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(2001) (Paul Walker, Vin Diesel) (PG-13)

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Action/Adventure: An undercover cop infiltrates the world of urban street racing to catch those responsible for recent truck hijackings, but finds himself drawn to a street legend and his beautiful sister.
Brian (PAUL WALKER) is an L.A. cop who's been sent undercover to investigate a string of tractor-trailer hijackings. The suspects are believed to be any number of young people who spend their days working in the garages, fine-tuning their high performance racing cars that they take to the streets at night for some urban drag racing.

The leader of one such group is Dominic Toretto (VIN DIESEL), a muscle-bound, charismatic fellow whose crew consists of Jesse (CHAD LINBERG), Leon (JOHNNY STRONG), Vincent (MATT SCHULZE) and Letty (MICHELLE RODRIGUEZ). The dominant force in the illegal racing - despite the efforts of rival gang leader Johnny Tran (RICK YUNE) - Dom draws the attention of Brian who believes if he can impress him, he'll be accepted as one of the gang and possibly become privy to inside information.

While he does just that, his boss, Sgt. Tanner (TED LEVINE), and FBI Agent Bilkins (THOM BARRY) want Brian to get faster results before the victimized truck drivers begin taking matters into their own hands. As Brian becomes progressively immersed in the gang and the urban drag racing culture - all while becoming involved with Dom's sister, Mia (JORDANA BREWSTER) - he faces the prospect of getting too close to his subjects and losing perspective of the task at hand.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
Once upon a time, before the "mall-ification" and over franchising of America, going out to eat in different cities or parts of the country was a fun and even sometimes exciting prospect. Once could experience new tastes, dishes and recipes, and thus avoid consuming just more of the same old, boring and repetitive grub.

Going to see movies was similar in nature. While geography played little or no part in the selection, one could expect - and often receive - something novel or at least different with each subsequent outing to the theater.

Unfortunately, the days of distinctive dining and moviegoing seem numbered if not already depleted. Just as restaurant chains have proliferated across the country and serve the same sort of food that's beginning to taste the same from restaurant to restaurant and region to region, movies are also "tasting" so much alike - no matter what seasonings or decorative garnishes are added to them in an effort to spice them up - that the overall blandness is beginning to dull the consumer's appetite for quality goods.

Case in point is "The Fast and the Furious," the epitome of "fast food," franchise moviemaking. Flashy and tasty from a visceral sense, lacking any substance on a nutritional level and likely to leave that greasy, phlegm-laden feeling in your gullet after seeing it, the film is simply a combination of some old entrees that have been pulled out of the cinematic fridge, reheated and then repackaged for unsuspecting viewers.

The leftovers in this case are the movies "Point Break" and "The Road Warrior," two vastly different varieties of action films from the past. From the former we get the plot of a young cop (FBI agent in the earlier film) who's assigned to infiltrate an L.A. based criminal gang that's posing as urban drag racers (surfers) when in reality the members are truck hijackers (bank robbers).

The cop (FBI agent) goes undercover and slowly wins over the confidence of the members and finds himself drawn to the charismatic personality of the levelheaded but potentially aggressive and dangerous leader and his philosophy where drag racing (surfing) is the ultimate lifestyle. His cop (FBI) boss wants him to step up the investigation, causing him to think that some rival drag racers (surfers) are really the bad guys rather than his new friends.

As laughably bad dialogue flows alongside all of the testosterone, the cop (FBI agent) wonders if he'll be able to bust his new soul mates, particularly after he falls for the leader's self-sufficient sister (ex-girlfriend), leading up the big conclusion where he allows the leader one last shot at what he really loves, namely urban drag racing (surfing).

If such plot "coincidences" aren't bad enough, screenwriters Gary Scott Thompson ("Hollow Man," "K-911"), Erik Bergquist (making his debut) and David Ayer ("U-571") along with director Rob Cohen ("The Skulls," "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story") then liberally mix in various car and truck chase and attack sequences pretty much lifted from "The Road Warrior." Accordingly, big lumbering trucks try to elude their much smaller attackers in the automotive equivalent of watching several lions chasing and eventually bringing down a water buffalo on Animal Planet.

Unfortunately, Cohen doesn't have the visual panache and action acumen that Kathryn Bigelow and George Miller possessed, and so ably displayed and delivered in their respective films. That's not to say that this film won't be appetizing or delicious to its target audience who may or may not be familiar with its predecessors. It is, however, fast, loud and flashy enough to go down with the "best" greasy fast food.

The urban drag race sequences aren't particularly enthralling, engaging or even interesting (after all, straight line racing has less dramatic potential than that which goes in circles) and the early truck hijacking attack sequences pretty much come off the same way, but the latter ones do get better as the film progresses. They do not, however, come close to approaching the level or intensity found in the Mel Gibson flick.

The one thing the film has going for it - beyond the shameless audacity to lift/copy/steal so much material from those other films - is the presence of its one tasty morsel, and that's actor Vin Diesel ("Saving Private Ryan," "Boiler Room"). A movie star in the making, the actor has a palatable onscreen charisma that's nothing short of magnetic and he exudes more personality than the rest of the cast combined.

In the Keanu Reeves lead role is Paul Walker ("The Skulls," "Varsity Blues") who's unmemorable performance is most notable for being the polar opposite of Diesel's and for being somewhat reminiscent of fellow actor Stephen Dorff (maybe it's really him).

Jordana Brewster ("The Invisible Circus," "The Faculty") is okay at his underwritten love interest, but Michelle Rodriguez, who made such a terrific and blazing debut in "Girlfight," is reduced to little more than a snarling caricature of a character. Rick Yune ("Snow Falling on Cedars") shows up as nothing more than the stereotypical Asian villain and rap star turned actor Ja Rule ("Turn it Up") isn't in the picture long enough to do more than remind viewers of his songs that appear on the soundtrack.

Of course, the performers are secondary to the action and Cohen, stunt coordinator Mic Rodgers ("Payback," "Lethal Weapon 4"), cinematographer Ericson Core ("Payback," "187") and editor Peter Honess ("L.A. Confidential," "The Next Best Thing") have obviously put a great deal of time and effort - but not a great deal of logic - into staging the various stunts and action sequences.

My "favorite" (quotation marks should indicate a strong suggestion of sarcasm) is when two characters drag race the standard quarter mile distance all while a freight train approaches from the side, ready to cross their path. While some may find the scene suspenseful, all I could think about was that the ten second or so time in which the distance should have been traveled seemed liked to took a minute or more.

Perhaps all of the fast food action blurred by sense of time. Then again, maybe the racers needed new cars as even my eight-year-old, four cylinder Camry could have made it there faster. Whatever the case, the "The Fast and the Furious," a.k.a. "The Point Break Road Warrior," has enough action to satiate fans of this sort of vehicular mayhem, and Diesel certainly makes it easier to watch. Nevertheless, neither of those points can compensate for the headache and queasiness you're likely to endure after ingesting this trash. The film rates as a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed June 14, 2001 / Posted June 22, 2001

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