I’m awake at 8:42 a.m. on a Saturday, preparing to watch the six Fast and Furious movies in one sitting. I’ve somehow never seen the first four films, even though I’m a huge fan of Fast Five and Furious 6. With Furious 7 out next week and with the recently released blu-ray boxed set in my possession, I honestly feel obligated to watch the combined twelve-odd hours of F&F in sequence like some kind of gearhead Lonesome Dove. Below are my off-the-cuff thoughts on each, along with a corresponding rating metric of Dodge Chargers out of five. I have two cans of NOS, two FourLoko, it’s dark, and we’re wearing sunglasses.
The Fast and the Furious (2001)
This is the movie equivalent of a PS1 game. I initially assumed grappling hooks were something we didn’t get in these movies until Fast Five. That’s evidently not the case, as they are right here in the opening, when Vin Diesel and his gang go HAM on this truck full of stereos. So, the first time we meet our lead characters, Paul Walker is creepily ordering a tuna sandwich (no crusts) from this general store (?) run by the Torretto siblings (Vin Diesel and Jordana Brewster). “WHAT IS THIS GUY, SANDWICH CRAZY?” says an angry not-Karl Urban to Walker, who is glowing like Apollo. Paul, who goes by “Brian” here, needs NOS because his car isn’t hitting the speeds he needs. “I need NOS,” he says. “Rollin’” by Limp Bizkit plays diegetically before the movie’s first race scene, where Brian is desperate to gain the approval of Vin Diesel-senpai. REALITY APPEARS TO WARP AROUND PAUL WALKER’S CAR as he activates the NOS, to special guest racer Ja Rule’s visible emotional anguish.
This is a fun movie, and I’m having a good time. Second act plot twist: Paul Walker is an undercover cop infiltrating the high stakes world of LA street racing to bust up Vin Diesel’s electronics theft ring. So now it’s more or less Point Break but with stolen DVD players. I’m not clear why he’s mixed up in all this, given that the Torretto family appears to own both an auto garage and a small grocery store, but this is The Fast and The Furious, and we’re here for the ride. I was surprised to see how much stuff from the later movies is already in place here: the sanctity of Torretto family barbecues and a bonkers third act action sequence (Paul Walker clinging to the side of Mack truck trying to avoid the driver’s shotgun fire! Holy crap!). In case you weren’t convinced about the Point Break thing, a conflicted Brian lets a wounded Dom escape with his car before police arrive. “I owe you a ten-second car.” ROLL CREDITS.
2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
This is 100% more neon than the first movie. If you think these movies took a turn later in the series, this one opens with James Remar shooting some kind of sci-fi “electrical system disabler” weapon at Paul Walker’s car. Later on in the film, someone gets ejector seat-ed out of a moving car. Brian is now a fugitive who street races for quick cash. The FBI brings him in to infiltrate “The Game” (not that one) once more instead of arresting him, because he’s the best there is at being a basic, white car racer. Brian’s down…but only if they play by his rules. Tyrese Gibson is also here, in a role that was almost certainly originally written for Vin Diesel. Tyrese is a clownish Luigi to Paul Walker’s Mario, and Vin Diesel is a majestic Wario. Cole Hauser plays the movie’s Victor Maitland-style villain, and he looks like Matthew McConaughey’s scummy cousin. Tyrese tries to steal his cigar cutter and gets totally called out for it; Tyrese literally lives in a camper van and probably only eats Hot Pockets. Lets move on.
I’m kind of bored with this one. Despite the promise of its double digit name, 2 Fast 2 Furious forgets that it’s supposed to be about cars doing cool things midway through, like a really long episode of Miami Vice minus the cool visuals and Phil Collins. There’s a pretty fun bit at the end, though, in which they bring out all the cars in a massive spread to confuse the cops, but this occurs for reasons that aren’t totally clear to me. It sure looks cool, though!
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)
Tokyo Drift, as astutely pointed out by my friend Zach, is definitely the Season of the Witch of these movies, in that it has almost nothing to do with the prior two films. We open in Arizona and, because everyone in this opening is white, Kid Rock plays. A teenager in a football jersey throws a baseball through a car window! A teenage girl offers herself up as a prize! And, finally, pumpkin-headed teen and car warrior Sean Bowell (Lucas Black, or, the little kid from Sling Blade as an adult) gets in one little car crash, and his mom gets scared, so he’s sent to live with his sad sack marine dad in Tokyo. On paper, this sounds like a premise for a 43-volume manga series, or maybe a super-meathead version of Larry Clark’s Kids. Anyway, Bow Wow is present as the required black guy best friend, and he drives a weird art car that looks like The Hulk. Oh, and this story retroactively takes place after the events of the next three movies, even though everyone takes pictures with their flip phones (Update: Apparently there actually are more flip phones than smartphones in 2015 Japan!).
Tokyo Drift does that sequel thing where it becomes super-specifically about some gimmick, like how The Howling 3 is about kangaroo people. In this case, it’s the art of drifting, and low-level gangster Han (Sung Kang) agrees to teach Sean how to drift in exchange for his services (which, as far as I can tell, consist of getting thrown out of a spa by a fat guy). Han is awesome as Sean’s perpetually hungry drift Jedi master. “The first drifters invented drifting by feeling,” he explains. This is kind of like one of those “Wolverine-in-Japan” X-Men stories, except with Sean in exile from the island of misfit Friday Night Lights characters. There’s a romantic drifting scene between our hero and the plot-required love interest, whose ex is the movie’s bad guy (nicknamed “DRIFT KING”). This may not be the best Fast and Furious installment, but it is absolutely committed to its subject matter and I respect that.
