Cinematic Flashback: The Fast and the Furious (2001) Review
I live my life a quarter mile at a time. Nothing else matters: not the mortgage, not the store, not my team and all their bullshit. For those ten seconds or less, I’m free and is the mantra staple quote from 2001’s The Fast and the Furious movie and my latest “cinematic flashback” review.
THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS
“If you have what it takes…. You can have it ALL!”
Director: Rob Cohen
Writer: Gary Scott Thompson, Erik Bergquist, and David Ayer
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, and Jordan Brewster
Run Time: 106 minutes
Release Date: June 22nd, 2001
Los Angeles street racer Dominic Toretto falls under the suspicion of the LAPD as a string of high-speed electronics truck robberies rocks the area. Brian O’Connor, an officer of the LAPD, joins the ranks of Toretto’s highly skilled racing crew undercover to convict Toretto. However, O’Connor finds himself both enamored with this new world and in love with Toretto’s sister, Mia. As a rival racing crew gains strength, O’Connor must decide where his loyalty really lies.
With Hobbs & Shaw (or Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw), the first spin-off motion picture endeavor in this cinematic series, coming on soon, I decided to take a little trip down this franchise…. back to the beginning feature film to where it all started. Yes, I’m taking about the 2001 original movie The Fast and the Furious. I remember I was in high school when this movie came out (my sophomore year) and, while I never got a chance to see it in theaters, I was able to first see the movie in school. Don’t ask! In truth, we (several members of my class) actually tricked our teacher to letting us watching it during school hours…. for a “end of the semester” celebration class period. I still laugh about how my class was able to watch the movie (almost in its entirety), without our teacher not really saying (btw…she was in the adjacent office next door for most of the movie). Anyway, to be honest, I wasn’t really super thrilled to see the film when it first came out, which is probably why I didn’t “rush” to my nearby movie theater to see. However, after viewing it, I was quite entertained by the movie. How so…. we here’s why….
Directed by Rob Cohen, The Fast and the Furious movie was definitely a “breath of fresh air” during its initial theatrical release; finding the public’s interest (at the turn of the millennium) waning from the plethora sci-fi bandwagon endeavors from Hollywood and wanted something a little bit different. Thus, Cohen delivers on that regard, crafting a film that has plenty of street racing of fast cars and piston pumping usage of NOS (Nitrous Oxide) throughout the entire picture. Because this movie was the first one of the series, the expectations of it was met with mixed reviews, but mostly of its fans found The Fast and the Furious to be a fun action flick that has plenty of different model cars (both domestic and foreign brands) as well as high octane entertainment. Thus, as one can imagine, the street racing was a big highlight of the feature’s likeability and definitely worked to that advantage, with Cohen shaping the film’s narrative around the underground world of racing and how deep O’Connor will go into this dubious world. Sure, it was super dramatic Shakespearean level of theatrics (in both character or story), but The Fast and the Furious was surely a fun ride and delivered what was promised.
While the movie has a definite edge of action and racing as the “bread and butter” working on the feature’s likeability, there are some elements in the feature that don’t exactly quite work. The film’s story is quite derivate (in nature); seeing a young / reckless cop that goes undercover to one of the more notorious street racers on the block. It’s been done before and some parts of The Fast and the Furious story are quite “beat to beat” on how it’s narrative progresses, including love interest, rival groups, and heated pressure on all sides. Thus, a lot of the racing scenes are actually more palpable and compelling than a lot of story narrative points. This also includes a rival group that Brian and Toretto face off against (i.e. Johnny Tran’s gang) that feels undercook whenever presences and sort of wanes as the movie progresses. It felt like they were a setup for something more, but ultimately their inclusion in the narrative doesn’t exactly work. Basically, they are there for some minor conflict in the first two acts of the feature and make up a “final confrontation” in the third act. Additionally, ending of The Fast and the Furious feels a bit wonky; leaving viewers on a story that doesn’t have a proper conclusion as if the film’s true ending was cut (for some odd reason) and left with a passible one.
Thankfully, what definitely overlooks some of those negative points is the film’s cast, which mostly gets the job done within their respective character roles. This is most prevalent in the movie’s two main lead characters of Brian O’Connor and Dominic Toretto, who are played by actors Paul Walker and Vin Diesel. While Walker was mostly known for his roles in Varsity Blues and She’s All That (prior to this movie’s release), it was his performance of O’Connor that made him a bit more recognizable and definitely spearheaded the franchise. Likewise, Diesel turned a great performance as the titular Toretto and has certainly propelled the F&F series forward with his involvement. Of course, the on-screen chemistry of Walker and Diesel is definitely felt and (much like their characters throughout the other installments) has been the “backbone” for most of the franchise….at least until Walker’s untimely death.
The film’s other side characters were “hit or miss”. The character personas were all there and well-intended in their respective characters, but some of the acting in a few were pretty “blah” and a bit over-the-top as well as being a derivate in character supporting roles. Maybe it’s just me, but I personally felt that actor Rick Yune’s Johnny Tran was a bit much of overacting and felt more like cartoon with his hammy dialogue line delivery. However, actresses Michelle Rodriguez and Jordan Brewster deliver favorable performances (in their small capacity levels) as the “love interest” for both O’Connor and Toretto in the movie (i.e. Letty and Mia).
While originally intended to be a standalone feature, the success of The Fast and the Furious launched a very lucrative movie franchise that spans for nearly twenty years (as of this review), with already having a total of eight feature films (with two more planned installment in the pipeline as well as a spin-off endeavor (i.e. Hobbs & Shaw). Of course, the franchise has definitely evolved beyond how it all started with 2001’s The Fast and the Furious, introducing new characters, new driving concepts, and ultimately changing the narrative formula of underground racing to more of Ocean’s 8 / Avengers aspect of Toretto’s team of drivers / racers as they help to save the world. Thus, the latter films (starting with 2011’s Fast Five, the fifth installment in the series) have been “criticized” by some of having more of a fanciful superhero nuance (various globetrotting locales, elaborate “over the top” action sequences, and more daring “do-gooding” of fighting bad guys than actual racing cars. To me (personally), I actually quite enjoy the latter films of the series more so than earlier ones. Yes, of course, the movies have become more of a blockbuster tentpole platform, but there a sense action fantasy while watching these (a sense of cinematic disbelief wonder of entertainment). Additionally, the F&F’s new direction for its movies have put a heavier focus on character / plot development (again, not the most rounded, but still wholesome) than just simply illegal / underground street racing.
In the end, 2001’s The Fast and the Furious did what it set out to do; providing moviegoers with a adrenaline action flick of fast cars, manly badass bravado, and the fictional look at underground street racing. The movie didn’t really “reinvent” the action racing genre and though it did spawn a long-lasting franchise as well as several imitations style endeavors of underground racing, but rather made it more relevant, speaking to the new millennium age of 2000s era of moviegoers everywhere…for better or worse. It wasn’t my personal favorite of this franchise, but it acts as a starting point to the infamous F&F saga; evolving beyond its own original staples and being one of better choices of mindless blockbuster popcorn flicks for the better part of two decades.
Cinematic Flashback Score: 3.7 Out of 5
Fun Fact: The first street race scene is supposedly a quarter mile race, taking approximately ten seconds. However, the race takes almost two minutes of screen time and shows the vehicles driving in excess of 150 miles per hour, faster than even a 1,200 horsepower Bugatti Veyron can accomplish a 1/4 mile.