Back in 2001, a little film named “The Fast and the Furious” found its way out of the woodwork of Universal Studios. Car enthusiasts the world over lifted their arms to the sky and praised the car gods (rather than the hard-working staff at Universal Studios, mind you) for bestowing upon them a movie that captured (or at least tried to capture) the essence of the street racing subculture. Inspired by a Vibe Magazine article (“Racer X”) by Kenneth Li, the film stars Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster and rap artiste Ja Rule. Although it received mixed critical reviews for its abundance in style and lack of substance, “The Fast and the Furious” was a box office hit and eventually became a certified cult classic within the racing community.
So, what’s the big deal about “The Fast and the Furious”, you ask? Well, it spawned a franchise consisting of five (FIVE, GODDAMMIT!) sequels and two short films, several video games, video games inspired by the movies (“Need for Speed: Underground” is a major example, and a game I REALLY enjoyed playing the shit out of back in the days) and a renewed interest in almost everything car-related, from car modification to auto racing. And it’s this this Fast and Furious Franchise (or FFF for short) that I’ll focus on over the next few posts. I’ will be reviewing all six “Fast and Furious” films (Yes, even that one showing in theaters right now) including the preludes/short films to “2 Fast 2 Furious” and “Fast & Furious” respectively: “‘Turbo-Charged Prelude” and “Los Bandoleros”. As an added bonus, I’ll briefly touch on their respective soundtracks, as music plays an integral role in the enjoyment of any film with the words “Fast”, “and” and “Furious” in its title.
Oh, and by the way, you can expect some minor spoilers in this write-up, so please don’t say I didn’t warn you. Start your engines!
“THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS” (2001) – Ah, the little film that could. And to think it came out twelve years ago. No fucking shit! Hell, in the next five to six years, this movie will be old enough to get a driver’s license! “The Fast and the Furious”, directed by Rob Cohen (who gave us such timeless “masterpieces” like “xXx”, “Stealth”, “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” and last year’s travesty “Alex Cross”. I’m being ironic here, folks), kicks off the franchise into high gear. It features Vin Diesel in his kinda-iconic role as Dominic “Dom” Toretto, Paul Walker who plays Brian O’ Conner and a cast which includes Michelle Rodriguez (Letty), Jordana Brewster (Mia), Matt Schulze (Vincent) and Rick Yune (Johnny Tran). The story centers on Brian O’ Conner, a L.A.P.D. officer, who’s assigned by the FBI to bring down a gang of mobile hijackers led by Dom Toretto. In order to do that, however, he must go undercover into the fast-paced world of L.A. street racing, where Dom is a major figure. Brian befriends Dom, acknowledges the presence of his usually-scowling girlfriend Letty and starts a relationship with his sister Mia, which pisses off her unlikely suitor Vincent. Talk about the “Young and the Restless”….oops, I mean, “Fast and the Furious”. Later in the film, Brian and Dom run afoul of an Asian biker gang led by Dom’s rival Johnny Tran. This gets them deep into the dark side of the L.A. street racing scene, where danger occurs both on and off the road…..or in or outside the car or whatever.
If you know your 1990s movie history, then you may already have figured out that “The Fast and the Furious” is “Point Break” on wheels. Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze (RIP) are replaced with Paul Walker and Vin Diesel, and surfboards are replaced with customized cars. Even the ending of both films (which I won’t spoil) are similar. But whether you saw “Point Break” or not (which you REALLY should, if you haven’t yet), you’ve seen this whole cop-going-undercover-to-gain-friendship-with-supposed-bad-guy-just-so-he-could-arrest-his-ass formula done before in other action and crime movies. But then again, “The Fast and the Furious” is an action/crime movie (with customized cars), and a rather entertaining one at that. The acting by the film’s cast is passable, but it’s Vin Diesel with his monotone voice, scowling face (rivaled by the token ‘tough chick’ Michelle Rodriguez) and bad-ass demeanour, who stands tall among the crowd. The story and dialogue aren’t Oscar-worthy material but it works well, for the most part, with this film. But let’s face it – you don’t watch “The Fast and the Furious” for story and acting. You want to see car chases and car races, and trust me, you’ll get your money’s worth. The car races and chases are exciting and energetic as fuck, but it’s the final chase/race sequence that stands out as the most AWESOME section of the entire movie. The soundtrack, mostly hip-hop and rapcore-based, is really good, and fits perfectly with the film’s tone. You can look out for Ludacris and Nate Dogg’s (RIP) club banger ‘Area Codes”, Limp Bizkit’s “Rollin'” (a.k.a. the song that literally every action movie trailer in the early 2000s played), Murder Inc (remember that shit?!) affiliate/weed carrier Cadillac Tah’s “POV City Anthem” (if you were a fan of B.E.T’s “Rap City Tha Basement” (a.k.a. the greatest fucking show in B.E.T. history), you may remember the video to this song. If not, you can check it out YouTube – if you give a shit) and the film’s theme song of sorts (“Furious”) rapped in the most annoying fashion by former Murder Inc. poster boy Ja Rule (RIP – to his career, that is), with current Bermuda Triangle-resident rapstress Vita who simply compliments the very same shit he’s rapping about (“It’s murda, murda, you know it’s murda murda! We live it, we breathe it, we screaming murda murda murda!“). Somebody shoot me. Groan! And speaking of Ja Rule, his brief appearance, where he manages to drop the only F-bomb in the entire movie (“Fuck you then!”), officially marked the beginning of a popular trend where a rapper must appear in a Fast and Furious movie.
