Vin Diesel and Paul Walker star in The Fast and the Furious

Hey film lovers, it’s Slick Dungeon here! The tenth (not counting spin offs) Fast and Furious movie is about to hit theaters this month. In anticipation of that, the movie theater in my area is showing all the older movies so I thought it would be worth taking a look and seeing how we went from a small band of illegal street racers to an expansive family of super spies. I’m going to review the first movie in the series in this post, The Fast and the Furious. Heads up there will be spoilers so if you haven’t seen the movie, hop in your car, hit the NOS button, get to the theater and watch the movie, then race on back here to read the review.

I think most film lovers have had an experience like this. Way back in 2001 I was stuck with a day where I didn’t have much to do. I had seen everything else in the theater except for The Fast and the Furious. I had no particular interest in watching it because I’m really not a car guy and other than Vin Diesel I had no idea who any of the actors were. But, I had hours to kill and nothing else to do so I thought to myself, “how bad can it be?” Turned out this movie was a whole hell of a lot better than it has any right to be. There are a few reasons for that and I’ll get into it below but it was a surprise to me.

So, why was a movie about a bunch of car thieves and undercover cops so much better than expected? Let’s dive in and find out.

Spoilers follow below!

The World of Illegal Street Racing in Los Angeles

The movie starts out with a still impressive car stunt. We see several cars, neon lights glowing below them, racing up next to a semi truck with precision speed. One car literally drives at pace under the truck while the others pin the truck in its lane. The people in the cars shoot out harpoon like devices so they can hop into the truck and take the payload. It’s an amazing and well timed robbery which just looks downright cool.

Next thing you know we’re in a local market where a man comes in and orders a tuna sandwich. This is our hero, Brian (Paul Walker). He’s obviously there to flirt with a woman named Mia (Jordana Brewster). It’s not long before some of the people who run this little market and automotive shop (odd combination but whatever) come in and are giving Brian some grief. A fight breaks out and we meet our other hero, Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel). Dom breaks up the fight but tells Brian he’s banned from the shop.

That night we see Brian, who had been trying to race a car on a deserted street earlier, gather at a street race. This is no regulated race. It’s just a huge group of people with really fast cars illegally racing one another for money and pink slips. They are organized enough they even have someone monitor police scanners so they wait for cops to be distracted by a major crime before they start racing. I would have thought the amount of people involved in illegal street racing was relatively small but it seems like there are hundreds in attendance and at least a good third of those people have seriously expensive (and fast) cars.

Anyway, Brain bets Dom the pink slip to his car that he can beat him in a race. Brian nearly edges him out but Dom Toretto is a seasoned racer who ultimately wins the day. Brian has to give up his car but before that happens, the police descend on the scene and start to round up as many people as they can. Dom ditches his car and starts to get away on foot. He’s nearly cornered when Brian shows up to save the day for Dom. He gets Dom to hop in his car and they race out of there.

Unfortunately for the two of them, Brian unknowingly heads into the territory of Johnny Tran (Rick Yune) who has a vendetta against Dom. Its not long before Brian’s car is shot to shreds by Johnny’s bullets and Dom is warned to stay away from the area. In Dom’s words this means Brian still owes him, “a ten second car.” In other words, just because the car was shot up and nearly unusable, it doesn’t mean Brian is out of debt and he needs to get Dom a super fast car as quickly as possible.

Brian and Dom go back to Dom’s place where a party is happening. Dom is pretty angry with his crew, especially Vince (Matt Schultz) and Leon (Johnny Strong) who left him to be picked up by the cops. Vince is especially upset Brian has been welcomed in because Vince wants to date Mia but she’s clearly more into Brian.

The next day, Brian brings in a beat up old car which has an incredible engine to Dom’s garage. Jesse (Chad Lindberg) sees the potential in the car right away because he has a genius mind for engines. Then we see the real twist of the movie. Brian is taken under arrest at the auto shop he works at. But this arrest is a ruse, Brian is an undercover cop. He’s trying to figure out who these people with precision driving skills are who are stealing from truckers. He knows anyone good enough to drive that way must have some connection to the world of illegal street racing. Dom seems to be the central figure in this world. He’s the guy who can’t be beat so if it isn’t Dom stealing, he has to know who is.

Brian thinks it could be a guy named Hector who (Noel Gugilemi) was at the race the other night. Brian breaks into the garage but Dom and his crew see this happen. Vince is convinced Brian is a cop but Brian uses some fast talk to make Dom believe he was just investigating other racers who will be racing at an upcoming event. Dom decides they should see what Johnny Tran has in his garage. While there, Brian notices a bunch of brand new electronics, similar to the types of things that have been stolen recently.

