Vin Diesel in 'Fast & Furious'

Vin Diesel in 'Fast & Furious'

"Fast & Superfluous" is the fourth film in the "Fast/Furious" franchise, a tepid, repetitive and digitally augmented hot cars-hot women thriller that might probably won't give Vin Diesel and Paul Walker the career boost that "The Fast and the Furious" did.

"Fast & Furious" welcomes Diesel back into the franchise that made him -- and shows that he's lost his fastball. Reprising the hard-driving/hard-living Dom Torreto, Diesel reduces his performance to stillness -- long stares, poses and limited bits of action. He's not Eastwood, so this approach has only limited success.

Dom and his team (Michelle Rodriguez and Sung Kang, also back) are in that corner of the Dominican Republic that looks like the high desert of Mexico, hijacking gasoline super-tanker trucks. But the law is closing in on Dom, so he leaves his woman behind and heads to Panama. A death back home lures him to LA, where he vows revenge on the drug lord who killed a loved one.

"Please, let this go," his sister (Jordana Brewster) pleads. He won't.

Any more than F.B.I. agent Brian O'Conner (Walker) will. He's after the same mobster. And when these rivals figure out that the Mexican mob needs fast drivers to deliver their drugs and that they choose those drivers in GPS-marked races through the crowded streets of Los Angeles, it's on.

These movies have always been about the "10-second cars," "tuners." A Camero, Gran Torino, Mustang, Dodge Charger and assorted indistinct imports take their bows. Plot is secondary, the characters archetypal. The performances have steadily fallen off as the movies Tokyo-drifted further away from that gonzo first film (itself a remake of a B-movie from the '50s). As right as it feels to have Diesel and Walker return to the roles, "Fast & Furious" shows a serious downshift in testosterone. Walker's character no longer calls everybody "Bro." He wears a suit. Diesel, humbled by a career that peaked right after the 2001 film, has lost his strut.

Too much happens as if by rote. Brian and Dom's sister need to hook up again. No rhyme or reason to it. They just do.

And the racing and wrecks in this, the second Justin Lin-directed installment in the series, are digital absurdities. The big action beat is a line of muscle cars hurtling through an abandoned mine on the Mexican border. Might Universal Studios have its next theme park ride in mind?

Just enough of this works to keep this clunker out of the ditch. But this one won't have tuners from Tijuana to Terre Haute tearing up the streets in imitation. When you're old enough to be nostalgic, you're too old to tune.