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.