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On June 22, 2001, Universal revved up one of its most lucrative franchises, bringing The Fast and the Furious to theaters. The film, a breakout for Paul Walker and Vin Diesel, grossed $200 million worldwide. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below:
The Fast and the Furious acts like an old Roger Corman movie, only revved up with the kinds of car stunts only a major studio can supply.
Directed by Rob Cohen, The Fast and the Furious has B-movie grit, with sexy young actors, even sexier cars and the smarts to realize a teen movie will only work if you empathize with its characters. The script by a number of writers is at times a bit of a mess, but even that works in the movie’s favor: This one doesn’t have the numbing slickness that dogged the most recent race car extravaganza, Driven.
The question is not will this be a hit for Universal, but how big? Its natural audience is males of virtually all ages, especially 14-30. Yet if the running commentary by teen girls about the physical attributes of its male stars at the press screening is any barometer, The Fast and the Furious has hot goods for women, too.
The entire cast is entirely too good-looking, but who wants to see the toothless meatballs who really participate in Los Angeles’ import-car street racing scene? These guys have spent too much time in the gym to have possibly put in the kind of wrench time into fine-tuning their computer-controlled, fuel-injected bullet cars.
The dominating figure in this movie is Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto, a perfect throwback to those iconographic American anti-heroes Jack Nicholson played in his early years. Part existential rebel, part grease monkey, he’s a superhero to the race-car set.
“I live my life a quarter-mile at a time,” he intones. “Nothing else matters. For those 10 seconds or less, I’m free.”
Vin Diesel’s anti-hero is neatly balanced by Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner, a blond, hungry wannabe racer who boyishly challenges cock-of-the-walk Dominic to a race in the movie’s early moments. Brian loses — that was preordained — but in the subsequent scramble to avoid the spoil-sport LAPD, he cements a friendship with Dominic by helping him to escape the cops.
Dominic then introduces him to his “family,” which includes sullen tomboy girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez); sidekick Vince (Matt Schulze), whose multiple tattoos cannot cover up that chip on his shoulder; and Jesse (Chad Lindberg), a nerd who suffers from some attention disorder but finds that engines “calm me down.” Most important of all, Brian meets Dominic’s sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster, who was so impressive in The Invisible Circus). She acts like pure adrenaline on Brian’s heart.
It turns out that Brian is really an undercover cop, investigating a series of big-rig hijackings in the desert that have somehow been traced to L.A. street racers. This leads to all sorts of dilemmas and divided loyalties for Brian as he falls in love with Mia and gets sucked into the “family,” causing him to forget momentarily that his real family is the LAPD.
The fun of a movie like this is not found in its logic, but in scary stunts and supercharged emotions. All of the racing footage is first-class, and a hijacking stunt is especially hair-raising. Cohen nicely combines macho swagger and sentimentality in his vivid depiction of a range of characters populating the street racing scene.
But it’s a shame the filmmakers must resort to racial cliches about a villainous Asian street gang led by Rick Yune. And the ending makes little sense. The filmmakers clearly have set themselves up for a tragic ending but can’t pull the trigger. Yet the “happy” ending is a crock, blowing away all sense of character and rationale so carefully set up.
Enough cannot be said about the heart-stopping stunts and location work in and around Southern California. Ericson Core’s terrific, fluid camera gives the action real dimension. And a soundtrack jammed with rap and hip-hop adds plenty of juice to the movie. — Kirk Honeycutt
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