Friday June 22, 2001
This is an action picture that's surprising in the complexity of its key characters and portents of tragedy. That "The Fast and the Furious" is loaded with jaw-dropping races and chases is to be expected; that its people matter more than their fabulously customized vehicles is not. The result is an intensely involving entertainment that can be enjoyed by viewers who scarcely know how their own cars work.
Fresh from Arizona in his nitrous oxide-injected muscle machine, Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) is determined to become part of this special world. For starters, he could use the prize money. Becoming more important is his attraction to the beautiful young Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster), who waits on him at a lunch counter in a neighborhood cafe near downtown L.A. In this predominantly Latino area, the blond-haired Brian stands out, and the first to take notice is Vince (Matt Schulze), a husky, tattooed guy with a short fuse and not too many smarts.
Pretty soon, Mia's brother Dominic (Vin Diesel) has to step out of his small office at the back of the cafe to stop Vince's jealous attack on Brian.
Dominic, with his shaved head, sculpted muscles and deep voice, possesses a commanding presence. Racing is in Dom's blood: "I live a quarter of a mile at a time," he says. He spends his days working on high-performance race cars and pockets money from winning races. Dom has a strongly paternal quality and is at the center of a tight racing group.
Vince is part of the picture mainly because Dom has known him since the third grade; Dom's feisty girlfriend, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez, so memorable in last year's "Girlfight"), shares his passion for race cars.
Also part of the group is Jesse (Chad Lindberg, especially ingratiating), whose attention deficit disorder subsides when he focuses on engine design, and Leon (Johnny Strong), a wiry, skilled driver. Mia lives with Dom in the worn comfort of their family home but is not caught up in racing. She stands apart but is loyal; Dom is protective of her without being possessive.
Brian has his work cut out for him in winning Dom's respect and trust. When he does, he bonds with Dom, who's warm and witty beneath his tough-guy exterior, and of course Brian is falling in love with Mia. At just the moment that we sense Brian's growing security in this new environment, we suddenly discover the meaning of the film's bravura daredevil opening sequence. This is the kind of unexpected depth that results when astute directing, acting and writing mesh as smoothly as the gears in the film's souped-up cars.
Ever since Steven Spielberg had writer Robert Rodat create the role of Pvt. Carpazzo in "Saving Private Ryan" for Diesel, the actor has been making one strong impression after another. He has an understated presence that fills the screen, yet Walker, for all his golden-boy looks, is too powerful in his own right to be crowded off it. These are two well-matched stars, and their carefully chosen supporting cast also includes Rick Yune as Dom's arch-rival, Ja Rule as another racer, and Ted Levine as a man in a position to put tough questions of loyalty and choice to Brian.
Levine is, in effect, the film's moral center; it is a testament to his range that he is as effective here as he was as the serial killer--an unforgettable embodiment of terrifying evil--in "The Silence of the Lambs."
Ace cinematographer Ericson Core and production designer Waldemar Kalinowksi and their teams have collaborated with Cohen to blend authentic Southern California locales in striking, cohesive fashion, paying as much attention to details as to bold imagery.
The film's serious, intimate moments provide a solid ballast for its scorchingly kinetic action sequences, and both are enhanced by a score by BT that is alternately frenetic and plaintive. It's worth noting that "The Fast and the Furious" reflects the varied ethnicity of Los Angeles communities with exceptional accuracy.
The Fast and the Furious, 2001. MPAA-rated: PG-13, for violence, sexual content and language. A Universal Pictures presentation in association with Mediastream Film. Director Rob Cohen. Producer Neal H. Moritz. Executive producers Doug Claybourne, John Pogue. Screenplay by Gary Scott Thompson and Erik Bergquist and David Ayer; screen story by Thompson; based on an article by Ken Li for Vibe magazine. Cinematographer Ericson Core. Stunt coordinator Mic Rodgers. Editor Peter Honess. Music BT. Costumes Sanja Milkovic Hays. Production designer Waldemar Kalinowksi. Art director Kevin Kavanaugh. Set designer Maria Baker. Set decorator Florence Fellman. Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes. Paul Walker as Brian O'Conner. Vin Diesel as Dominic Toretto. Michelle Rodriguez as Letty. Jordana Brewster as Mia.