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'Furious': Familiar but Fun

By Curt Fields
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 22, 2001


    'The Fast and the Furious' Vin Diesel and Paul Walker in "The Fast and the Furious." (Universal)
A frequent cable TV marketing ploy lately is touting the "guy-ness" of shows with slogans like "Movies for Guys Who Like Movies." If the trend doesn't die, "The Fast and the Furious" will be getting a lot of air time in a year or so.

It's got all of the requisite elements – manly men who live by a code, women ranging in type from eye candy to one-of-the-boys tough, a few dollops of humor and tricked out, pumped up cars. Loosely based on an article in Vibe magazine about the world of import car racing, the movie opens with a high-speed truck hijacking featuring souped-up cars darting around and under a big rig while shooting cables into the semi's cab so the hijackers can board. Think of the highway scenes in "Mad Max," only faster.

Then it's on to a second high-speed driving scene. Only after that do we get to, oh yeah, the people, who actually turn out to be a reasonably entertaining lot despite living in a story that could have been from some 1950s hot-rod flick. Paul Walker is Brian, an undercover cop investigating the truck hijackings. He's surfer-boy pretty and drives like a maniac. He infiltrates the circle of Dominic (Vin Diesel), a prime suspect. Of course, as often happens with undercover cops in movies, Brian gets a bit too close to the people he's investigating, especially after falling for the alluring Mia (Jordana Brewster), Dom's sister. There are other suspects, notably Rick Yune in the stereotypical menacing Asian role of Johnny Tran.

Other characters along the way include Edwin (Ja Rule, providing brief comic relief) and Dom's "team" of loyal-but-dim Vincent (Matt Schulze), Leon (Johnny Strong), Jesse (Chad Lindberg, doing a poor man's Giovanni Ribisi) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez, bringing her "Girlfight" spark – and punch – to an otherwise routine role).

If you're thinking it sounds familiar, it is. But Diesel, Brewster and Rodriguez have undeniable charisma, while Walker is serviceable in his role. (He's best in scenes with character actor Ted Levine, who plays a police supervisor with amusing Mom-like tendencies.)

Besides, the cars are the stars. Production Designer Waldemar Kalinowski ("Leaving Las Vegas," "Internal Affairs," "Powder") gives the film a vivid look, almost caressing racers such as the purple 240SX, the yellow Skyline and the red RX7 as they flash past against the softer colors of residential neighborhoods or in contrast with the darkness of the urban night or the light of the desert day. And director Rob Cohen ("Dragonheart," "The Skulls," HBO's "The Rat Pack") utilizes an innovation by stunt coordinator-second unit director Mic Rodgers to great effect. Rodgers designed a rig with more speed and maneuverability than the ones usually used to film high-speed scenes, giving those in "The Fast and the Furious" a more immediate and visceral feel.

Cohen also throws in a couple of small twists at the end, letting a couple of huge film cliches come rushing up before swerving away at the last second. Such maneuvers may not make for art – actually, they don't even make for what many people would call a good movie. But, along with the cast's charm, they provide enough fuel for a fun one.

"The Fast and the Furious" (PG-13, 107 minutes) – Contains mild sensuality, mild profanity and the sort of driving you shouldn't try at home. Area theaters.


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