Doing its best to further erase whatever pleasant memories (guilty or no) people may still have had from the 2001 original, Fast & Furious reunites The Fast and the Furious cast with much ballyhoo, only to kill one of them off in no time flat and leave viewers fairly unconcerned with what happens to the rest of them. Given that this third sequel is intent on treating the events of the origin film as some sort of holy text, this is probably not the effect that the filmmakers were going for.
For the record, Rob Cohen's The Fast and the Furious -- which took the name from a 1955 Roger Corman racing flick, and updated the master's exploitation bent with well-deployed studio gloss -- was a perfectly enjoyable piece of work. Throwing squadrons of neon-colored muscle cars and a still-trying Vin Diesel into the middle of an overheated potboiler drama about family honor and loyalty turned out to be a genius stroke; the thing left scorch marks. It moved with the skillful speed of well-honed pulp. By contrast, the near-laughable Fast & Furious (directed by Justin Lin, who did the honors on the last installment, Tokyo Drift) tries far too hard and achieves very little. Article continues below
An early sign of Lin's trend for overkill comes in the opening scenes of Fast & Furious. Here, that lovable lug with a code of honor Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is hauling down a highway in the Dominican Republic, he and a few buddies looking to hijack a fuel tanker whose cargo is worth a few million dollars. The sequence that follows contains decent stuntwork and shows that Toretto's squeeze Letty (Michelle Rodriguez, as bullet-eyed as ever) can hang off the back of a speeding truck like nobody else. Unfortunately, Lin ruins it all by capping the whole thing off not with actual stunt driving but with a load of particularly unconvincing CGI.
The film then starts into a tangled string of plot that makes one long for the clear narrative thrust of a Jerry Bruckheimer production. Chris Morgan's howler of a script has to run through some tortured logical loops before bringing Toretto back to Los Angeles to unhappily reunite with Brian O'Connor (Paul Walker), the former undercover cop (now FBI agent) who betrayed his trust and broke the heart of his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) back in the first film.
Once the gang's all back together, it's time to come up with a reason for it all, and so why not have it be the infiltration of a drug cartel that (fortunately) has been recruiting illegal street racers to run their shipments across the border from Mexico. Never mind that everything about the cartel, from the psychotic gunsels to weasely henchman Campos (played by John Ortiz from Carlito's Way; the guy just can't get away from running drugs) was old hat back when Miami Vice was doing it. This would be all well and good, a movie needs villains after all, but it does continue to distract from the series' M.O., which should really be delivering high-octane car races and fetishized shots of gleaming, ultra-modified racing machines.
Sadly and strangely, Fast & Furious doesn't have nearly enough car chases, and what ones it does contain are fairly anemic. The best one can say for the film is that at least it shows that disasters like XXX haven't completely sapped Vin Diesel's potential, even while busting out of pretty much every shirt the filmmakers put him in. At 40-plus, he's still able to conjure up an impressive dosage of looming cool while dramatic nonentities like Walker and Brewster work overtime around his periphery. Still, it's not enough to make one exactly hope for the fourth sequel that this film's conclusion promises. Enough is enough.