Vin Diesel - Dominic Toretto
Paul Walker - Brian O'Conner
Jordana Brewster - Mia Toretto
Michelle Rodriguez - Leticia "Letty" Ortiz
John Ortiz - Arturo Braga
Laz Alonso - Fenix Calderon
Gal Gadot - Gisele Yashar
Sung Kang - Han Seoul-Oh
Don Omar - Omar Santos
Tego Calderon - Leo Tego
Genre - Action/Crime
Running Time - 107 Minutes
Taking place between 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS and THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT, FAST & FURIOUS brings back the original cast members of THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS, bringing them together 5 years [story time] after the events of the first film. Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are hiding in the Dominican Republic along with two new crew members, Omar Santos (Don Omar) and Leo Tego (Tego Calderon). As the citizens in D.R. are suffering due to rising oil prices, Dom and his crew decide to stop and steal a gas truck. While it's rough, they complete the mission. However, Dom realizes that the feds are on to him and that his time is running out. Even though Letty wants to help him, Dom leaves her while she's sleeping to protect her.
Meanwhile, Brian O'Connor (Paul Walker) has now become an FBI agent. His target? Some drug trafficker named Arturo Braga (John Ortiz). As he attempts to find clues that could lead him to Braga, Dom learns through his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) that Letty was murdered by Braga and his number one guy, Fenix Calderon (Laz Alonso). Because of this, Dom and Brian end up reuniting by accident - both trying to infiltrate Braga's crew as drug runners in order to achieve their respective goals. Can the two put the past behind them and work together? And if they do, who will manage to achieve their goal?
- Reuniting the original cast from THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS. It's pretty obvious that FAST & FURIOUS probably would have never happened if TOKYO DRIFT didn't disappoint Universal Studios at the box office. Executives realized that the first film had the best box office receipts and critical reception. And hoping that lightning would strike twice, Universal offered Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, and Jordana Brewster a ton of cash to return to the roles that made them superstars to begin with [along with giving Diesel executive producer credit as well]. Honestly, this reunion is the best thing to happen to this film and to this franchise, as it's gotten better and been more financially beneficial to the studio since this sequel.
Even after eight years since THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS, the cast still maintain that wonderful chemistry that made the first film so popular. The acting may not have improved all that much, but then again, this franchise has never been about the quality of the actors. But it's great to see Diesel and Walker banter and displaying that fun, respectful chemistry we saw back in 2001. The best scenes involving Walker actually happen when he's onscreen with Diesel, as Diesel seems to bring out Walker's personality. I will say that Walker is slightly improved as an actor in this film, but he's best when he's with Diesel.
As for Diesel, he's good in the role. But there's something off with his performance in terms of the material he needs to work with. At points, it feels like he's holding back, not really giving the role the emotional turmoil it needs. I guess Diesel felt that Dom would act more subtle than one would expect in this kind of situation, but I wish he would emote more and really show how much Letty's death means to him. There are a few moments where Diesel shows his vulnerability, but it's not really enough. Still, Diesel has charisma and presence in spades, making his performance not a total failure.
In fact, Diesel seems to have great chemistry with all of his co-stars, including Rodriguez, who make the affection they have for each other mean something through their body language and line delivery. It's sad Rodriguez is not in the film more than she is, since she's actually quite good here, but it works for the story the film needs to tell. And Jordana Brewster doesn't get much to do, but she's always nice to look at. Plus, it wouldn't be a reunion without her.
The newer cast fill their roles as much as needed. Reggaeton artists Tego Calderon and Don Omar are fine as Leo and Santos. They get to do more in the short film, LOS BANDOLEROS [the short film that precedes FAST & FURIOUS], but they're okay. Gal Gadot is a pretty face as Gisele. Sang Kung is great again as Han, adding humor. And the villains, John Ortiz and Laz Alonso, are stereotypical. But at least they're kind of fun to watch, especially Alonso. Not a bad cast, but the original players are the reason to watch.
