Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Fast & Furious (2009)

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 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.

Because I can pander too, damn it!

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.

You know what was a good car movie? Death Proof. Quentin, call me!


J.D. said...

heh! Funny review appropriate to such an absurd film/franchise. It is astounding that these films are still being made and sadly this one did so well that I believe another installment is in the works (?!). Dear lord, can someone highjack Vin Diesel and hook him up with another PITCH BLACK sequel?

Roderick Heath said...

I'd enjoyed all the previous films to a certain extent because they were so damned unpretentious. But this was so...bloody perfunctory. Sure there's another installment in the works! This one made pots of moolah. But no, can't agree: the last thing the world needs is another Pitch Black sequel, dear god. My head still aches thinking back to Chronicles of Riddick. Actually, I wasn't even fond of the first one.

Sam Juliano said...

Sadly, I'm no fan of this film, and this series, though I can see the allure. Thankfully you (and J.D.) have grown wearisome.

I particularly loved this observation/contention:

"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, on so forth. Plotting proceeds in similar fashion: villains, exposition, and motivations are offered in a blizzard of incoherence."

Greg said...

I like the third screengrab from the top. You should do a whole post of nothing but frames from that scene.

J.D. said...

I agree with you about CHRONICLES. Awful! But the first one was a nice, down 'n' dirty, low budget B movie. More of that and less of the epic.

Roderick Heath said...

Sam: the series was always so patently absurd that it was hard to hate. Fast & Furious would have been better played as a Hawksian "hang-out" movie to give the audience a chance to soak up the return of the actors they supposedly loved, rather than play as an over-extended TV episode. Although that's a bit unfair, most TV shows are far better written than this.

Greg: I did, actually, think about doing that, or of only using the random T&A and titillation shots, to send this shite up. Because if, god damn it, Justin Lin can offer swaths of gratuitousness for his own benefit, so can I, and I don't need any stupid cars getting in the road!

JD: I know I'm kind of in a minority here, but I found Pitch Black boring and derivative. As far as David Twohy's B-movies go, I much preferred Timescape and The Arrival.

J.D. said...

Yeah, I really like THE ARRIVAL too. I also thought BELOW was very underrated. It had a really cool atmosphere and mood to it that I liked.

Greg said...

Woohoo! You changed the comments template! And the blog is still here, undeleted.

Also, according to your time it's already the 4th of July so I might as well start drinking now.

Today, we celebrate... (dramatically and with emphasis) our Independence Day (cue applause and over-gesticulated salutes)!

Roderick Heath said...

I have nightmares about a sequel to Independence Daywhere aliens cause everyone on Earth to have Bill Pullman's hairdo.

Happy 4th, Greg!

Greg said...

Thank you. May no aliens attack us today! If they do I'll send morse code status updates on Facebook.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...


Doing a bit of catch up, but I am enjoying your blog and I have JD to thank for that.

May I register my complaint for anything and everything Vin Diesel.

I don't believe there was ever a more overrated action star. He is truly one note. Chronicles was horrid. Pitch Black was overrated.

The CGI in Pitch Black took me out of a film I would have enjoyed had real prosthetic make-up been used.

The crash sequence in that film and Claudia Black were the best things about. I really enjoyed aspects of the film and would agree with JD that it was a good B movie.

My apologies for not having much to add regarding the Fast And The Furious but I simply can't stomach Vin Diesel without a stiff drink.

Roderick Heath said...

I can see what you mean, Fanatic; Diesel is pretty one-note, but I kind of like his note; there hasn't been an action star as simultaneously formidable looking and likable on screen since Ahnuld, and I've enjoyed his presence even in films that are practically worthless. But too many worthless films later...