150 Movies in 90 Days: The Entire Fast and the Furious Series

June 17: #19, The Fast and the Furious

"I live my life a quarter mile at a time."

Other than the first installment, I hadn’t seen any of the films of this franchise, and I’d only seen that one once. To be honest, I didn’t have much interest in it until Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson signed on for the fifth installment. Johnson has had four films in theaters already this year (in four consecutive months, actually), and my brother and I are pretty big fans, so we’ve seen three of the four so far. To complete Rock-a-thon 2013, we’re going to see Fast & Furious 6, so I figured I might as well re-watch the first and check out the rest of the series for the first time, while I’m at it.

Plus, I just watched Citizen Kane. It only makes sense to follow it up with The Fast and the Furious, right?

So, the Fast series is home to bad acting, terribly stereotyped characters, and ugly neon cars with stupid-looking paint jobs, and it all begins with the original. Right off the bat, we get our first ridiculous/awesome stunt, as a car drives under a semi during an extremely high risk high-jacking of said vehicle. 

Fortunately, the sweet stunt soon gives way to awful acting and dialogue. When a jealous guy shows up, angry that the protagonist, Brian O’Conner (played with zero charisma by Paul Walker) has been eating every day at the diner where the girl that he likes works at, he says angrily to his buddies as he approaches, “What’s up with this fool? Is he sandwich crazy?!?” Later, Brian’s superior in the police force (he’s an undercover cop, naturally) responds to his request for more time with, “You want time? Buy the magazine. We don’t have time.” Ugh.

No, the dialogue doesn’t help this movie at all, nor does Walker, with is super dorky and sports an awful pseudo-‘stache. Vin Diesel, though, isn’t bad. Even when he’s saying ridiculous things (“You ‘had me’? YOU NEVER HAD YOUR CAR!” to which the huge crowd at the illegal street race collectively says “Oooooooh”), he’s better than anyone on-screen. 

You can also watch it for a good laugh or two. I like cheesy action films, but the problem is that this one doesn’t really own the cheesiness. It’s fun in spite of itself, mostly because of the action sequences at the beginning and the end (the crash at the end is great), but it’s not trying to be fun. It’s trying to be cool, which is just kinda sad. Without Diesel, this is drops a full letter grade. Grade: B-

June 18: #20, 2 Fast 2 Furious, #21, The Fast and the Furious 3: Tokyo Drift, #22, Fast & Furious, #23, Fast Five, #24, Fast & Furious 6

So, the second installment would start one trend that would plague the series and continue another. The trend it started was over-stylized, nonsensical titles that would reach their pinnacle when the fourth film would simply be called Fast & Furious, even though it was the fourth in the series. The trend it continued was featuring a rotating cast of stars that more often than not, aren’t really actors at all. While the awful Ja Rule was confined to a brief appearance in the first, in the second film we get the barely-tolerable Ludacris, as well as R&B singer turned “actor” Tyrese as the co-star. Gone is Vin Diesel, though we still get Paul Walker. Yay?

Brian (Walker) is no longer a cop in 2 Fast, 2 Furious, having completely fucked up his assignment in the first film by letting Dom (Diesel) go. So, of course, he makes the most logical move, which would be street racing illegally for cash. Of course, the writers quickly realize that they need somebody to be undercover, so they have the FBI trap Brian and force him to go undercover again.
So, if you’re keeping score, when you’re inept as an undercover agent and get canned by the police, the FBI instead enlists you to go undercover for them in almost exactly the same capacity that you failed miserably in the first time.

John Singleton directed this, and boy is he slumming it after starting his career with Boyz N The Hood. He flubs the first race pretty badly, as half the time we see close-ups of determined faces, gear shifting (these cars all have 100 gears, apparently), and pedals being slammed to the floor. The other half of the time, the cars are driving in a line, one after another, yet swerving nonsensically. It’s as if Singleton watched the part of a Nascar race where the race hasn’t actually started yet and the drivers are swerving to warm up their tires and thought, “That looks pretty cool! Let’s do that at full speed!”

Oh, and in the same race, the guy who organizes the racing itself has the bridge near the finish line manipulated to become a huge ramp. This pretty much totals one car and leads to another crash, but nobody’s like, “Hey, dick, you just wrecked my car by making me do a forty-foot jump!” 

Later on, the action picks up, including a moment where a car gets pin-balled between the wheels of a speeding semi, then run over. The closing sequences are pretty good, too, including a ridiculous stunt where a car is ramped onto a moving yacht that set the scene for the even more ridiculous stunts to come later in the franchise.

Everything else is pretty bad. The characters are grating, at best. Everybody is a mish-mash of the same persona, a mix between gearhead/urban wanksta/fraternity douche. Tyrese is terrible as Roman Pierce, but he at least gives the film some unintentional humor with a smoldering bromance between himself and Brian. Tyrese, Walker, and Singleton clearly wanted Roman and Brian to appear as “close friends who have issues to work out” and instead land squarely on “supposedly heterosexual guys in denial of the obvious sexual tension between them.” It lends some humor to moments like when Roman chastises Brian for checking out Eva Mendes, who also plays an undercover agent (go figure). “Whatchu checking her out for?!?” he asks, as if it’s crazy for a supposedly straight guy to check out Eva freaking Mendes.

