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Friday, April 10, 2009

Fast & Furious

Fast & Furious. Other than describing my first husband’s love-making technique, it is an odd title for a movie, even odder to use for a movie starring the same cast as 2001’s The Fast and the Furious while trying its best not to be a direct remake or follow-up to the original. I know, this all sounds ridiculous, but then so was my first marriage, so bear with me.

In Fast & Furious, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel; Babylon A.D.) and his girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez; tv’s"Lost") are now living in the Dominican Republic and hijacking fuel trucks for fun and profit. It makes for good cinematic stuntwork and some cool dramatic effects even if it has no bearing on the actual plot ahead. Still, it lubricates that part of the brain of those motorheads in the audience who showed up only because they expected Fast & Furious to be a retread of The Fast and the Furious, where gangs of illegal street racers filled the screen with two hours of dynamic and creative hot-rodding. Unfortunately, for these same folks, this lubrication may not be enough to make Fast & Furious keep their hearts revving because, unlike its predecessors, this version has a lot of plot getting in the way of the action.

It begins when Dominic gets word that the Dominican authorities are on to him and so, for her own good, that same night as she sleeps he runs off without Letty, making sure to leave piles of cash on her night stand next to the bed. Hey, I’m sure it’s not the first time a guy has left a wad next to Michelle Rodriguez as she slept.

A few days later, now in Panama, Dominic receives a phone call from his sister Mia (Jordana
Brewster; The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning) telling him that Letty has been murdered in L.A. I can’t begin to tell you how happy this quick turn of events made me. First, it was like a little gift from the cinema gods themselves because who can really stomach much of Michelle Rodriguez anyway? No offense, but when her character was killed off on "Lost" you could literally hear a collective cheer across America as each time zone discovered the joy of her destruction. It wasn’t that her "Ana-Lucia Cortez" was such a despicable character, mind you, it’s just that Michelle is way too butch to be taken seriously as a female love interest for someone like Vin Diesel, although actually Michelle is way too butch to be taken seriously as a love interest for a dump truck either. The actuality, Vin has suffered for years from those lingering g-a-y rumors, and kissing Rodriguez doesn’t help. On-screen, even when she’s in full make-up, it looks like he’s tongue-rasslin’ with Sylvester Stallone in a muumuu.

Well, killing Letty sets the scene for all the high drama to follow. And it’s this high drama that’s going to make the motorheads unhappy because there’s way more plot than racing afoot. Sure, plot details do allow for some contrived racing scenes. I mean, who ever heard of hiring someone based on their winning a street race? The answer, apparently, is a guy named Ramon Campos (John Ortiz; Pride and Glory), who is Tortetto’s only link to the drug-running cartel overseen by notorious drug lord Arturo Brago, the man ultimately responsible for Letty's death.

What Dominic never expected while competing to become Braga’s latest go-to guy was to be met at this “go-to-interview” by his old pal from The Fast and The Furious, Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker; The Lazarus Project), now an FBI agent who is working undercover to infiltrate the same group. Personally, I’d never buy the idea of Paul Walker as an FBI agent in real life because he is just too pretty to ever go undercover anywhere except at an underwear models’ convention. He’d really have to ugly-up to pass as anything other than a movie star, a model, or a male escort. Hell, throw some lipstick on him and he might make it as a female escort. He’s just that pretty. We should all have such a curse. Of course, this is all just a contrivance so the stars of the original can re-team to make comic quips and clever innuendos on the way to busting up this confederacy of heroin-transporting thugs and the main man himself, the mysterious Brago.

Fast & Furious offers viewers beyond the usual racing reruns found in all three of the other movies in the franchise (including 2006’s appalling Diesel and Walker-free The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift) is a look at the underground drug trafficking between Mexico and the US, and by “underground” I’m being literal, as in giving the audience an opportunity to revel in a climactic race away from the baddies through the maze of tunnels that zigzag throughout the mountains not far from Juarez and hide many a smuggler’s truck entering this country outside El Paso, Texas.

Now you know this is a whole lot more complicated, especially with the FBI involved and with
Dominic being a fugitive ever since 2001’s The Fast and the Furious, so Walker is put in all kinds of hot-water for working with the guy when he is expected to bring him in instead. Why does the FBI always have to be so inflexible in these situations? I’d think the fact that he’s trying to help now ought to count for something. Besides, he was so cute in The Pacifier, taking care of those little kids. Obviously, he’s not a bad guy.

Since Fast & Furious was released, it has grossed nearly $73 million in its first weekend, so I guess there are either a lot of people happy to see Diesel and Walker together again or a whole lot of very unhappy folks because the script turned into a series of speed bumps that slowed down the mindless crash and burn they were hoping to find. I’m glad Fast & Furious moved past that and took a different route this time around. The scenery is much the same, but it’s always nice to come upon a few surprises along the way, especially if you have Paul Walker smiling in the rear view mirror.

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