Movie Review: 'Fast & Furious'

Vin Diesel returns as Dom in the "Fast & Furious" franchise's fourth installment.
Vin Diesel returns as Dom in the "Fast & Furious" franchise's fourth installment. (Universal Pictures)
By Desson Thomson
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, April 3, 2009

They didn't have the "Fast & Furious" franchise or muscle cars around when Protagoras said, "Man is the measure of all things." But he could have used both to buttress his pre-Socratic argument.

"Fast & Furious," which re-teams Vin Diesel and Paul Walker for the first time since 2001's "The Fast and the Furious," watches everything through a guy-calibrated telephoto lens. A simple world where everything falls into an easy hierarchy is essential, so that the audience can concentrate on what's important: street racing and cheating death in slow motion.

The latest movie, which brings back Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster as the main-squeeze contingent, is fun and frantic -- like the original on double nitro. The new flick brings us back to the Los Angeles street-racing subculture that started everything. But gone is the young-boy innocence of the first, in which guys (and some driving gals) flirted with the Grim Reaper at high velocity like towheaded surfers.

Now it's about grim, grown-up consequences. Dom (Diesel) is wanted by the feds. Brian (Walker) is a fed. And the story roils with revenge, as both men reunite to take down a Mexican crime lord. There's a high-speed race to the border. There are FBI agents, SWAT teams and helicopters. It's all so serious now.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. We just note the change. And we can't help noticing Diesel turns 42 this year and Walker 36.

We also note that the guy-centric principles remain the same. The things of beauty in the "F&F" universe? Nitro-jacked speedsters that do horizontally what the Cape Canaveral program does vertically. The six-pack-abbed guys standing next to those cars. And bullet-shaped Corona beers, so men can raise them to victory or -- as one character so grandiloquently puts it -- "to the ladies we've loved and the ladies we've lost."

As for the "ladies," guys love 'em, of course. But only the ones with 8 percent body fat need apply. The real love in their lives? Their rides, natch. And their fellow gearheads. That dude-to-dude affection is unspoken, of course. Guys don't use words any more than they eat celery. But if they did, the sweet exchanges might go something like: Show me your stand-alone fuel management system and I'll show you mine.

As for the death-cheating, it's still in full throttle. Take the breath-choking opener, for instance, as Dom and a team of dragsters attempt to hijack the gasoline cargo of a speeding truck. We can practically see oblivion in special-effect relief as a derailed tanker flips, pirouettes in balletic slow motion and hurtles toward Diesel. The specter looms again when Dom and Brian -- in the inevitable mano a mano street race -- screech and career through red lights at busy L.A. intersections, with nary a fender bender.

What blows our lizard brains is the possibility of fiery destruction -- this subgenre's equivalent of the money shot. If that somersaulting tanker hits Diesel in his juiced-up car, the explosion's going to shoot out like a nuclear geyser. And if Dom and Brian wipe out in those crowded streets, well, boom baby boom!

Part of the thrill is our inviolate confidence -- as sure as the trans fats in our popcorn butter -- that these stars aren't going to die. We know they're as safe behind the wheel as we would be playing the video-game version. It ain't Game Over till we say it is, till we stop going to see "Fast & Furious" movies, which (including the forgettable "2 Fast 2 Furious" and "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift") have grossed upward of $334 million. So long as the filmmakers keep giving us vicarious access to the good, fast, sleek things in life, we don't see this ride running out of fuel for a long time.

Fast & Furious (105 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sexual content, language and drug references.

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