- A story with more substance going for it. While these FAST AND FURIOUS films don't have the deepest stories or the best written screenplays, at least FAST & FURIOUS attempts at adding meat to the franchise's canon. I think the best thing the screenplay does is focus more on Dom rather than Brian this time around. Like I said in my THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS review, Dom was the more interesting character of the two. While Brian's story had to be told in order for the first film to work, especially since it pretty much ripped off POINT BREAK, Dom was the one with the real story to follow. And FAST & FURIOUS lets Dom be the focus of the film, with Brian being more of a supporting player that elevates Dom's story somewhat.
FAST & FURIOUS mainly focuses on a theme of revenge. Dom leaves Letty on her own, thinking it would be the best thing for her to be away from him since he's a wanted man. Instead, Letty ends up getting killed and Dom feels guilty about it. Through his knowledge of cars and tires, Dom figures out who's behind it, and tries to be part of his crew in order to kill him. However, Brian's return makes Dom question his motives, especially when Brian reveals information about Letty's last days that make him think differently about the situation.
Revenge is a very simple and classic theme that's easy to relate to and understand. We feel sympathy for Dom and want him to get this bad guy. And while coincidental and convienient, at least it allows Dom and Brian to reunite in a "natural" way and rebuild their friendship for a common goal - since Brian wants revenge as well since he also cared about Letty. And while it doesn't go as far as it could have, or is executed in a more plausible way, at least the story doesn't feel as shallow as the previous films felt. Sure, there's eye candy, and cool races and car chases here. But there's also a human element that was missing in the previous films that adds a lot to the viewing experience.
I also think it helps that the story is fairly basic as well, not wanting to complicate the film more than it needs to. The last two films had too much going on, which didn't allow any of the newer characters to resonate all that much once the film was over. In FAST & FURIOUS, we're allowed to watch Dom, Brian, and Mia deal with Letty's death, their forced reunion after years, and the aftermath of Dom's and Brian's plans for Arturo. I think of the four films up to this point in the franchise, FAST & FURIOUS seems like the most quiet and more mature. THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS was a teenager in terms of films. This sequel reaches adulthood, while keeping the characters we've already come to know fairly consistent. It's not a great script or anything, but for this franchise, it's a vast improvement and feels like a new beginning of sorts.
- Justin Lin. In my review for TOKYO DRIFT, I credited Justin Lin for keeping the franchise relevant through his camera work and direction. Lin is a fairly straightforward director, not having to use jump cuts, bad CGI, or flashy colors to make the visuals pop. He lets the drama unfold without many distractions, while making sure the action is decent enough to keep audiences visually stimulated.
While in TOKYO DRIFT, I did think the action wasn't all that exciting. The way these scenes were shot were okay, but not as thrilling as in the first two films. However, Lin must have studied up on creating better action sequences, since his direction with action is much better here. In particular, the opening sequences with Dom's crew versus the gas truck. The hijacking scene is pretty damn awesome, as it's almost a nod to a similar scene in the original THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS. What I liked most about it is that it doesn't use shaky cam or quick edits to make the scene exciting. He just shoots it pretty honestly, allowing the audience to witness the action as it would unfold, letting it stimulate and sink in. Sure, there's CGI in the scene towards the end, but it's not terrible. In fact, you can tell FAST & FURIOUS has a much bigger budget compared to the other films. I also thought the car chases [with the GPS stuff] were pretty cool too, especially the scenes involving the underground tunnel. I do think Lin's action direction improves with FAST FIVE, as the sequences are more elaborate. But you can tell Lin is improving as he goes, as the film is more thrilling than TOKYO DRIFT.
I also want to make mention to the cinematography. FAST & FURIOUS is a beautiful looking film from beginning to end. It's a much darker film compared to the others, which works with the film's tone. While there are colorful moments here and there, I liked the darker moments more. Like I said, it's a more mature film than the rest - and the visual presentation represents that pretty well.
