I don’t give a crap about cars. They all look basically the same to me; I know some people drool over the different models, horsepower and bells and whistles, but I am absolutely not one of those people. Case in point: my brother just purchased a new car. When I mention this fact to people, they ask the obvious question – what did he get? My response is always the same: it’s silver and not a Toyota (the make that the rest of our family drives). That’s all the info I’ve got because that’s all that stuck when I saw it. If pressured I would guess it was a Ford, but I’m not even remotely confident on that. As long as a car doesn’t break down and has a working radio and air conditioner, I’m happy. I’ve only owned two cars in my life and drove each for at least ten years. Neither was flashy or all that exciting (they didn’t even have power locks or windows), but if it can take me safely on all my road trips that’s all that is required.
So when The Fast and the Furious franchise rolled into theaters back in 2001, I was at a distinct disadvantage. I wasn’t going to be bowled over by the cars because they meant absolutely nothing to me. Cars were the big draw in the first movie; take those out of the picture and you aren’t left with much. I didn’t find Vin Diesel or Paul Walker all that attractive and they certainly weren’t great actors. Michelle Rodriguez is kind of scary. I watched the original film out of curiosity, but wrote the rest of the franchise off as simply not for me. I was surprised that they kept chugging these movies out on a semi-regular basis, but that wasn’t my problem. I was out. Dominic Toretto and the rest of his crew could roll on without me.
It wasn’t until I happened to listen to a podcast by Bill “The Sportsguy” Simmons and Adam Carrolla that the films were brought back on my radar. The two pals sat down on Simmons’ podcast to discuss the fifth film (Fast Five) and the resulting conversation was so hilarious that I thought that I may have to give these movies another chance, if simply to laugh at the unintentional comedy. It also became increasingly apparent to me that these films are REALLY popular and make a lot of money. And God forbid I’m behind on any pop culture phenomena. I decided that I was going to see Fast & Furious 6.
However, the buzz I heard on these movies indicated that they were surprisingly complicated – characters popping in and out and the chronology wasn’t linear. To fully give the sixth movie a fair shake, I was going to have to sit down and watch all the films that preceded it. It was a daunting task, as I was trying to do it in a semi timely manner and as cheaply as possible. I wasn’t planning on dropping a ton of change on Video on Demand if I could help it, especially since I was a little skeptical as to how much I was going to enjoy this project. But with some good luck (and some Amazon.com video on demand credits I had forgotten about) I was able to plow through all five movies in a little over a week. I jotted down some thoughts on the films; if I was going to do this I was certainly going to tell you all what I thought about them.
So, without further ado, let me take you on a stroll down The Fast and Furious lane, where we live life a quarter mile at a time (spoilers abound, so proceed with caution):
The Fast and the Furious (2001)
Yikes! This was actually worse than I remembered it being. Remove the cars from the equation and there isn’t much else to hold one’s attention. The acting is pretty terrible; I’m not sure if we are supposed to be impressed by Vin Diesel, who is actually much smaller and less intimidating than I remember. I guess this would be considered the origin story of the franchise if these people were superheroes, which they are not. LAPD officer Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) goes undercover to infiltrate the local street racing scene to find the individuals responsible for a series of heists involving fast cars. While he is undercover, he falls in with Dominic Toretto and his crew, including Dom’s girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). O’Connor begins dating Toretto’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster). O’Connor “goes native” while undercover and assists Dom in escaping from the police. Plot holes abound and the movie feels very early 2000s – and I don’t mean that as a compliment.
2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
This is basically the same movie as The Fast and the Furious with a few minor changes – the locale moves to Miami and Vin Diesel sits this installment out. This must have been during the xXx era of Diesel’s career when he mistakenly believed he was an actor and thought he was going to be a big star. Actually, the only main character to return for the second film is Walker who this time is paired with another bald man in Tyrese Gibson. Rapper Ludicrous makes an appearance, beginning the franchise’s love affair with characters from the world of hip hop. The plot is pretty similar – now former officer O’Connor goes undercover to catch a bad guy. Law enforcement is pretty forgiving in these films. Since I had literally just watched The Fast and the Furious, 2 Fast 2 Furious really didn’t hold my interest and I would just occasionally look up from my computer to see what was happening. This franchise is running out of gas and it is only two films in. This second film reminded me of Hangover 2 in that it just rehashing the first movie as a cash grab.
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)
Sweet baby Jesus this film was tremendously awful. I think it made my eyes bleed and it made me reconsider this entire project. This movie should have been titled The Fast and the Furious: Who the Hell Are These People? Both Vin Diesel and Paul Walker are mostly absent from this one – not a promising start when you are three movies in and neither of your stars will appear in the film. I really have no idea what Walker could have possibly been doing that made him unavailable, though perhaps he read the script and had a moment of clarity. The series moves to Tokyo in this film (obvi) when some random troubled teenager (Lucas Black) who loves to race cars is shipped off to Japan to live with his father after being kicked out of yet another school. Black is such a bad actor that he makes me long for the days of Walker and Diesel. Then a whole lot of shenanigans happens involving drift racing. Really all you need to know is that they named a character Han Seoul-Oh (Sung Knag). You read that right – Han Seoul-Oh. They aren’t even trying at this point. Diesel shows up for the very ending of the film, which will begin the weird chronology of the series.