But hey, Eva Mendes! And the action sequences are solid. This one, though, like the first, would have been better if it would have embraced its own cheesiness and owned it, instead of trying to play it straight (pun intended) and failing. Grade: C-

The series goes in a completely different course with The Fast and the Furious 3: Tokyo Drift. I thought about skipping this one entirely because a) none of the series’ regulars play a major role, b) it’s got freaking Bow Wow in it, c) I thought the “drifting” gimmick was stupid, and d) it’s got freaking Bow Wow in it.

But hey, if you’re going to watch them, why not watch them all? This starts with Lucas Black playing Sean Boswell, a gearhead type who doesn’t fit in with the preppy kids of his school. He flirts with the wrong girl, as all Mysterious New Kids do throughout film history, and ends up in a confrontation with Douchey Football Player. Douchey Football Player throws a baseball through Sean’s rear window, which leads to a near fight until Sean shows that he’s going to fight Douchey Football Player with a fucking wrench, revealing himself to be a douche as well.

So, of course, they race. They do so through an empty housing development, and when DFP refuses to put his $80,000 car on the line, his girlfriend puts herself on the line instead, because apparently women are just prizes to be won and she has no self-worth. During the race, DFP is so incensed at the idea of losing that he tries to ram Sean off the road, and both end up crashing pretty spectacularly. Let’s get this right: you won’t put your $80k car on the line, but wrecking it is no big deal?

Anyway, this all leads to Sean being shipped off to Japan to live with his dad, where he immediately catches the eye of the wrong girl (Neela, played by Nathalie Kelley) there, too. This leads to a rivalry between Sean and the girl’s boyfriend, DK (played by Brian Tee). DK is a nephew of a local Yakuza figure and thinks he’s a little gangster by proxy, and Tee plays him just like the spoiled prick he should be. 

In fact, all of the acting here is done surprisingly well, with Black, Kelley, and even Bow Wow doing commendable jobs with the characters they’re given. Sure, they’re not tremendously well-written characters, but it’s a Fast movie, for God’s sake. In particular, Han (Sung Kang) is a good character as the Mr. Miyagi to Sean’s Daniel-san. 

See, Sean doesn’t know how to drift, and that’s how they race in Tokyo Drift. That leads to all of the racing, fights, and rivalries you would come to expect in the series, and again, it’s all done pretty damn well. Even the one-liners aren’t bad: I was caught off guard when Sean once again got into trouble pursuing Neela, who is Australian, and Han said, “Why can’t you just find a nice Japanese girl like all the other white guys around here?” There’s even a surprise Dom appearance at the end! Grade: B

As mentioned before, the fourth installment is confusingly named Fast & Furious. Why? Because the title is much FASTER without “The”. Also, ampersands are SUPER FAST. Movie audiences can’t be trusted, so even though Tokyo Drift was the best real film in the series yet, producers reacted to slightly disappointing box office performance by bringing back Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, and Michelle Rodriguez for the fourth installment.

Right away, it’s clear they’re not messing around. I take a few notes when I’m going to write a review and in my notebook for the opening of Fast 4, I just wrote, “Holy shit haha.” I’ll be honest with you, a day later, after having seen 1,000 car crashes in less than a 24-hour period, I don’t remember the specifics, but I know that it involves pure stunt craziness. That’s all back, along with plenty of other Fast signatures: Illegal races where scantily-clad models outnumber men 3 to 1! Everyone’s drinking Coronas! Brian (Walker) uses his weak-ass jiu-jitsu again in a fight! It’s like being home again, people. 

The series finally starts to realize it shouldn’t be taking itself seriously here, too. When Dom is asked (by a beautiful woman, of course) whether he prefers cars to women, he answers, “I’m one of those guys who appreciates a fine body regardless of the make.” Ha! I love it. Later on, Dom straight-up murders a dude by running into him with his car, and then simply says, “Pussy”. It’s not exactly Arnold-esque, but it’s amusing(-ly bad) and suits the character.

I realized after watching parts five and six that this one was actually set before Tokyo Drift, which makes it a lot more understandable when a character who is supposed to be dead just pops up out of nowhere. That’s not explained in any explicit way, though, and you just figure they’re completely crapping on the third installment and doing away with the death altogether. 

Things end up going about as you’d expect, until Dom is captured and sentenced to 25-to-life with no chance of parole. What?!? Doesn’t this judge know there are more movies to be made? This sets up a cliffhanger that lets you know the series is far from over and bridges to the fifth installment nicely. At this point, perhaps it’s having watched four of these things in less than 24 hours, but damn it, the series is growing on me, one-note characters and all. Again, great action and the presence of Diesel buoys this one, though it doesn’t represent the series meeting its potential. Not yet. Grade: B-

In Fast Five, the decision to just completely randomize the title (again) is symbolic of a huge shift in how the series is approached. Honestly, Fast Five is a heist move. It’s got fast cars in it, but it’s no longer really about racing, and that’s okay.

