Thursday, April 2, 2009

Car sick: "Fast & Furious" returns

Back in the ancient days of popular culture -- that would be 2001 -- director Rob Cohen found himself at the helm of a movie that made lots of noise at the box office. "Fast & Furious," which plunged us into Los Angeles' street-racing scene, had plenty of action, and, for once, little of it felt digitally created. "The Fast & The Furious" was an adrenalin shot of a movie, and at the time, we weren't even sick of Vin Diesel, who played street-racing guru Dom Torreto.

Two sequels later, Diesel reunites with Paul Walker, who appeared in both the first and the less interesting second movie. Justin Lin, who directed the third movie ("Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift"), takes charge of the fourth movie, a gratuitous reunion tour that speeds us through Southern California and Mexico. The plot has something to do with drug smuggling and with Dom Torreto and Brian O'Conner (Walker) working out differences that have been hanging around since the first installment. Torreto's a street guy; O'Conner earns his living as an FBI agent.

Story doesn't much matter because the movie really exists only to put petal to metal. That wouldn't be so bad if we actually cared who survived all the fender-bending brutality. And although this edition builds on the first movie -- racing around like crazy in the bargain -- it doesn't really go anywhere. In what amounts to its biggest novelty, "Fast & Furious" spins its wheels underground. A prolonged chase sequence hurtles through secret tunnels connecting the U.S. and Mexico.

I don't know where Diesel trained as an actor, but wherever it was, they evidently didn't believe in facial expressions. Walker is like a poor man's Keanu Reeves, and, no, I don't even want to think about what that might mean.

The movie starts with a bang -- Dom and cohorts -- try to hijack a semi-truck on a winding mountain road in Latin America. This action sequence allows Lin quickly to put his cards on the table. "I am director." "Hear my movie roar."

I enjoyed the original, which seemed to barrel out of nowhere, and found the Tokyo edition to be sleek and stylish, but this one left me cold. Instead of speeding up my pulse, it made me walk a little faster toward my car, eager to rev the engine and get home to a good book. Once there, I did, however, find myself turning the pages at a faster-than-usual clip.

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