by an inch or a mile, winning is winning," Dominic spouts), and made even more so when delivered by fashion models pretending to be punk racers.
Of special note is the brawny Diesel, who starred in two of last year's most underrated pictures ï¿½ he played the menacing, ambiguous good guy in "Boiler Room" and the menacing, ambiguous bad guy in "Pitch Black." In "Fast and the Furious," his swaggering manner and gravely delivery are a welcome presence. And in some respect, he holds the picture together because he brings a sense of authority to the madhouse. His matter-of-fact way of masking bad dialogue is second only to Clint Eastwood. By the end of the movie you begrudgingly realize that, amidst this cardboard world of pretty boys and Playboy babes, Diesel's character is worth caring about. The movie might have run out of gas without Diesel to keep the tank full.
"The Fast and the Furious" is ultimately just a collection of scenes that are different excuses for trendy people to race, chase or pursue others in cool cars. Yet it can't be denied that the film often makes audience members feel like they are the ones sitting behind the wheel.