Review: Fast & Furious (2009)

A series that's provided a successful, moderately enjoyable ride up to now blows its tires, gasket and transmission on its way to flaming out in "Fast & Furious." Trying to refill the franchise's tank by bringing back the four stars of the 2001 original, the producers forgot to get a script worth shooting, resulting in a picture that's all hollow posturing and indiscriminate action cut in incoherent "Quantum of Solace" fashion. These deficiencies may not matter that much at the B.O., where the "Furious" films have continued to prosper, particularly internationally, but this is by far the weakest entry of the four.

Hard to believe, but it's been eight years since Vin Diesel and Paul Walker strapped in for their first mad race through the L.A. streets. Physically, the years have been kind to them as well as to female co-stars Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster -- career-wise, it's been erratic for them all -- but that still doesn't prevent the two men from looking like the oldest guys at the nocturnal street parties where the gaudy cars and chicks gather to watch the drivers outspeed the cops.

Not that the series' races were ever exactly realistic, but the new pic's opening sequence announces that, this time, they will stem solely from the fantasyland of videogamers. Stuck in the Dominican Republic after having disappeared into Mexico at the end of the first film, bad boy Dom (Diesel) tries to hijack a double-sectioned petrol truck along with g.f. Letty (Rodriguez) and some others in an operation that's too physically preposterous to generate any excitement or suspense.

The unfortunate aftermath of this fiasco prompts Dom to return to Los Angeles, where he reunites with sis Mia (Brewster). Walker's Brian O'Conner (who, unlike Diesel's character, also appeared in the series' second, Miami-based installment) is back in town helping the FBI track down elusive drug kingpin Braga. Despite a longstanding relationship that wobbles between wariness and enmity, and is complicated by Brian's having walked away from Mia eight years back, the men team up to penetrate Braga's organization, which conveniently overlaps with the local illegal street-racing scene.

The dynamic of every aspect of the script by Chris Morgan ("The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift," "Wanted") suffers from having been played out anywhere from one to 1,000 times too many: macho guys marking their territory and drawing lines in the sand, law-enforcement bosses berating a loose-cannon operative, drug lords turning on a dime from charming to lethal, a dumped girl's bitterness caving to renewed physical desire, outlaw types living by cowboy codes of honor, justice and revenge. As Brian explains to Mia, "The one thing I learned from Dom is that nothing really matters unless you have a code." If there's an original scene in the film, it's subliminal.

The street racing is visualized as much by GPS devices (accompanied by automated vocal directions) and computer effects as by the real internal combustion deal, and not one but two crazy chases take place in a tunnel connecting the U.S. and Mexico that provides all the photographic possibilities of a gopher hole. If the film hasn't already self-destructed in everyone's minds by this time, it definitively does in a ludicrous exchange between the good guys and bad guys in a warehouse, a scene that makes no sense on any level.

Without the cultural aspects of "Tokyo Drift" to distract from an indifferent story, director Justin Lin is stuck trying to salvage an old heap that's well past its warranty expiration. Time for everyone to move on.

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