In the end, “The Fast and the Furious” is a high-octane, heart-pumping action/car-racing movie that still holds up surprisingly to this day. Many FFF fans (I wasn’t stuttering, folks.) still consider it the best entry in the overall series, as it contains the blueprint for the the other films to follow in the series (fast cars, hot chicks etc. etc.). It isn’t a great action movie by a longshot – or an original one for that matter, but as far as car movies go, it’s a classic in its own right. And it will make you forget that a certain racing movie called “Driven” , which starred Sylvester Stallone and Burt (remember me from “Evening Shade“? Matter of fact, have you ever heard of “Evening Shade”?) Reynolds, came out approximately two months before “The Fast and the Furious”. Or existed for that matter.
“TURBO-CHARGED PRELUDE” (2003) – This short film, found on the “2 Fast 2 Furious” DVD or Blu Ray or…. ahem….YouTube (gotta love YouTube!), serves as the…you guessed it….prelude to “2 Fast 2 Furious”. “Turbo-Charged Prelude” showcases, in six minutes, a series of events, centered on Brian O’ Conner. After letting Dom escape in the conclusion of “The Fast and the Furious”, Brian finds himself on the run from the law. He goes state-hopping from Los Angeles to Miami, evading the police and winning money in a series of street races. His journey ends in Miami, where he purchases, and customizes, a sweet-ass Skyline GT-R. Nice! This was actually a really interesting short film, and I appreciated the way it relied on visuals and sound, as opposed to dialogue, to tell its story. Had it been in black-and-white and included some piano music and 1920s-looking cue cards, I would’ve appreciated “Turbo-Charged Prelude” more as the ‘silent’ film it tries to be, but it’s good just the way it is. Honestly, it won’t hurt if you skip this prelude, as it doesn’t add anything beneficial to the story of “2 Fast 2 Furious”. But if you’re really curious as to what happened between the first and second films, you should give this one a look. Keep in mind however: the prelude’s closing text “2 be continued” – stupid as it is – should be treated as a fair warning of what to expect in…
“2 FAST 2 FURIOUS” (2003) – a.k.a. the sequel to the little film that could, directed this time by John Singleton who gave us great (I’m not being sarcastic) movies like “Boyz N The Hood” and “Baby Boy”, and a cinematic piece of dogshit called “Abduction”. Anyhoo, “2 Fast 2 Furious” starts off with the BANGING instrumental to David Banner and Lil Flip’s smash hit “Like a Pimp”. SIDE NOTE: When you start watching this movie, you should be nodding your head or ‘throwin’ bows’ at an imaginary crowd at this point in time . I’m just saying. Rapper/actor Chris “Ludacris” Bridges (who plays ex-street racer and racing organizer Tej Parker), assisted by his big-ass Afro, introduces Brian O’ Conner (Paul Walker, obviously) to the story. After a turbo-charged opening race, Brian is arrested by U.S. Customs Service agents. His former boss from the first film, Bilkins (Thom Barry), makes a proposition with him: if Brian assists the FBI and U.S. Customs in apprehending Carter Verone (Cole Hauser), an Argentinian drug lord who employs street racers to transport drug money through Miami, his criminal record will be wiped clean. Of course, Brian agrees – but he chooses a driver to assist him: ex-convict and childhood friend Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson – who starred in “Baby Boy” by the way). Along with undercover Customs agent Monica Fuentes (Eva Mendes), Brian and Roman set out to stop Carter.
