Tag Archives: D

FAST & FURIOUS

It’s back to basics for this fourth installment in the fast car, mucho macho franchise that began in 2001. Not only does “Fast & Furious” reunite the four stars of “The Fast and the Furious,” but it practically repeats not only the title but the plot of the original, bypassing the second and third pictures pretty much entirely. And, one might add, it’s equally dumb.

In this slick but idiotic action flick, Paul Walker returns as Brian O’Connor, the once callow undercover cop, now an FBI agent working on an L.A. drug case and trying to catch a shadowy Mexican kingpin who uses fast drivers to bring his shipments over the border. He manages to nab a slot in a wild city-street race the mob boss uses to choose the drivers he’ll employ; his victory would provide him with an entrée into the guy’s inner circle.

But he has to face a challenge from his old frenemy from the first flick, Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel), the beefy, brooding gang leader whose band of expert drivers in souped-up cars are the best in hit-and-run robberies. Dom goes into self-exile in Mexico after his most recent job, an opening gambit involving highjacking a huge oil transport truck, goes awry. But he returns to L.A. when his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), a former girlfriend of Brian’s, informs him that the love of his life, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), had been killed by one of the drug lord’s men. His intention: take proper revenge.

Their common target brings the two men—as well as Mia—together again, and what results are lots of noisy car chases, stunts, fistfights, and a final act—introduced by what’s supposed to be a stunning surprise but instead comes across as a pretty obvious ploy—with even more automotive action. But under the nondescript direction of Justin Lin, who also helmed “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift,” the picture doesn’t have any real power, and no intelligence whatever, under its glossy hood. Maybe that’s because Amir Mokri’s cinematography seems too interested in supposedly seductive compositions (often concentrating on the derrieres of scantily-clad girls, and in one instance gratuitously focusing on a pair of women locking lips in a nightclub) to clarify the racing action, particularly in the overlong, topographically sloppy chase-in-a-tunnel that consumes much of the final twenty minutes or so. Or perhaps it’s the editing by Fred Raskin and Christian Wagner, which alternates lugubrious exposition with chaotic bursts of violence, that’s at fault.

Or it could be all three. Certainly all those gentlemen conspire not only to permit the four stars to get by with what amount to non-performances but to have the camera linger on them far too long. It allows one to notice that Diesel—who wisely skipped the first sequel—is once more notable primarily for his bald pate and his almost preternatural lack of expression, and that the pretty but vacuous Walker continues to demonstrate no appreciable thespian chops (indeed, the photogenic stubble on his chin does more acting than he does). Even still, he seems like Olivier beside Brewster, whose amateurishness shows no bounds. As for Rodriguez, she looks great in the opening highjack prelude, but then quickly disappears. The supporting cast offer no compensations, with Shea Whigham coming across especially badly as the obligatory officious FBI agent who’s there to irritate and obstruct O’Connor.

The makers also stumble badly at the very close, when they set up one last big action scene but then fail to follow through. It might have seemed a clever idea to leave viewers wanting more, but people who go to a picture like this are just going to feel cheated. And angry.

I can’t close without mentioning another scene in “Fast & Furious” that—like that smooching nightclub moment—is totally gratuitous and seems a deliberate insult. It has to do with the locale in Mexico where the drug lord goes after his escape from the US and to whom he gives a bag of money there. It’s the sort of thing that suggests that the church remains one of the few institutions one can use as a punching bag with impunity. I have no problem with that as long as it had some dramatic point; here it doesn’t. It’s just a cheap shot in a movie that might have had a big budget but is still a chintzy, silly piece of work.

MARLEY & ME

The title promises a perfect holiday movie—something about old Jacob Marley, Ebenezer Scrooge’s partner. Unhappily, though opening on Christmas Day, the title turns out to be about a different Marley entirely—a canine, no less. And despite the presence of two amiable human stars and a splendid physical production, the movie’s a dog, too.

Based on a book by newspaper columnist John Grogan, which was in turn based on the pieces he penned for his Florida paper about himself and Marley, the picture is an obnoxiously cute and mawkish man-and-his-mutt story. Owen Wilson, who’s really better at playing mischievous but rather dense lowlifes rather than the regular family guy he does here, is Grogan, a would-be reporter who moves with his wife Jenny (Jennifer Anison) from Michigan to Palm Beach. She gets a job at one newspaper and he at another, and when, after a bit, she begins hinting about having a baby, he decides they should test the waters by getting her a puppy for her birthday, which they name after the singer. But the dog, a lab retriever, turns out to be totally uncontrollable and destructive. Still, he’s so cute they love him anyway and put up with all his shenanigans, letting him effectively take over their lives (as well as drive the poor girl they have housesit for them while they go off on a vacation to Ireland—cue some tasteless jokes about the tacky religious art in their inn’s bedroom—understandably nuts while they’re away). Meanwhile, John’s dyspeptic boss (Alan Arkin, doing his grumpy old man routine) persuades him to do a column rather than simple reportage, and his pieces focus more and more on Marley’s misadventures—with great success. (No wonder they put up with all the mess he creates.)

Time passes—as shown by an ill-advised montage sequence in which John rattles off event after event, big and small—until John and Jenny have kids (three, eventually) and begin arguing over the troubles that they and the persistently hyperactive Marley cause. (Their shouting matches don’t come close to those in “Revolutionary Road,” but they take on a nasty tone that adds a note of seriousness to what’s otherwise a very lightweight piece.) Ultimately they all wind up in a big old house outside Philadelphia, where John takes a new job. And it’s there that Marley grows old and frail, and eventually succumbs. It’s an extremely protracted process, eating up nearly a full half-hour—surely one of the longest animal death watches in cinematic history. (Disney had the good taste to dispatch Bambi’s mother in a quick swoop.) All the better to extract the tears, my dear.

Wilson and Aniston do what they can with this material—he’s more dour than usual, while she goes from perky to overburdened to happily supportive without missing a beat (or putting on a pound over the years, it seems—in fact, the only person who really ages convincingly is Eric Dane, as John’s reporter pal)—but they play second fiddle to the twenty-plus dogs who play Marley from pup to pooped out. And it’s frankly hard to sympathize with John and Jenny too much, as pleasant as Wilson and Aniston are, because they’re just too dumb to have their dog properly trained at any point over his long history of destructiveness. Of course, there’s a brief scene near the start when they take Marley to an imperious dog handler (Kathleen Turner, who’s certainly filling out in her older age), but after a few minutes she dismisses him as incorrigible and they make no further attempt to control him. It’s hard not to believe that they deserve all the discomfort they get.

As a movie “Marley and Me” is as sloppy and undisciplined as the mutt himself, something that can be attributed not just to the screenplay but to the haphazard direction of David Frankel, who shows little of the style and timing that marked “The Devil Wears Prada,” and the uneasy editing of Mark Livolsi (as in that sorry montage). But the behind-the-scenes crew do a fine job—the picture looks quite attractive in Florian Ballhaus’ widescreen photography, especially considering how difficult it must have been working with all those canines.

“Marley and Me” is overextended under the best circumstances, coming in at a full two hours. But in dog time, if you use the customary conversion ratio, that’s like fourteen hours, which is about how long it feels. Woof.