..

THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Rick Yune, Chad Lindberg, Johnny Strong, Ted Levine
Director:  Rob Cohen
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Universal
Features:  See Review
Length:  107 Minutes
Release Date:  January 2, 2002

“I live my life a quarter mile at a time…for those ten seconds or less, I’m free.”

Film **1/2

Talk about your unfortunate timing…The Fast and the Furious should have been released on DVD a week or two before Christmas.  It might have been the go-to disc for every guy who was led around by his wife or girlfriend from store to store trying to find just the right gifts for that distant aunt or grandmother.  This is the kind of film that will replace any man’s depleted testosterone supply in about the same amount of time it takes one of the movie’s street racers to cross the quarter mile mark.

I mean, within the first half hour you have 1) an amazing truck hijacking, 2) a pumped up race, 3) a fist fight, 4) gunplay, 5) sexy scantily clad women and 6) more excruciatingly loud rock and rap music than most other action films have from start to finish!

With your brain on cruise control and your foot flattening the adrenaline pedal, The Fast and the Furious delivers what you’re probably expecting…and I seriously doubt anyone who picks this movie up will be expecting the wrong thing.  It’s over-the-top machismo from start to finish, where characters speak in a language as foreign as the pseudo-science babbling on Star Trek, and makes you think if these kids really know all this and can do what they do with cars, they must be only a few weeks’ worth of study away from an engineering degree!

It stars the likeable Vin Diesel as Dominic, the cool, intense master of the underworld of street racing, described by one as having “nitrous oxide for blood and a gas tank for a brain”.  He and his team have been playing the sport a long time, and few, if any, do it better.  Paul Walker plays Brian O’Conner, a young wannabe with the car knowledge, but possibly not the racing skills, to compete. 

He ends up in a raucous four car race through the streets of Los Angeles with his own set of wheels on the line.  Before the night is through, however, the cops will have descended on the illegal sport, and only Brian’s quick thinking and moves saves Dom from a trip to the slammer.  Brian earns Dom’s trust, and starts to find himself closer and closer to the inside of the street racing circle.

(Warning…possible spoiler ahead, even though the back of the box gives it away.)

Brian, as it turns out, is an undercover cop assigned to investigate the aforementioned truck hijackings.  Given the souped up nature of the autos involved, it can only be concluded (at least for the sake of the film) that the criminals are street racers.  Dom knows all the players in the L.A. area; so Brian figures if he can get close to Dom, he’ll be able to work his way through the system and figure out who is behind the crime wave.

He doesn’t count on a couple of things, though.  One, he begins to fall in love with Dom’s beautiful sister Mia (Brewster), and two, he begins to like and feel a sense of loyalty toward Dom.  We get a little closer to a guy like Dom in this movie than we would in most action pictures.  His story about his father’s death, for example, is a nice moment that brings us closer to a reclusive character. 

That’s as far as I want to tread story-wise…I’d just like to add a praise that a botched hijacking scene near the end is perhaps the movie’s most exhilarating set piece, and is alone worth the price of admission.

This is the kind of movie with low standards, and it easily achieves them.  Is it entertaining?  Yes.  Are the action sequences worthwhile?  Mostly…personally, I was a little distracted during the first big racing scene where loudly obvious CGI effects were constantly thrown in.  The fact that they were so noticeable kind of took me out of the element from time to time.

The story is frankly no more than a flimsy clothesline strung from one end to the other to hang a few big scenes on.  The crime aspect could have actually been another movie altogether, and one can’t help but think when you see the way the bad guys do their thing that there HAS to be an easier way to score some electronics.  And speaking of easy, why do the semi drivers never simply bash the little Toyotas into oblivion?  We may never know.

It’s dumb, but it’s mostly fun.  The Fast and the Furious works as a guy’s movie to a certain extent, appealing to the base instincts but getting nowhere near the brain.

Video ****

This film is indeed fast and furious in its never ending assault of color, motion, and detail, and this Universal DVD delivers the goods from start to finish with this splendid anamorphic transfer.  Every car is a bright, beautiful work of art and lovingly photographed, whether standing still or racing at breakneck speeds.  These colors and tones are all very natural looking, and play in extreme lighting and motion schemes with integrity and strong, solid detail.  Images are razor sharp and crystal clear throughout, and no matter whether scenes are light or dark, there are no instances of noticeable grain, bleeding, shimmer, or other artifacts to spoil the presentation.  Top notch!

Audio ****

The only aspect of the disc better than the video is the bombastic assault of a soundtrack.  Dolby Digital or DTS, just pick one and buckle up.  All stages open ferociously during the racing and action scenes, in which crossovers rip from front to back and side to side with speed and smoothness.  Your .1 channel may have never gotten so constant a workout, either.  Whether accentuating the low droning of the engines, or adding bass to the constant music, or rumbling with the explosions and gunplay, you may have to give your subwoofer the rest of the night off after this disc.  You’ll be grabbing this one to show off your system with!

Features ****

Universal Collector’s Edition discs mean features galore, and you sure get them here.  It starts with a very good commentary track by director Rob Cohen, a good speaker with plenty of knowledge to share about how the film came to be, working with and watching real street racers, the cast, the stuntmen, and of course, the cars…everything you’d want to know is covered here, with enthusiasm and a bit of humor.  There is a featurette containing some cast and crew interviews, a very cool 8 angle interactive presentation of the final stunt scene, a special effects montage for the first race sequence, an effects featurette detailing the final race, the “Racer X” article that inspired the movie, an interesting look at how certain scenes were edited in order to bring the MPAA rating down from R to PG 13, storyboards, a trailer, three music videos, and some DVD ROM extras.  A nice package all around.

Summary:

There’s a good reason the film is called The Fast and the Furious instead of The Sleek and the Studious.  It’s a picture driven by testosterone and adrenaline, leaving no room for brainpower.  Not that you’re likely to miss it.  With some great action scenes and a heightened, over-the-top approach to it’s subject matter, not to mention a top quality DVD from Universal, you’ll get your basic entertainment dollar’s worth here.