Furthermore, Fast Five brings together characters from all four of the previous movies, and I’m not going to lie, I was happy to see all these fuckers again. I know, I KNOW! It sounds crazy. I feel like I’ve developed Stockholm Syndrome after sitting through all of these today. Why do I care about these people? I don’t know, but I do, damn it, I do.

And there’s Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who has been great in just about anything he’s ever been in. Okay, I haven’t seen Doom, but whatever. He’s a pretty one-dimensional hardass/tough guy type here, but he can play that with ease. He gets your typical badass cop lines, but hits them out of the park with an unusual mix of toughness and charm. There hasn’t been a foil quite like The Rock as Agent Hobbs in this series, even if he isn’t truly a villain, and the confrontations between Hobbs and Dom are great.

Meanwhile, Brian (Paul Walker) has gone rogue, just as any sense of realism has gone rogue within the Fast series. Let’s get you caught up: Brian was a cop in the first film, was fired after letting Dom go, was forced by the FBI to work for them in the second, then hired on as an agent by the fourth, and now he’s on the run as a criminal because once again, he choose his criminal friends over his duties. You’d think the FBI would, I don’t know, conduct extensive background checks and psychological profiles before hiring these guys, wouldn’t you?

Anyway, before you know it, the story is in full swing. More people from the earlier films show up, Dom is rescued from the prison bus (with a spectacular crash; it’s like these people KNOW WHAT I WANT), the guy who played “Bucho” in Desperado is revealed as the bad guy, someone’s pregnant, and we get a three-way hug, even. Roman is back, and I’m even kind of glad to see him (and not just because Tyrese has gotten crazy old, either). Right away, he shoots a jealous glare at Dom, reminding us instantly of the not-so-heterosexual tension between Roman and Brian. Great stuff. Of course, all of this culminates in…wait for it…”ONE LAST JOB”.

That job is the focus of this film, and if you don’t believe it’s a straight-up heist film, consider that when Dom and Brian go to a street race to win a car for the heist, the race isn’t even shown. The heist itself is terrific, too, with plenty of twists and even a pretty ingenious usage of exploding toilets, if you can believe that.  Grade: A-

Finally, we arrive at Fast & Furious 6. I knew I had to see this movie when I saw a CAR DRIVE THROUGH A BURNING PLANE in the trailer, people. This film is what happens when you take your silly action franchise and completely release it from the laws of physics, reality, or what the human body can do- and it’s glorious.

Agent Hobbs (The Rock) is back, and he’s got an offer Dom (Vin Diesel) can’t refuse. One last (LAST) job, and not for money, but to find out why his girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) has been seen alive recently when she has supposedly been dead for some time after a fiery crash.
Before you know it, the crew is assembled again, with Brian (Paul Walker), Han (Sung Kang) Roman (Tyrese), Gisele (Gal Gadot), Tej (Ludacris), and newcomer Riley (Gina Carano) joining as Hobbs’ right-hand (wo)man. I love Carano, by the way, and she’s outstanding in the fight scenes here. She’s passable as a stereotypically-cold agent who is 100% focused on the job at hand, too.

Anyway, in case you weren’t convinced that the Fast series wasn’t taking itself seriously any longer, Letty hasn’t been dead or anything all of this time, she’s just had amnesia. Yes, the oldest plot device of all-time returns and explains it all away. On top of that, she’s running with the villain, Shaw (played just viciously enough by Luke Evans). 

The film leads to many questions, such as, “Why would Dom’s new live-in girlfriend say, ‘Yes, Dom, go put your life on the line AGAIN to find out about your ex that you thought was dead’?”, or “Why would Mia (Jordana Brewster) let Brian run off on this crazy adventure when the two of them just had a baby together and were planning on getting away from such antics?” Finally, you ask, “Do women like that really exist, and if so, where does one meet them?” Hypothetically speaking, of course.

If Fast Five was a heist film, Fast & Furious 6 represents the film just going into straight-forward action mode, without any pretense of being about racing. For the first time I can remember, there are more than a couple of fights in a Fast movie, and they are all creatively choreographed and exciting to watch.

More than anything though, this is fan service at its best. You get the characters that you’ve grown to love, with the actors and actresses reprising their roles with (I hope, anyway) tongues firmly planted in cheek. Also, anything that you find yourself hoping happens in this movie ends up happening. You want to see Hobbs take on the huge bodybuilding type in Shaw’s crew? Done. Want to see people fighting on top of speeding cars like it’s no big deal? No problem! In need of a second round between Riley and Letty? You’ve got it!

Everything you’d expect from a Fast film is here, from Dom spouting pseudo-philosophical one-liners in monotone to an obligatory trip to an illegal street race where apparently every model within 1,000 miles hangs out, complete with short skirts and creepy, low angle butt shots. And to top it all off, there’s a post-credits scene that finally ties the last three films in with Tokyo Drift and makes you really, really want a part seven. 

This is the perfect dumb action movie. I mean, it culminates in about a 15-minute chase scene on a runway, and who gives a shit if the runway would have to be about 23 miles long for it to happen the way it was shown? The impossible has happened, and this series has finally won me over while simultaneously reaching its potential. Grade: A

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