film reporter


It's kinda like those ads for automotive additives: Just put Brand X into your motor oil and look at that car spark back to life!

In the case of "Fast & Furious," Brand X is Vin Diesel and Paul Walker. In 2001, "The Fast and the Furious" launched a franchise about illegal street racing that has reached four films. Yet "Fast & Furious" is the first true sequel of the bunch. By reuniting the two male stars from the original, smartly ignoring the intervening films and continuing the story from the first one, this new pic should re-ignite the franchise.

As with the entire series, the story serves as an excuse to downshift quickly to chases, but the new film does allow time for the characters to interact and develop so audience concerns extend beyond who'll win the next race.

The story by Chris Morgan relies on relationships established in the original. In that film's finish, Walker's undercover cop Brian O'Conner, a racer himself suffering from divided loyalties, allowed Diesel's outlaw racer Dominic Toretto to slip across the Mexican border to escape authorities, even as he let down Dom's sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster), who had fallen for Brian.

"Fast & Furious" starts off with an action sequence worthy of James Bond's signature openings. Dom and his old L.A. girlfriend, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), lead a gang of road warriors trying to hijack oil tanks hauled by a big rig on a Dominican Republic highway. As the crews race alongside the truck, the women board them like pirates and uncouple the huge tanks one by one. Only this hijacking goes seriously awry and ends in a crash and a fireball on a mountain road that the heroes escape only by the miracle of top-notch second-unit work, CGI effects and tight editing.

The rest of the story takes place back in Southern California, where Dom returns seeking vengeance when Letty is murdered, having gotten caught up with a vicious drug cartel. Naturally, Brian is also on the case, so the rivals find themselves reluctantly working together while Brian and Mia discover the romantic sparks are still there.

Justin Lin, the returning director from "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift," balances nonsensical story points with serious dramatic moments, making story and character flow smoothly into action.

All four films feature terrific stunts. But "Fast & Furious" is the first since the original to be smart about how far to stretch logic without sacrificing the desired macho swagger and revved-up emotions. (partialdiff)
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