The Fast and the Furious

on June 22, 2001 by Wade Major
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   Contrary to rumor, "The Fast and the Furious" is not based on Roger Corman's landmark 1954 hot rod flick of the same name, despite sharing an abundance of thematic similarities. The actual source material for the new Rob Cohen-directed picture is a Vibe magazine article about street racers, a very real Southern California subculture so ripe for the movies, it's a wonder no one thought of it until now.

   The subject matter, in fact, is so review-proof that it's almost pointless to even make the effort. Anyone even peripherally involved with the street racing scene isn't likely to care much about such vagaries as plot, acting, characterization or dialog. The mere promise of fast cars, hot women, bulging biceps, a smattering of tattoos and the deafening cacophony of revving engines, squealing tires, blaring sirens and a roaring rock 'n' roll/hip-hop fusion soundtrack is more than enough to line 'em up around the block.

   For those who actually care, "The Fast and the Furious" falls back upon one of the most tired and clichéd plots imaginable; the old "undercover cop faced with conflicting loyalties" routine. It's "Donnie Brasco" at 130 mph, precisely the kind of film that would have made a great B-movie back in the rebel youth days of the 1950s when Roger Corman was making such films as... well... "The Fast and the Furious."

   Square-jawed heartthrob Paul Walker stars as Brian O'Conner, the young, ambitious police officer who works his way into the inner circle of road racing king Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), a muscle-bound grease monkey who may or may not be the mastermind behind a series of daring, high-speed truck hijackings. By all indications, Dominic should be the prime suspect, but Brian's growing admiration for the man, as well as his lusty feelings for Dominic's sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), begin to cloud his instincts, possibly jeopardizing not only his mission but his life.

   Director Cohen, whose films have grown increasingly duller and stupider since his sensational debut with "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story," clearly can't do much with this kind of straight-jacketed narrative, although he does manage to have fun with the handful of scenes that count the most - several rip-roaring races and a handful of exceptional auto stunts. Most of the actors - including notable supporting performers like Rick Yune, Ja Rule and "Girlfight" star Michelle Rodriguez as Dominic's moll - seem to just be going through the motions since there isn't much else the script really allows them to do. Fortunately, they're also all good enough to not make it look too easy, which adds a few shades of credibility to a film desperately in need.

   Should "The Fast and the Furious" manage to find its niche in the summer's crowded field of action films, much of the credit will lie squarely on the shoulders of the recordists, editors and mixers responsible for what is arguably one of the most pulverizing soundtracks in memory. Whether or not "pulverizing" equates to "good" is, of course, a matter of taste and judgment. But in the desensitized auditory canals of the speedway junkies who comprise the picture's core audience, it's nothing short of music to what's left of their ears. Starring Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Rick Yune, Ja Rule and Ted Levine. Directed by Rob Cohen. Written by Gary Scott Thompson and Erik Bergquist and David Ayer. Produced by Neal H. Moritz. A Universal Pictures release. Action. Rated PG-13 for sensuality and some language. Running time: 107 min

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