Tokyo Drift sort of turns into Drive as Brian returns a backpack full of illicit cash to Yakuza boss Sonny Chiba, here playing the most comfortable-looking mobster in the world. Achieving Peak-Drift, Brian wins a mountaintop race, and Sonny Chiba agrees not to demolish the youth center or whatever. BONUS: Vin Diesel’s triumphant return to the franchise in the film’s final moments.
Fast and Furious (2009)
DIESEL. WALKER. RODRIGUEZ. This installment brings the original actors we know and love back to the forefront while sacrificing two instances of a definite article. We open on Dom, Letty, and Han performing a daring fuel heist while a pet iguana eats a trucker’s candy bar. After Dom narrowly evades a flaming tanker truck, we fade from the title screen to sexy ladies dancing. A now-older Dom Torretto is weary of the increasing risks of the game and walks out on Letty for her own safety. FOR DRAMATIC IRONY AND BECAUSE SHE IS A FEMALE CHARACTER IN A POPULAR MOVIE, Letty is murdered off-screen. Meanwhile, Paul Walker is now an FBI agent along with Shea Wigham, because apparently you can join the FBI despite years as a career criminal. Vin Diesel uses hitherto unseen deductive prowess to reconstruct the scene of his girlfriend’s murder. The first third of this movie consists of Vin Diesel and Paul Walker torturing people for information that leads them to heroin-trafficking crime lord Arturo Braga.
The Fast and the Furious movies love crime lords almost as much as they love girls making out in the background of party scenes. Fast and Furious is definitely the filmmakers trying to figure out the components that make this franchise work. I’m three-fourths through a can of watermelon FourLoko and this movie has suddenly turned into everyone racing cars in an underground mine from a CGI LucasArts game. Look, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that Dom and Brian’s beautiful friendship has been reforged in the white-hot heat of car battle. Highlights of this installment include the TRON-style full-screen GPS readouts, Walker quipping “SORRY, CAR!” as he beefs it down a hill, and Vin Diesel blowing up five cars at once through improvised mayhem.
Fast Five (2011) and Furious 6 (2013)
Now we’re in flavor country, kids. The film opens on a train heist and later shows Dom and Brian silently falling from hundreds of feet in the air. The viewers witness the beautiful mating ritual of series newcomer Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson chasing Vin Diesel across Brazilian rooftops. We finally see the line of demarcation from where these movies went from “pretty good” to “sparkling action-porn diamonds”. Everyone is a superhero now.
Alright, I got over-stimulated, so I had to stop and come back to this the next morning. Fast Five isn’t actually that fundamentally different in terms of plot compared to previous Walker/Diesel Fast outings (they screw over an evil rich guy with the power of NOS here), but leaning on the “We need to put together a team!” angle turns these into general ensemble action vehicles. That isn’t to say there still isn’t a heavy focus on Walker and Diesel; Brian’s impending fatherhood and his fears surrounding it mean we get Diesel delivering amazing lines like, “YOU’RE A FATHER NOW, BRIAN.”
I don’t think enough can be said for the amazing dynamic Johnson brings to these movies as Hobbs. He’s to Vin Diesel what the Super Predators are to the regular movie Predators. The antagonism-turned-
sexual-romancegrudging-respect between Torretto and Hobbs is really fun to watch and, with Hobbs giving the Fast Five team a head start in appreciation for their help taking down the film’s requisite crime boss, the ending strangely mirrors that of the first movie. Also, every time I get to the movie’s ending montage, I choke up watching these oddball misfits get a happy ending (thanks to a vault full of cold hard cash). There’s a real honesty there that I appreciate: your Ethan Hunts and Steve Rogerses have the luxury of not needing a reward at the end of their adventures, but, for the misfit heroes of Fast Five (comprised largely of people of color), it means the keys to a better life.
If Fast Five is an Ocean’s Eleven-style heist flick, Furious Six is a total James Bond movie. It’s largely set in London, the car warriors have to foil an actual terrorist plot, and they face off against a team of their own evil counterparts, which is being led by ex-SAS mercenary Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) and includes the previously-believed-dead Letty. Six takes everything good about Five and puts it on hydraulics. Hobbs’ new sidekick is Gina Carano, which means we get some outright great hand-to-hand fight scenes between her and Michelle Rodriguez (with actual, evolving emotional stakes, even!), Shaw’s criminal mastermind schtick makes him a fitting and refreshingly unusual foe for the series, and there’s not one, but two mindblowing third-act action set pieces. We watch Vin Diesel fly through the air and headbutt a guy, people!
The concept of family is central to these films, and Furious Six really rolls with that: Dom and company win at the end of the day because their emotional bonds as a surrogate family trump Shaw’s gang of self-interested vehicular supervillains. Rodriguez, now back on the side of the angels and growling “WRONG TEAM, BITCH!” before killing the star of Haywire with a NOS-powered grappling hook, is a triumphant moment, on par with Ripley confronting the Alien Queen.
If that were it, Furious Six would be a perfect action flick. Fortunately, however, it ends on a straight-up cliffhanger with a surprise, stunt-casted villain and the murder of a beloved character. Guys, I was worried that marathoning these films would kill my enthusiasm for Furious Seven but, the truth is, I’ve only fallen more deeply in love.