The fourth entry in Universal’s street racing franchise – a kind of Cannonball Run for the Need For Speed generation – marks something of a gloomy reunion for its stars. Since 2001’s The Fast And The Furious, Vin Diesel’s only palatable piece of work of the past eight years was, ironically, the Chronicles Of Riddick video game. Michelle Rodriguez’s obnoxious turn in Lost saw her character gunned down within weeks of her appearance, while Paul Walker applied his mahogany school of acting to a string of instantly forgettable movies, including one which was about swimming, if I remember rightly.
Following the unexpected financial success of The Fast And The Furious, the film’s stars gradually bailed from the franchise with each successive instalment: Vin Diesel declined a part in 2 Fast 2 Furious, and Paul Walker failed to appear for 2006’s Tokyo Drift.
The F&F franchise was never overly concerned with details like logic or believability, and true to form, Fast & Furious opens with a high speed chase that approximates the reality of driving in the same way that Star Wars reflects the intricacies of space travel.
Daring thief Dominic Torretto (Diesel) and his gang attempt to steal fuel from a moving tanker (why they couldn’t wait until the tanker was stationary is never explained), and the trademarks of series are quickly re-established: implausible stunts, shouting and frenetic editing.
But then, just as the movie settles into a familiar stylistic groove, events take an unexpected turn. The luckless Michelle Rodriguez gets killed, and Vin Diesel goes into full-on revenge mode.
Where the previous movies were all about candy-coloured cars, vaguely suggestive dialogue about cars and handsome men and women draped over the bodies of cars, Fast & Furious opts for a gravely serious, moody tone akin to Tony Scott’s Man On Fire; Diesel marches about with furrowed brow, clenching and unclenching his fists, while Paul Walker’s performance as undercover FBI agent Brian O’Connor is even more sanded and varnished than ever.
Diesel and Walker’s investigations eventually lead them – predictably – to a gang of illegal street racers, and before long the film’s back on familiar territory: ladies kissing other ladies, pounding rap music and candy coloured cars racing candy coloured cars.
The tone continues to switch between candy coloured and dark for the rest of the movie, and the result is something of a muddle; moments of grave introspection are interspersed with the aforementioned ladies kissing ladies, and the overall effect is curiously schizophrenic, like flicking between two different films.
The action scenes are also a mixed bag. Diesel’s early daredevil drive under a rolling lorry is
a CGI-infested mess, yet Walker’s rooftop drug dealer pursuit is put together with surprising verve. A night-time street race, with cars spinning, flipping and flying off bridges, is as spectacular as anything seen in previous movies, while the film’s concluding chase through computer generated tunnels is unexpectedly limp.
Like its predecessors, Fast & Furious is, in so many ways, complete and utter rubbish. But, like its predecessors, its lightweight, disposable nature is what saves it.
For all the attempts at moody revenge plotting, Fast & Furious is pure trashy entertainment, and its eagerness to please – whether it’s through cheesy one-liners, implausible car accidents or the fascinating hint of homoeroticism simmering between Diesel and Walker – is what makes the film eminently watchable even in its ropier moments.
The ladies kissing ladies also help.
Fast & Furiousis out now.
Review discs were provided by Zavvi.com.