- The Washington Times - Friday, June 22, 2001

One-half star

"The Fast and the Furious" would be more accurately summarized as "The Lame and the Lawless." Wasting a perfectly good exploitation title, director Rob Cohen and his fellow bunglers fail to glorify a street-racing culture that supposedly unites Los Angeles ethnics in nocturnal promenading and fuel-injected, speed-burning rivalry.
Brawny, gravel-throated and skin-headed Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) supposedly ranks as the king of this domain. One has to admire some of his confidential utterings. For example, "I live my life a quarter mile at a time." W.C. Fields would have loved this one: "I did two years in Lompoc, and Id die before Id go back."
Pretty boy Paul Walker, barely concealing his sensitivity behind a fashionable stubble, provides the temperamental and beefcake contrast as undercover cop Brian OConnor, assigned to infiltrate Doms turf to crack a series of hijackings that point in the direction of street racers. We get to observe the criminal MO during a prologue and the climactic chase sequence: three cars surround a truck and attempt to subdue it like outlaws chasing a stagecoach. At a glance, the process looks strenuous to a fault and unlikely to prove as safe or effective as a simple roadblock followed by forcible entry the kind of thing one would expect from a crew of wiseguys, for example.
Maybe thats the point. Street-racing hijackers spurn the easy road to ill-gotten gain. They insist on making it so hard on themselves that only professional stuntmen could hope to simulate a typical high-speed robbery.
Anyway, while pretending to toy with our suspicions, Mr. Cohen introduces us to Doms mixed bunch and rivals of the Latino, Asian and black persuasion. Its kind of fun guessing which group will get to be the baddest dudes on a Hollywood scale of felonious preference. It wont be giving anything away to note that the Asian bunch, under the command of Rick Yune as Johnny Tran, a sort of Jack Palance on motorcycle, seems the nastiest for quite a stretch. For example, it amuses the filmmakers to show Johnny torturing a captive by pouring 40-weight motor oil down his throat. But such misbehavior could be Mr. Cohens droll way of misleading you.
I was a little disappointed in the absence of clearly Aryan or Jewish or Slavic or Muslim or distaff racing gangs. Mr. Diesel is awarded a consort in Michelle Rodriguez, the "Girlfight" pug. Its a token role, but the filmmakers do accommodate one gratuitous knock-out punch of an offending punk.
Mr. Walkers character falls for Doms pretty sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), reinforcing several suspicions that the plot has been lifted from "Point Break," where Keanu Reeves was supposed to get the goods on Patrick Swayze and his merry band of surfers and skydivers.
Lest anyone fear that Hollywood has gone soft on so-called law-and-order issues, Mr. Walker finds it impossible to do his duty after getting to know Mr. Diesel and then sharing a transcendent bonding experience: racing a speeding train to a crossing. Some might think it dishonest to resort to editing tricks to spare the make-believe daredevils from a fatal collision. But why deny a director in his 50s the thrill of identifying with imperishable hot rodders?
The stunt coordinator and second unit director, Mic Rodgers, is presumably responsible for the hijacking hijinks. The second sequence is a genuine hair-raiser, since it appears that one of the outlaws may have leaped into an ideal position to have a body shattered while attempting to assault the cab of a speeding truck, where the driver is armed with a shotgun and doesnt seem to welcome the intrusion.
The driver could be the closest thing to a hero in the film. Its so easy to root for the trucks in "The Fast and the Furious" that perhaps the Teamsters should adopt the movie as a cult favorite.

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