If you haven’t noticed it, I didn’t mention the name ‘Dom Torreto’ in the previous paragraph. Well, if you must know, that’s simply because Vin Diesel is NOT in this movie. With the exception of Paul Walker and Thom Barry, no other major character from “The Fast and the Furious” appears in “2 Fast 2 Furious”. I could imagine this move by Universal Studios pissing the pants off many a fan of the first movie. But I guess that since Vin was busy at the time producing and starring in the forgettable action thriller “A Man Apart”, Universal had no choice but to place Mr. Surfer Boy as the lead actor. Paul Walker does a decent job of carrying the film on his shoulders without the help of Vin, but when you see him paired up with Tyrese Gibson (who’s not a bad actor at all – even if he does star in bad movies – *COUGH*The second and third Transformers movies *COUGH!) , you can’t help but long for the bad-assery of Vin Diesel to seep its way into “2 Fast 2 Furious”. And because of this lack of bad-assery, the movie doesn’t take itself that seriously. Yes, there are a few intense moments that warrant the film’s PG-13 rating, but compared to “The Fast and the Furious”, “2 Fast 2 Furious” is way more fun. The racing/chase sequences are flashier and more over-the-top than in the original – with the first race (ironically enough) topping the list of best sequence in the entire movie. SIDE NOTE: 2003 was a standout year for car chase sequences in movies. This was the year which gave us the phenomenal chase scenes from “Bad Boys II”, “The Matrix Reloaded” and “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines”, with each sequence literally pushing the boundaries of action and car chase filmmaking. The first car race in “2 Fast 2 Furious” is not as jaw-dropping or logically insane as the abovementioned car chase sequences, but it is an enjoyable thrill ride nonetheless – regardless of the film’s notion that when you activate nitrous oxide (or NOS) in your car, everything outside the car turns into a vibrant, seemingly-drug-induced collage of colours.
The story, while not taking itself too seriously as I already mentioned, is fucking weak. It tries too hard to combine the flashy vibe of the street racing culture presented in the first film with a bootleg “Miami Vice” – like story. This is evident in the third act which feels more like a TV show than a racing movie. Even the “Dukes of Hazzard”-esque climax and wrapped-neatly-in-a-bow conclusion to “2 Fast 2 Furious” has the markings of a TV show. The acting isn’t all that great either. Cole Hauser plays a really shitty villain, Eva Mendes isn’t given much to do except look smoking hot (I’m not being sexist here, folks) and Paul Walker and Tyrese Gibson spend half of the time bickering like bitchy schoolboys: “I seen you checkin’ her out, man.” “No, I wasn’t. Shut up!”, “You shut up!”. “No, you shut up!”. Yeeeeeah, you get the idea. Tyrese has the charisma that one expects from a R&B artiste/actor but his annoying antics and facepalm-worthy dialogue (“It’s a ho-asis in here, brah!”, “Hey man, you got something to eat up in here? We HUNGRY!”) will test your patience. Ludacris, whose rap career skyrocketed during the early 2000s, is enjoyable as Tej Parker – and though he doesn’t appear that much in the movie, he still shows up in more scenes than Ja Rule did in the previous one. Also appearing in “2 Fast 2 Furious” is Jin Auyeung, a Chinese-American rapper who first shot to prominence by winning the B.E.T. 106 & Park Freestyle Friday rap battle in 2001. It’s a shame his rap career never blew up though. Shame indeed.
So the car chases were decent, but the story and performances weren’t. And Vin Diesel’s not in it. Why then should you sit through this movie? Well, believe it or not, the soundtrack fucking KNOCKS! Released by Def Jam Records and Ludacris’ own label Disturbing Tha Peace, the hip-hop and R&B-based soundtrack to “2 Fast 2 Furious” is, by the far, the BEST Fast and Furious soundtrack in like…..EVER! It’s guaranteed to make your head nod – even if your forehead is in pain from too much facepalming. Songs like the aforementioned “Like A Pimp”, “Pick up the Phone” (by Tyrese Gibson, R. Kelly & Ludacris – which I REALLY enjoyed back in 2003, by the way), “Pump it Up” (by rapper/unlikely VH1 reality show star Joe Budden) and Ludacris’ SMASH hit “Act a Fool” are sure to take you back to the glory days of early-2000s hip hop music. Ultimately, “2 Fast 2 Furious” left its brain somewhere between Miami and Los Angeles, but it still holds up as a stylish, upbeat take on the exact blueprint that the first film formulated (FFF…..get it?!). It’s certainly not an improvement over the first film, and retrospectively, it’s not director John Singleton’s crowning achievement. But if you’re looking for a mindless racing movie with fun, flash and fucking dope hip hop music, pop in the DVD or Blu-Ray (or download it if you’re like me), crank your volume to 11, and act a fool with “2 Fast 2 Furious”
And now for your enjoyment, the music video to Ludacris’ “Act a Fool”! ENJOY!
MY RATINGS –
“The Fast and the Furious” – 3 1/2 out of 5 stars (“Worth a look”)
“Turbo-Charged Prelude” – 3 out of 5 stars (“It was aight”)
“2 Fast 2 Furious” – 3 out of 5 stars (“It was aight”)