I had never intended to completely ignore the Fast and Furious franchise. It's just one of those things that just happened. However, with Fast and Furious 6 hitting theaters, it was time to finally see what the fuss was about. It was time to see if Vin Diesel and Paul Walker driving cars really fast would be enough to sustain five movies. It was time to marathon the first five films in the series!
The Fast and the Furious
The Plot: An undercover cop, (Paul Walker) finds himself drifting to the wrong side of the law when he forms a genuine bond with a street racer and possible criminal (Vin Diesel). Many cars drive very fast. Some of them crash.
Coolest Ride: For the first hour of so of The Fast and the Furious, the various modern street racing cars look pretty cool…but then Dom's black 1970 Dodge Charger shows up and makes every other car in the movie look stupid. Sure, they may be fast and colorful, but those tiny foreign things look like toys next to the big bruiser of a muscle car that figures in the climax.
Stunt to Savor: It was the big shot in the trailer and it's the best moment in the entire movie -- Matt Schulze's Vince dangles helplessly from the side of an 18-wheeler and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) uses her compact car to swerve under the trailer to attempt a rescue. Sure, it's a stunt that gets topped in the sequels, but it's a very cool piece of precision driving that sets the groundwork for the increasingly absurd stuff that will follow.
Not That There's Anything Wrong With That: The bromance between Paul Walker's Brian and Vin Diesel's Dom forms the foundation of the entire franchise. There's no denying it -- these two are pretty much in love with each other and if given the opportunity, they'd spend the rest of their days cruising up and down the country, occasionally stopping to stare into each other's eyes. Vince acting like a spurned lover as their friendship grows only increases the impact.
Quotable Quote: "I live my life a quarter mile at a time. Nothing else matters: not the mortgage, not the store, not my team and all their bullshit. For those ten seconds or less, I'm free."
Rating: 3 VROOOOMS! out of 5. Despite a truly exciting final half hour, The Fast and the Furious plays like a half-baked and lazy riff on Point Break for most of its running time. Despite a handful of spectacular highs, it feels oddly dated for a film that's only a decade old and the weak characterization can't compensate for a story that takes far too long between action sequences.
2 Fast 2 Furious
The Plot: Some time after the events of the first film, cop-turned-crook Brian O'Conner is pulled back into service to take down a dangerous drug dealer with the help of his old buddy, Roman (Tyrese Gibson). Many cars drive very fast. A lot of them crash.
Coolest Ride: Is it cheating to give this to another classic American muscle car? Hey, it's not my fault that 2 Fast 2 Furious chose to put a 1970 Dodge Challenger in the movie, making all of the other motor vehicles look like candy-colored junk. Not to mention, Roman's retro, orange automobile comes equipped with a homemade ejector seat, which means that it has to win by default.
Stunt to Savor: As much as I want to give this to the scene where Brian hits a ramp and slams his car directly into Cole Hauser's escape boat, there's another scene that tops it. Barely. During a deadly race in the middle of the film, Brian and Roman effortlessly navigate a busy highway…but their competition isn't so lucky. One of the other drivers meets a horrible end when his car gets wedged between two 18-wheelers, transforming the vehicle into a heap of twisted metal. It's the kind of stunt that makes you wonder how they did it without killing anyone.
Not That There's Anything Wrong With That: Although seemingly written to just be good friends, there's definitely something up between Tyrese Gibson's Roman and Paul Walker's Brian. Why do they get into a weird slap fight when they see each other again? Why does Roman always get so upset when Brian expresses interest in a woman? Why do they constantly bicker like a married couple? You see, Roman and Brian are actually jealous ex-boyfriends. There, I solved the riddle of 2 Fast 2 Furious for you.
Quotable Quote: "Come on, man. Guns, murderers and crooked cops? I was made for this, bro."
Rating: 2 VROOOOMS! out of 5. Although wildly entertaining, much of the fun of 2 Fast 2 Furious comes at the expense of the film, not because it's good in any way whatsoever. While The Fast and the Furious feels like a distinct product of the early '00s, this one feels like it somehow escaped from the '80s. After all, only that decade could've produced a buddy action movie this uninspired and derivative.