- LOS BANDOLEROS. This 20-minute short film isn't part of the actual film, so to speak. But it is a prelude to the film that introduces the newer characters and gives us reason as to why Dom and Letty were in the Dominican Republic to begin with. Written and directed by Vin Diesel, I really enjoyed this short as it focuses on the newer characters, Leo and Santos. The actual film itself gives the two the short straw, making us wonder how they hooked up with Dom, Letty, and Han to begin with. But this prologue gives us some insight as to who these two are and why they're willing to contribute to Dom's cause. The short also introduces Han to the main franchise [this takes place before TOKYO DRIFT obviously], as well as shows us what Dom has been up to since Brian let him escape at the end of the first film. I kind of wish this short had been included with the actual film, as it really explains the opening sequence and gives more of an effect to Dom's and Letty's relationship - which in turn would strengthen the revenge angle. But if you're a fan, definitely check out this short. It's pretty damn good.
- Good story, but poor execution. Just like all the previous installments, the execution with the story is heavily flawed. I think what bugs me the most is how the "revenge" plot is carried out. For me, not enough is done with this aspect of the film. Without LOS BANDOLEROS being placed before the film, the Dom and Letty relationship is pretty one-note. Diesel and Rodriguez have a ton of chemistry with each other, so more scenes with them would have been nice. That way when Letty is killed, we would feel more for Dom, and be gung ho about his vengeance. I do feel the way Dom goes about it is pretty silly. I loved it when Dom threatened people about who killed Letty by trying to crush their heads or throwing them out of windows. But once he wanted to race to infiltrate the villain's crew to kill him, it just feels a bit too much. I get that you have to have fast cars in this franchise, but it just felt too easy and too convienient. Also, I felt Vin Diesel didn't really emote enough during these scenes, although I'm sure that was intentional on his part. Brooding can work, but you'd think he'd be more upset and angry when the love of his life is violently taken away from him. But he wouldn't be a bad ass if he did that, would he?
I also felt the reunion between Dom and Brian could have been stronger as well. It was almost as if Dom wasn't too upset about Brian lying to him about being a cop all those years ago, bantering with him like old times. There should have been more conflict and more mistrust between the two men. I get the two characters respect each other a great deal for different reasons. But there should have been more to it than just Dom and Brian joking on each other and then easily becoming buds again. I honestly felt more conflict between Brian and Mia, although there should have been more there as well. I think more drama was needed here. I wasn't really convinced by it.
There are also a lot of plot holes that really stretch out that suspension of disbelief. The biggest one is how in the hell did Brian become an FBI agent after all the crap he pulled in the earlier films? He was a wanted man, drag racing and helping wanted criminals while banging their sisters. In five years, he's already FBI? And you're actually letting him go undercover to street race with criminals - the thing that got Brian in trouble in the first place? Really?? Not buying it and just seemed forced. Also, is Mia a nurse or something? She sure seemed to know how to heal people and perform surgery. But that wasn't explained either. Gisele joining Dom's crew seemed to easy as well, as if they needed to replace Letty with another female who had feelings for Dom. But hey, she's hot to look at so I can't complain too much.
And then, there are the villains. So stereotypical. So one-note. So predictable. Supposedly, there's a mystery as to who Arturo Braga is. But once you see the actor's portrayal prior to the reveal, it's easy to guess who it is. And he's not much of a threat anyway, so he comes across as pretty weak. His henchman, Fenix, is more intimidating and is actually a fun character to watch. Too bad he wasn't the lead villain, although the stuff between him and Dom in the final act are pretty good. But yeah, not the tightest script. Still better than 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS and TOKYO DRIFT though.
THE FINAL HOWL
If you're a fan of THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS series, or you've seen any of the films, you know exactly what you're getting with FAST & FURIOUS. This isn't a movie trying to win Academy Awards or please critics. It's a total popcorn film with enough visual stimulation to make the 107 minutes go pretty quickly. While not as good as THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS, surprisingly FAST & FURIOUS is a step up from the two sequels before it. I think it's mainly due to a more human story that's helped by the return of characters we've cared about since the first film. So while it's not the best FAST film out there [I'll get to that one in the next review], it's a decent start to what would become the peak of the franchise. Who knew that these films would get BETTER as more and more sequels rolled out? Definitely not me. I guess, like people, this franchise is a late bloomer.