The Fast and the Furious series is now officially something of an anomaly. Most B-level film franchises put out a cult classic first installment, followed by a few sequels that never match the quality or the financial success of the original.
But this weekend, Fast and Furious, the fourth film in the franchise opened with a stunning $72.5 million, surpassing the entire haul of the third film, Tokyo Drift. How is this possible? Well, it could be said that Fast and Furious is the first real sequel that The Fast and the Furious ever had.
2 Fast 2 Furious lost big time when Vin Diesel walked to go film XXX instead (another franchise he abandoned, but is now returning to). That left Paul Walker to handle things all by himself, and bless his pretty face, he did try, but he’s not exactly a strong enough presence to carry a movie on his back. Combined with poor writing and execution, Walker’s second installment was a failure for both critics and fans.
By the third film even Paul Walker had left, so that took some of the pressure off of new director Justin Lin, as no one was expecting anything but a complete mess. However, somehow, using a largely no-name cast, Lin turned Tokyo Drift into an entirely watchable experience. But audiences didn’t bite, and without Diesel or Walker, the film fared much worse at the box office than its predecessors.
But then something magical happened.
“But I also got a note saying that Megan Fox wanted to meet here for an emergency **** session! Wait a minute…”
Walker, Diesel and two other staples of the first film, Jordanna Brewster and Michelle Rodriguez must have met up at a bar and collectively decided “You know, we’ve really got sh*t else to do, let’s make another one.” They all returned for the fourth installment under Tokyo Drift’s Lin, and how did it turn out?
Fast and Furious is the only film of the last three that feels like a sequel. And yes, that’s partially because the cast has returned, but it’s also a question of tone. The film is grittier (everyone’s favorite buzzword since The Dark Knight) and it’s lost a vast majority of the camp and glitz from the last two films. For the most part, gone are the flashy imports with neon underbodies, replaced by a fleet of old muscle cars.
So what brought them all back together?
Dom and Letty have crafted themselves a new gang down in the Dominican Republic, and instead of stealing DVD players, they’re hijacking oil tankers. But after a close call, Dom quits the business and leaves Letty with a wad of cash on the nightstand.
Soon after though, Dom gets the call (spoilers, though early in the film spoilers), Letty has been killed. He heads back to the states to investigate where he runs into his old
flame friend Brian O’Conner, conveniently investigating the same case.
As time progresses it becomes clear that O’Conner, Letty and her killers all are wrapped up in one mystery, and Dom and Brian attempt to infiltrate the gang responsible, one for revenge, one for the law.
“We had to have thought of a better way to do this by now!”
Fast and Furious may be the most cohesive and satisfying out of all the sequels yet, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its flaws.
To start, the supporting cast of “head bad guy,” “assistant bad guy,” and “girl bad guy who is actually good” are so bland and uninteresting I’m not even going to IMDB them to find out their names. Even with the main parts of the original cast back, it would have been nice if the major villain was revealed to be a ghost of Fast and Furious past. But alas, it’s just some dude, and we’re left to wonder why a bit of clever writing couldn’t have made for a more satisfying twist.
Another issue the film suffers from is that it takes itself far too seriously. The vast majority of the reason I liked the first film was that nearly every line was classically quotable (“It doesn’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile, winning’s winning.”) But aside from one or two clever quips, the movie has completely lost its sense of irony, instead trying to be a straight-faced action film about the problems of Mexican drug smuggling in America.
That was one of the saving graces of Tokyo Drift. Though it lacked the cast, it maintained the same fun-filled absurdity that comes with movies based around the culture of street racing. I mean, a redneck racing a rich jock (played by Zachary Ty Brian nonetheless) in a Viper around a construction site, where the grand prize is his girlfriend? Awesome. Oh, did I mention Kid Rock is playing the entire time?
Seeing as both films are from Justin Lin, it’s almost like someone told him to stop joking around for this installment. We’ve got a good cast now, so make a serious movie. But losing that sense of humor is what makes Fast and the Furious merely OK, when it could have been close to as classic from the first.
With the film’s smashing success will they make a F&F 5? Time will tell, but honestly, you wouldn’t see me complaining.
3 out of 5 stars
Don’t act like you have any other plans.