The Vin Diesel School of Diplomacy: mumble softly, carry a big motherfucking shotgun
A pseudo-reboot of the charmingly dumb 2001 hit and its equally, charmingly dumb sequels, Fast & Furious finishes up being a kind of blockhead’s remake of Mann’s Miami Vice film, including dragging back Joe Ortiz, sans beard and glasses this time, to play the same role of intermediary bad guy. The result would apparently like to wring some depth and soul out of a scenario that involves characters with a loaded past and fractured bonds coming together to deal with the damage they’ve done to each-other and to the psyches of driving instructors the world over, but director Justin Lin’s second contribution to the story is a fascinating lesson in contemporary Hollywood storytelling. Or, whatever the opposite of storytelling is. Rambling on? No, not that either...er...Stuff happening because because! Yeah, that's it.
Justin Lin respects women, and will call them in the morning.
Lin goes through the motions of offering emotion-laden scenes between his cast of meat puppets, and yet this cuts entirely against the grain of his purely mercenary sense of narrative construction: interpersonal scenes are pared back to bare minimal requirements, so that stars Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster might as well hold up signs that sport epigrams like “HURT”, “ANGRY”, “GRIEVING”, or “ATTRACTION RESURFACING”, which I’m sure would suit a lot of exponents of perpetual motion cinema. Brewster in particular may well have wondered why the hell she was needed, when shots of her from the first film might have been spliced in a la Bruce Lee in Game of Death. Rodriguez survives a perfunctory cliffhanger only to be iced in the most undignified of off-screen deaths after two scenes, to provide a motive for Diesel’s Dom Matteo to return to LA, and presumably so Rodriguez could hurry back to the Lost set.
Such cynicism is pitiful, especially considering that the film patently advertises itself as a back-to-basics thrill-ride, not realising that it was the utterly absurd cornucopia of adolescent fetishes and practically pop-art reduction of dramatic elements to signifiers and the elevation of filler to raison d’etre that made the second two films considerably more entertaining than the first. The chief pleasure of the initial film was in Rob Cohen’s sleek, cool stylisation in ripping off Point Break and resetting it in gearhead land, whereas here Lin offers up several incomprehensible action racing scenes that proceed roughly in this fashion: blur, shake, wobble, blur, smear, blur, shake, and so forth. Plotting proceeds in similar leaps: villains, exposition, and motivations are offered in a blizzard of incoherence.
More thigh! More thigh! No, not quite much that thigh! Paul, stop checking yourself out in the window!
Diesel, usually an affable screen presence, acts here with all the enthusiasm of a man who…well, a man who’s been forced to return to a franchise he abandoned in thinking it was stupid because his career’s gone up the spout in the meantime. His and Walker’s attempts at emoting suggest they’ve both been stricken with Bell’s Palsy. There’s also some chick in there who looks like Megan Fox crossbred with Monica Belluci, speaks with an accent, and can’t act worth a penny (yes, I know her name is Gal Gadot, although if that was my name I wouldn't admit it), as a bad guy's odalisque who seems vaguely interested in Dom. I hoped her character would prove to be the mysterious secret villain-type person, because that would have added a touch of spice and subversion to the posturing machismo, rather than simply being the most prominent of the film’s roster of female hood ornaments. But no, the villain turns out to be someone far more obvious: in an awe-inspiring twist, the bad guy turns out to be...the bad guy! Of course, the usual proliferation of hot bodies, both human and vehicular, is on display, and the film remembers to tick off the regulation flourishes – not one but two three-way lesbian snogs = jackpot! – but rarely has a film that is so much about the pandering appeal of illicit sensual thrills been so lame in offering them. An enthusiastic final chase scene and an appropriate coda do finally rescue the film from oblivion, but there’s a terrible surplus of CGI augmentation for a film series that was once all about damn good driving. No wonder Luc Besson and his cadres are taking over this genre.