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
The Plot: After one car stunt too many, Alabama teen Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) is sent to live with his father in Tokyo, where he gets roped into the dangerous world of underground street racing. Many cars drive very fast. It probably won't surprise you to learn that a lot of them crash.
Coolest Ride: Although the orange and black Mazda RX-7 doesn't get involved in too much action, it's easily the sexiest car in the movie, letting you know instantly that its driver, Han (Sun Kang) is a total badass. Finally! A cool car in this series that's not American made! Watching it go up in flames late in the movie may be one of the hardest moments in this entire series.
Stunt to Savor: Can I just say all of the drifting? The film makes great use of this terrific (and ridiculously dangerous) driving style and for good reason: it looks uh-may-zing on film. Even the smaller races and action scenes have a little extra spice thanks to the unique way that the cars are driven. After two films of races where everyone tends to drive in straight lines, it's a hugely refreshing change. However, if I have to single out one moment, it would be the huge street chase two thirds of the way through the film, which features at least a half dozen cars drifting in and out of traffic.
Not That There's Anything Wrong With That: After the extreme bromance of the first film and the bizarre sexual tension between Paul Walker and Tyrese in the second, it's a little strange that Tokyo Drift is completely lacking in gay subtext. The friendship between Sean and his buddy/mentor Han feels pretty standard -- a completely normal friendship between two bros. Not that there's anything wrong with that, either.
Quotable Quote: "I have money, it's trust and character I need around me. You know, who you choose to be around you lets you know who you are. One car in exchange for knowing what a man's made of? That's a price I can live with."
Rating: 4 VROOOOMS! out of 5. Now this is more like it! The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift is not only refreshingly different from its predecessors, it's a more competent and confident film. Director Justin Lin shoots the heck out of the action scenes and while the story may not be particularly original, it feels complete in a way that the first two films don't. For the first time, a Fast and Furious movie feels like a real movie.
Fast and Furious
The Plot: After his girlfriend is murdered under mysterious circumstances, Dom must team up with Brian to take down a massive criminal enterprise. Once again, many cars drive very fast. This time, the percentage of cars crashing is significantly higher.
Coolest Ride: As always, the American muscle cars reign supreme. While Brian putts about in a Subaru Impreza (I drive a friggin' Subaru Impreza, Mr. Street Racer Man), Dom sits behind the wheel of a 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle. You know, there's a reason Vin Diesel is the real star of this franchise -- he gets all of the really cool cars.
Stunt to Savor: Okay, this one is going to be a tie. First, you've got Brian going extremely off-course during a street race, ignoring his GPS' instructions to u-turn and driving off a steep hill, taking down any construction that stands in his way. It's not super-crazy, but there's something so wonderfully old-fashioned about it. Second, you've got Dom killing a bad guy by hitting his nitro boost, rearing up on his two back wheels and pinning him against another car. It's ten pounds of silly in a one pound bag, but it certainly dispatches the villain with style.
Not That There's Anything Wrong With That: The revelation that Brian was a cop back in the first film has put a permanent damper on his special relationship with Dom. While these two still share an undeniable chemistry (and frequently stare longingly at one another from across rooms), the tension has been considerably dialed back. These two will always have feelings for each other, but they've moved on.
Quotable Quote: "Muscle beats import every time!"
Rating: 4 VROOOOMS! out of 5. It seems that taking a film off did a world of good for Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, who return to the franchise finally feeling like the movie stars the first two films thought they were. In addition to the massively improved performances, director Justin Lin and his incredible stunt team contribute another collection of absurd/amazing action scenes. Although the film occasionally lean on CGI a little too much, this is a goofy, breezy and consistently entertaining film.
The Plot: Dom and Brian find themselves pursued by relentless federal agent (Dwayne Johnson) while they assemble an elite team to pull off the biggest job of their career. Many cars go fast. Every single car in the world crashes.
Coolest Ride: As sorely tempted as I am to give this to the flatbed dune buggy that figures in the first big action scene (because it's a flatbed dune buggy!), the coolest car in Fast Five is a 1965 Corvette Grand Sport. Sadly, this gorgeous vehicle doesn't get much to do. After being (spectacularly) stolen off a train in the first fifteen minutes, Dom promptly drives it off a cliff.
