Though Fast & Furious is the fourth installment in the franchise, it's really the first true sequel to 2001's The Fast and the Furious since it reunites the principal cast members. 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) was little more than the next car-centric case for hotshot cop Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker), while The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006) offered nothing in common with its predecessors beyond fast cars and a cameo in the final scene by racer/thief Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel). But then F&F begins with a heist involving a principal character from Tokyo Drift who died in that film, making this either a prequel to the third movie or else a sequel that begins with a flashback.
Call it what you want, but Fast & Furious lacks more than the the's in its title. Things just aren't nearly as much fun this time, illustrating the difference between a guilty pleasure B-movie like the original and the embarrassing junk typified with a direct-to-video release.
Recall that O'Conner let Toretto escape before the cops could nab him at the end of the first film. Since then, Toretto has been operating as a fugitive with his girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) outside of the States. F&F begins in the Dominican Republic with a tanker truck heist as exhilarating—and improbable—as the high-speed car heist that opened the first movie.
Before long, Toretto is back in America to grieve the loss of someone close to him, apparently murdered by the henchman of a shadowy drug lord. Turns out that O'Conner is after the same drug lord, and wouldn't you know it, the two vow to bring him down. Though they start off as rivals—the drug lord just happens to be looking for the fastest drivers around—you can bet they'll end up cooperating, especially since O'Conner still has the hots for Toretto's sister Mia (Jordana Brewster).
Saying anything else would spoil the small plot twists that the filmmakers have tried to keep secret, though a movie like this obviously favors dizzying action over storytelling. Fans can at least revel in the film's plentiful car chases, ridiculous as they often are—especially since there's nothing else to make this movie worthwhile.
The opening sequence is fun, but makes James Bond seem plausible by comparison. Better is a frenetic race through downtown Los Angeles traffic, guided by snazzy GPS graphics; I got a kick out the way the computers were constantly trying to reroute, compensating for the wild improvisation by the drivers. But the finale chase is a letdown by comparison, relying too much on quick and sloppy editing to make much sense out of such a crazy sequence. And like most of the movie, it shares more in common with watching a videogame than a thrilling cinematic action sequence.
The movie's press materials say the drivers "push the limits of what's possible behind the wheel." Duh. Action movies must try to trump what's been seen before, but they need to make it look believable. In this movie, the characters always steer clear of falling cars at the last minute, always spinning their vehicles with laser precision at full speed, and always seem capable of up-shifting for extra speed—there's so much revving and gear-shifting, I imagine they're in fourteenth gear by the closing credits.
But whether or not you swallow the action sequences, they're simply not good enough to recommend this dud amid all its weaknesses, starting with the atrocious performances. Diesel underacts and Walker overacts, yet both do little more than posture throughout. The female leads add even less. Rodriguez and Brewster are glorified cameos, and Gal Gadot (a model and former Miss Israel) is hilariously robotic as the sexy new femme fatale, making a block of wood seem more personable by comparison.
And storytelling? This is one of those films where characters easily find people who should be hard to find—through lame efforts. O'Conner whittles down a list of 500 LA residents with the same name to just one suspect based solely on the car he drives. How does he know? "Because it's what I'd drive." Hmm, maybe the LAPD should investigate O'Conner.
Or try to explain how the cops visit Mia's house in search of Toretto when he's not there. Apparently they've not bothered to set up a stakeout since he later walks out of her garage in plain sight. "Everyone's looking for you," says O'Conner, strolling up casually to Toretto. "I'm right here," he replies. Brilliant.
It's not to suggest that director Justin Lin (who helmed Tokyo Drift) is incompetent; his filmmaking is brisk and vibrant here. But he drives this movie on a faulty engine (the script) and a flaking paint job (the reunited cast—rising stars eight years ago, struggling today). Moreover, Fast & Furious takes itself far too seriously compared to the sense of fun created in the first one—which was trash, but enjoyable.
This one's not just trash, but trashy as well. There are scantily clad babes bumping and grinding at parties, and a shot of lesbians kissing. The main characters also have sex with women—implied but not shown.
This movie is fast and furious, no question, but it's also noisy and dumb—and vulgar, derivative, and inferior to the original in every way. Remember to use your turn signal when moving into the pass lane.
Talk About ItDiscussion starters
- Does Fast & Furious mix its messages? Does it condone theft and speedy chases (despite the "do not try this at home" statement at the end)? Or does it show the consequences of breaking the law?
- Does Dom Toretto have any honor, or is he just a cool bad guy? Is he justified in his acts of theft and vengeance? Is Toretto redeemed at the end of the film? Why or why not?
- What about O'Conner? Is he a good cop with "loose cannon" tendencies, or is he a tainted cop trying to do whatever it takes to accomplish good? Do the ends justify the means?
- What do you make of the drug lord Braga's act of repentance toward the end of the film? Was his confession to Christ genuine? Or do you agree with Toretto, who said he wasn't forgiven? How can we gauge whether someone's heart is truly contrite?
- A character in the film says that one bad judgment call marks the difference between a copy and a criminal. Agree with that assessment?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Fast & Furious is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sexual content, language, and drug references. There's violent brawling and gunplay, though nothing particularly graphic beyond some bloody cuts and bruises. The most shocking scene involves the death of a bad guy when a car pins his body against another car at high speed. The sexual content involves scantily clad women bumping and grinding at various parties, lesbians kissing each other, and sex between principal characters (implied but not shown). There are drug references, though no one is shown using (aside from drinking alcohol). Profanity is plentiful, including misuse of God's name, a cruder version of "wussy," and one f-bomb.
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