Unless you’ve been literally born yesterday, you know that the next installment in the Fast & the Furious franchise comes out tomorrow, Furious 7. And maybe a while ago, I would have gone “ugh” at the idea of seven movies in the franchise, over the past few films I’ve actually grown to become excited at what is next for this series. And it honestly looks like it might be the best movie of the month (certainly not of a year that includes Timbuktu and Li’l Quinquin already).
Of course, it wasn’t always like that – this and the Mission: Impossible franchise are pretty much in my heart as the franchises that started bad and pushed on enough movies to end up decent fast than you can say “Wham, Bam, Bambi!” – and so, for this post and the next one later today, I would like you to follow with me my personal feelings for each of the six previous films prior to the upcoming obviously-going-to-be-a-blockbuster and see how far down low my esteem for the franchise can go.
Also, please watch this and tell me you do not laugh.
The Fast and the Furious (2001/dir. Rob Cohen/USA)
Ahhhh, the one that started it all. Well, of course, one would expect some leverage to be given to it for igniting the franchise, and well, back when I was 9 years old when this movie came out, I totally loved it. It was all that machismo and macho attitude that 9-year-old STinG was looking for.
But the last time I saw this film was in 2012 and for all it is considered an action genre hallmark now, it’s… pretty damn lousy. Rob Cohen has never been a completely competent storyteller and not entirely promising an action filmmaker either, so in spite of Michelle Rodriguez (who, up until the Rock’s entrance into the franchise, was my favorite performer in the series) and Vin Diesel keeping the ante up for the film as much as they can, it can’t entirely change the fact that this movie is very thinly-veiled repackaging of Point Break (replace surfboards with cars) minus almost all of the strengths that made Point Break such a classic (replace the charisma of Patrick Swayze with the almost equal value charisma of young Vin Diesel – curiously, I think the character of Dom Toretto got a lot more boring as the franchise moved forward) or the fact that Cohen shoots car races like commercials rather than as the exciting action setpieces they should be.
But hey, this movie started it so I guess we should be happy. And it never becomes too miserable of a picture, it’s just so blatantly uninterested in being more than the surface of its parts. And still as this post will conclude, The Fast and the Furious is undoubtedly the best film in the first half of the franchise so far. God help us all.
2 Fast 2 Furious (2003/dir. John Singleton/USA)
First of all, let’s get this out of the damn way: One of my favorite movie titles ever. I know it’s gimmicky and stupid, but the fun treatment of the numeral integrated in the title to keep it from just sounding like The Fast and the Furious 2 makes me happy almost as much as the introduction of John Singleton into the franchise as a director makes me.
Of course, the problem with this film is that the title IS the best part of the movie. See, we’re not getting Singleton at the cusp of his selling-out, we’re getting him right as he sold out. And so behold, the best part of a movie was – for once – Paul Walker’s smugly bro-ness as a police officer Brian O’Connor (the protagonist of the first movie and arguably the main protagonist for the whole franchise), coming off as off-putting when surrounded by better elements in the first film, but here being an anchor to any sense of fun this movie has as it now tries to adopt itself less as an adrenaline ride and more as police procedural by people who have probably no idea how real-life or fictional police procedurals work. In any case, the movie is astoundingly sedate without much to kick back up save for Walker and every once in a while Ludacris’ fake but still admirable enthusiasm.
Any worthwhile usage of Miami’s landscape in the photography? Nope, pissing off a Miami native like me who doesn’t even like this fucking city. Just slightly bluer nights and hot and sticky days.
Well-shot car races? Worse than The Fast and the Furious. Grain and fuzz all around with neon lines only slightly implying “hey, a car was here”.
But mainly, I take this film down just a bit further for introducing my least favorite character of the franchise: Tyrese Gibson’s completely unemotive Debbie downer presence as Roman Coppola, allegedly O’Connor’s best friend, but it is fucking impossible to imagine anybody could be friends with a character so full of apprehensive and annoying at all the wrong places.
And yet, the film is still not as bad as…
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006/dir. Justin Lin/USA)
The good news, alas! We have actually fantastically shot car action scenes and I personally would not have initially guessed this possible from long-time franchise director Justin Lin based on his 2002 film Better Luck Tomorrow (a crime drama that actually managed to be exciting even without having much action within it and the only non-Fast franchise movie of his that I saw). Sleek, fast, exciting, engaging, all the great words you can say about a car chase, especially the climax at DK’s mountain.
The bad news: This is the worst movie in the franchise. Period.
First of all, the movie to recognize that Tokyo is a city that is more than just large neon building signs that make it indistinguishable from all the other big metropolises of the world and that really really breaks my heart. If you’re suddenly going to move your franchise to Japan for the most bullshit of reasons, at least do us the great opportunity of really showing Tokyo. Not just mediums of a white kid in a blue car in a bunch of heavily crowded business streets. Goddamn.
Not mention how banal the story is in itself, now completely stripping its potential as a bare and compelling thrill ride to just be a story about how some kid has to feel like an outcast and wants to earn his way into the in-crowd by drag racing. Armed with lousy performances by Bow Wow, Nathalie Kelly, Sung Kang (apparently playing the same character from Better Luck Tomorrow, except in Better Luck Tomorrow Han and Fast and the Furious Han are two way too different personalities), and even the usually great Lucas Black, plus an unforgivable cameo by Sonny Chiba where he gets to do absolutely nothing and I spent the majority of the movie in fear that he was in a coma.
Oh yeah, the forced mythology invoking the Yakuza and the Drift King and the Mountain as if that’s how Japan, High School Students, or Gangsters work. It’s just as an atrociously silly film that doesn’t know how silly it is and dedicates too much of its time to make us take its bullshit seriously.
Thankfully, when a movie is this idiotic, there’s only one way to go… up…