Diesel Returns, Reenergizes Fast & Furious Franchise

The Latest Man-Friendly Car Flick Breathes New Life into Old Formula

Michelle Rodriguez is Letty, and Vin Diesel is Dominic Toretto, and again they are <em>Fast & Furious</em>.

Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, and Jordana Brewster star in a film written by Chris Morgan and directed by Justin Lin.

Back in 2001, The Fast and the Furious was an unexpected hit (a movie for guys about cars) that eventually earned more than $100 million for Universal. At the time, TF&TF also seemed like punk rock, breaking over a bloated industry; it was an unabashed and un-ironic exploitation film in a blockbuster era dominated by big budget fantasy spectaculars like Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and Spider-Man. Instead of wizards, Furious featured gearheads, and instead of the muscle cars common to 1970s classics like Smokey and the Bandit, there were careening rice rockets and nitrous-ized sports cars. TF&TF had an undeniable hipster look, too, starring the beefy-but-soulful Vin Diesel and S.B. heartthrob Paul Walker in a romanticized version of downtown Los Angeles’s Echo Park neighborhood, which somehow tapped into a weird pan-ethnic universe and featured Mexican, Chinese, and Italian wannabe gangsters in hot Japanese cars. The studio obviously thought it had worked out a by-the-numbers formula, and they tried two sequels without Diesel. Both did okay, but neither matched the kick or raw profitability of the first film.

Now Fast & Furious comes along, proudly featuring the original cast from eight years ago (though they somehow lost the use of the definite article). Last weekend, F&F became the biggest car movie debut of all time, with Diesel obviously igniting the nitrous. This one opens with a ridiculously improbable south of the border gas truck heist, and the long, fiery chase scene vies with the best of Bond. The rest of the film sometimes feels either soupy melodramatic or occasionally CGI-dominated, veering over the white line into video game aesthetics. But for the most part, if you liked the original, this will help return you to tap the source.

The obvious begged question here is why Diesel, who chews his bottom lip and the scenery here, seems more archetypal than Clint Eastwood whilst jockeying a gas-guzzler for revenge? Discuss that among yourselves. All I know is that Fast & Furious offers a lot more racing than Gran Torino and, better yet, none of the stupid racism.


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