New Model. Original Parts. That was the way Fast & Furious was advertised, heavily pushing the fact that Vin Diesel was back, as were Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, and Jordana Brewster. It's apparently what fans of the series wanted. And it's hard to argue with the decision, considering the enduring success of the series across two decades.
Let me try to keep things very simple. After an intro that shows Dominic Toretto (Diesel) and co. pulling off a dangerous heist, Dom knows that he's bringing down too much heat on those close to him. So he decides that it's time to leave. Then Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is killed. It may have something to do with a major criminal named Campos, which leads to Dom crossing paths once again with Brian (Paul Walker), the famously criminal-friendly cop who is somehow back in the bosom of the FBI workplace. The way to get to Campos is to, obviously, show off your driving skills, and that means Dom and Brian race against one another, and others, to get closer to their target.
You know what, I liked this a little more this time around than I did when I first saw it. I think it has an enjoyable simplicity to it, even as it starts to put the pieces in place for what would define the shape of the series for the next few films. It's more overtly showing Vin Diesel as the smartest and toughest and most desirable male in any situation, which is also irritating, but even that is nowhere as bothersome as it is in other Diesel-fulled cinematic engines.
With director Justin Lin and writer Chris Morgan once again along for the ride, Fast & Furious is a film that shows everyone being very comfortable with the format, with delivering what people expect, and with the chemistry between the leads (the frisson between Dom and Brian is something we haven't experienced this strongly since Tom Hanks started side-eyeing Wilson the volleyball).
I'm not the biggest fan of either Diesel or Walker, but they're both pretty perfect in their main roles here. Diesel gets to do all of his usual stuff, but Walker has a bit more variety and fun, especially in his running "war" with one main colleague (played by the great Shea Wigham). Rodriguez gets taken offscreen very early on, but at least she doesn't have to spend the rest of the film fawning over Diesel, with those moments now taken by Gal Gadot. Brewster, on the other hand, has to split her time between looking lovingly at her brother and looking ready to forgive and fall back in love with the cop who lied to her before. John Ortiz and Laz Alonso are both good fun, playing a couple of main villains, and fans of the third film will be pleased to see a small role for Sung Kang.
It's a different level of ridiculousness than the films that would come along after it, but this is all still quite ridiculous. Fortunately, it's done with an emphasis on sheer entertainment and thrills, with a decent smattering of lively car races and some bruising fights. The more of these films I rewatch, the easier it is to see why the series has developed into the massive success it is.
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