Stunt to Savor: Oh, where to start? Fast Five is, from beginning to end, one long collection of insane stunts. Since it would be cheating to say "the whole movie," let's narrow it down. Is it the absurd flipping of the prison transport bus that opens the film? How about the entire final chase, which transforms two cars into wrecking balls on wheels? Those are great, but let's focus on the moment where the above-mentioned flatbed dune buggy smashes into a train while it's still in motion, obliterating the train car and nearly causing the whole thing to derail. It's the jaw-dropping stunt in a movie full of jaw-dropping stunts.
Not That There's Anything Wrong With That: Now that Brian has settled into the arms of Jordana Brewster, Dom has found a new man-obsession: Dwanye Johnson's Agent Hobbs. Sure, they may exchange threats every time they see each other and get into an absolutely incredible brawl, but you just know that they're just moments away from a passionate make-out session. They're a regular Benedick and Beatrice!
Quotable Quote: "The guys we're after are professional runners. They like speed and are guaranteed to go down the hardest possible way, so make sure you've got your thunderwear on. We find 'em we take 'em as a team and we bring 'em back. And above all else we don't ever, ever let them get into cars."
Rating: 5 VROOOOMS! out of 5. Now this? This is what I'm talking about. Fast Five puts the humble beginnings of the franchise in the rearview mirror, ditching street racing and transforming into a full-blown action/heist film. The results are spectacular. It's like Ocean's 11 with meatheads. It's the gloriously insane action spectacular The Expendables wishes it was. It's a movie so confident in its absurd action and ensemble cast that it just feels effortless. If this represents the mission statement for the rest of the franchise, they should just go ahead and make twenty more of these things. If all modern blockbusters were this good, we'd have a lot more fun at the movies.
Fast and Furious 6
The Plot: Dom, Brian and the rest of the crew are called out of retirement by Agent Hobbs, who offers them immunity in exchange for helping him bring down a criminal mastermind. Many cars go fast. You can guess what happens to them.
Coolest Ride: When it's revealed that the bad guys have advanced technology that lets them override the computer chips in modern cars, our crew combats that problem by acquiring a new fleet of badass muscle cars. This means that Fast and Furious 6 has one of the coolest vehicle line-ups in the entire series and there's an actual reason in the plot for it to be that way! However, the coolest car in the movie does not belong to our heroes, but to the villainous Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). A custom designed monster built to take down anything in its way, Shaw's personal ride is like the Batmobile gone evil.
Stunt to Savor: Although the film is filled with all kinds of impressive driving and crashing, the final twenty minutes deserve some kind of medal. Without giving anything away (the film did just come out), it's a hybrid car chase/fistfight/shootout that features a dozen characters leaping from vehicle to vehicle, punching and shooting each other while thoroughly shredding the laws of physics. Despite the obvious use of CGI for some of the more impossible elements, there are enough physical effects in play to make it one of the most impressive action set pieces in quite some time.
Not That There's Anything Wrong With That: Brian may have a steady relationship and a child and Dom may spend the entire movie attempting to track down his former lady lover, but c'mon…these two are still very much in love after all of these years. After all, Brian doesn't even hesitate about abandoning his new family to run off on another adventure with Dom. As for Dom himself, it's telling that he has absolutely no chemistry whatsoever with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), but the screen smolders whenever he shares a scene with Brian or Agent Hobbs. The only one not getting in on this action is Roman, but we can safely assume that he's moved on.
Quotable Quote: "This code you live by makes you predictable. In our line of work predictable makes you vulnerable. I can reach out and break you any time I want."
Rating: 4 VROOOOMS! out of 5. How do you follow up the glorious insanity of Fast Five? Well…you can't. There was no way Fast and Furious 6 could top the complete package that is the last film, but it certainly does try. The action is bigger, the stunts are crazier and Vin Diesel's gang of street racers have literally transformed into superheroes (the Brovengers, if you will). If Fast Five saw this franchise barely clinging to reality, this one takes it straight into the realm of fantasy and it feels just right. Jam-packed with references and callbacks to previous films (including a mid-credits tease that will make fans lose their minds), Fast and Furious 6 retreats into its own mythology while leaving the very concept of reality behind. It's kind of movie that makes you want the next one now.
So there you have it. Have you seen all the the Fast and Furious movies? Which ones are your favorites? Which ones do you hate?