Fast & Furious (2009)
I had to take a few days off from the project to recover from Tokyo Drift; I’m honestly surprised that after that abomination that the series was able to survive. Apparently realizing that they don’t have much else to offer the world, most of the original cast returns for Fast & Furious. They must have also determined that the title was slowing them down as they have dropped the “the” from the title and gone with an ampersand. Han is alive in this film and part of Dom’s crew, which means that is it a prequel to Tokyo Drift. That is unnecessarily confusing. Actually, everything about this movie is unnecessarily confusing. Part of that is my fault – I was pretty sure that Michelle Rodriguez’s character Letty died at the end of the first film, but it turns out she’s still alive and well (at least for a while). O’Connor is back in blue and is now an agent in the FBI, which means that not only was he brought back into the fold but he was actually promoted in the process. When Letty is killed (for real this time – maybe), both Toretto and O’Connor go undercover to find out what happened to her and avenge her death. Chaos ensues, fast cars are driven and Toretto gets himself arrested and sent to jail. The film ends pretty abruptly, but it looks like the reunited Walker and Brewster are going to try and break him out.
At this point, I’m kind of burned out on these films, but one thing is keeping me going: The Rock will be in the next installment. I will soldier on.
Fast Five (2011)
This film takes place immediately after Fast & Furious as it picks up with the gang springing Dom from his prison transport. Now they are all on the run, including former FBI agent O’Connor (hey Feds – how did you not see THAT coming? Once bitten, twice shy my friends). The franchise is shifting gears with Fast Five and transitioning the focus from cars to more of a straight up action movie. This is a welcome development for me and actually rekindles my interest. These are still ridiculous movies, but it is ridiculousness that I find more entertaining. Fast Five is a heist movie and features my favorite part of that genre – putting the team together. Characters from all the previous movies are brought in, so long time fans of the franchise (or just dumb bloggers who are watching all these movies in a week) are rewarded with some callbacks. I have to hand it to them – they did bring back the best characters of the bunch. I was relieved the invites to Lucas Black and Bow Wow were lost in the mail. The gang is planning to steal $100 million from a Brazilian drug lord, while eluding capture by Diplomatic Security Service Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson – HOORAY). Lots of crazy action sequences that I’m pretty sure aren’t even physically possible, but it is fairly cool to watch. The Rock is so oiled up that I can’t believe he doesn’t just slide off the screen. That isn’t a complaint, just an observation. He also dwarfs Diesel, who suffers in comparison to the specimen that is Dwayne Johnson. My main complaint about this film was the constant use of subtitles; I’d gotten used to only half paying attention to these movies, but the frequency of the subtitles forced me to adjust my approach. I have no problems with subtitles in theory – I did, after all, sit through a three hour movie in Polish about the Holocaust – but for a movie like this, it seems like too much work. Paul Walker must have done something with his hair, since he has progressively gotten better looking. The post credits sequence drops a bombshell – Letty is still alive. Dang – Michelle Rodriguez has nine lives.
Fast & Furious 6 (2013)
With all the background work done, I’m now ready to see the newest film. I’m curious how this all is going to unfold and also curious what the experience will be like watching the film on the big screen. All the other films I watched in the privacy of my own home and I could pause it when I got bored. I’m also interested to see what type of people actually go to these films; I have an idea of what this fan base will look like, but I’m anxious to see if that prediction pans out.
This film takes place shortly after the events of Fast Five – Brian and Mia have become parents and everyone has retired from “the life” and is enjoying the spoils of their heist. Their retirement is about to be disrupted when Hobbs contacts Dominic to tell him that his girlfriend Letty is still alive and is involved with an international crime ring. Hobbs offers the crew amnesty for their past crimes if they will help him in bringing Letty’s crew down, though everyone is mostly interested in bringing Letty home because she is “family.” If you want to play a fun drinking game while watching this movie, take a shot every time that they use the word family; you’ll be passed out within 45 minutes. I was also a little confused why some of the gang was willing to reunite to save Letty, since I don’t think some of these characters had even met her. Regardless, the crew from Fast Five is mostly reassembled (sadly, no Tego Calderón or Don Omar who were really funny in the last film) and are now working with Hobbs. These last two films have much more (intentional) humor than the previous four, which is much appreciated. The plot is still pretty preposterous, but the action sequences are pretty exciting. Lots of laws are broken in the pursuit of Letty’s gang, including the laws of physics. The women of the film are finally given a little more to do, which is a nice change of pace; there is a pretty intense fight between Rodriguez and new character Riley Hicks. These still aren’t great movies, but the transition to pure action films definitely has breathed some new life into the franchise. Fast & Furious 6 is easily my favorite of the bunch, though the post credits tease for Fast & Furious 7 got me excited, as Jason Statham appears to be joining the cast. The Rock AND Jason Statham in the same movie? Be still my beating heart! My only concern is that the franchise seems to be heading back to Tokyo, which is cause for concern.
All in all, this was a worthy experiment; I wouldn’t say that I am a fan of these movies, but after some major missteps and by abandoning the original premise the later movies were fairly entertaining. The Rock continues to prove that he is the go to guy to call when you need to revitalize a franchise; I don’t think it is a coincidence that these films improved the same time he made his first appearance. If I had to rank the films in order of how much I liked them, it would look something like this (in descending order):
*big drop off*
Watching Paint Dry
You have to overlook a lot in these movies – there are major plot holes that you could drive a Mack truck through and Vin Diesel sounds something like he is on a bunch of Quaaludes and has marbles in his mouth, to say nothing of the complete impracticality of most of the stunts – but if you can take everything with a grain of salt, some of the installments are actually quite entertaining in a popcorn movie sort of way. These will never be great films, but I don’t think that they are setting out to be; I really hope that at this point the cast is kind of in on the joke, because if they think that they are making art they would be sadly mistaken. I don’t know if these films just wore me down or not, but I find myself moderately looking forward to Fast & Furious 7; I wouldn’t have predicted this when I started this project. However, what I am REALLY anticipating in the inevitable reunion of Bill Simmons and Adam Carrolla to discuss Fast & Furious 6; I seriously cannot wait to hear their take on it. Boys – get on this!
*Obviously not to be confused with Operation Fast and Furious, which I assure you that I had nothing to do with.