Brian lets his superiors know what he found and they agree to raid Tran’s place. Meanwhile, Brian and Mia are on intimate terms. The raid doesn’t really turn up any evidence and Brian is given thirty-six hours to figure out who is doing the robberies. Lucky for Brian, an event called “Race Wars” (yeah I know, it was a terrible idea for a name even then) is coming up. At this event he should be able to catch whoever the real thief is. Brian is convinced it’s Dom but he’s also started to see Dom as more of a human than just a thug. Brain had read Dom’s criminal file about how he had almost beaten someone to death. Dom relates the story, while showing Brian an old car. It turns out, Dom’s dad died in a fiery crash years ago at a race track. Dom was at the track when the driver who crashed into his father showed up and before he knew it he had a wrench in his hand and was beating the man to a bloody pulp. It’s clear Dom regrets the action but knows he couldn’t help himself. He also knows his life turned out much different than he thought it would. Dom explains to Brian that the ten seconds or less while he is drag racing is the only time he feels free. This seems to resonate with Brian.

At Race Wars, Jesse, who is not much of a driver, loses a race to Johnny Tran. Rather than give Tran the car like he is supposed to, Jesse speeds off. This puts a target on Jesse’s back.

Later, Brian sees Mia arguing with Dom and then Dom, Leon, Vince and Dom’s girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) hop in their cars and speed away. Brian confronts Mia and admits he’s an undercover cop. He enlists her help to track down Dom before anything seriously bad can happen to Dom and his crew. Mia is majorly upset with Brian but doesn’t want to see her brother harmed so she helps.

In the best sequence of the entire film, Letty, Dom, Leon and Vince try to rob another truck. They use the same method as at the start of the movie but this time they don’t have Jesse with them to help monitor police scanners and make sure equipment is working right. Things go sour when the trucker starts blasting shotgun shots at everyone. In a complicated series of events, Vince, ends up hanging off the side of the truck, shot in the side, with his arm nearly cut off with the cable from the harpoon they used. Brain manages to rescue Vince but he’s in bad shape and they are in the middle of nowhere. Brian realizes the only way to save Vince is to radio for a helicopter as a police officer. He does it to save Vince’s life but Dom and everyone else are pretty mad at Brian.

Brian eventually rolls up to Dom’s house where Dom is about to take his dad’s car out to find Jesse. Johnny Tran shows up seconds after Jesse does. Tran shoots Jesse and rather than arrest Dom, Brian goes after Tran. Another seriously fun car chase happens and Brian ends up shooting Tran. Then he sees Dom race by. Brian and Dom end up at a stoplight together. Dom tells Brian the stoplight they are at is exactly a quarter of a mile away from the railroad track ahead. Dom says on green he’s going to go for it. Brian knows the only way he could possibly get Dom to come with him is to beat him in this race. The two do race off towards the tracks just as a train is coming. They barely make it across the finish but this time, they tie. Brian is fine but Dom doesn’t see another car coming and ends up in a pretty bad crash. The sound of sirens gets closer and Brian knows he could take Dom in for all kinds of crimes, right here and right now. But that’s not what he does. Instead, he gives Dom the keys to his car and tells him he still owed him, “a ten second car.”

Is this Plot Familiar?

If you’re an action movie fan and you just read that summary, it may have felt extremely familiar. Why? It’s a nearly identical plot to the Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze classic Point Break. The only real difference here is we are dealing with cars instead of surfboards. Point Break is a great movie with tons of fun action so it’s worthy of being copied. But I will say, The Fast and the Furious delivers more high octane adrenaline than that one did.

Paul Walker is essentially the Keanu Reeves character and Vin Diesel is the analogy to Patrick Swayze’s character.

No movie is ever completely original. All films owe what they put on screen to something that came before. But it’s rare to see such a similar film do so well. In fact, this did better than the remake of Point Break, because although it’s about cars, The Fast and the Furious shares more of the genetic make up of the original Point Break than the remake of Point Break does.

That’s not to say there aren’t some original things in The Fast and the Furious. The stunts are fantastic, and although there is some CGI here, none of it is really for the car stunts. Also, they introduce NOS (Nitrous Oxide) as an almost super powered way to make a car go faster. A lot of the action is keyed around when the drivers hit the button that releases it. But overall, yeah, it’s a really similar movie to Point Break.

This Shouldn’t Have Worked

This was a low budget movie (for an action film) with a mostly unknown cast centered around a really niche type of lifestyle, released with almost no fanfare, that just chugged away at the box office. If you watch it now, especially in theaters, it has the quality of a classic film. Paul Walker has an almost Robert Redford like appearance. And Walker gives a performance far above what one would expect for a B film about car racing. Vin Diesel is never overly expressive even at the best of times but that style of acting just fits Dom Toretto’s character perfectly.

And while Michelle Rodriguez is great in this movie (as she is in most movies) the real chemistry here is between Diesel and Walker. They have a kind of mutual rivalry and respect thing going that you can just feel in this movie.

We know now this film kicks off a franchise where insane things start to happen on screen. We get to the point where physics don’t matter at all, people can survive nearly anything, and this little band of car thieves are somehow super spies. But we would not be able to get to a single bit of that if this first film had flopped.

This was in no way a flop. It was number one at the box office and beat out several other highly anticipated films to get there. The movie was made for $38 million but has made over $207 million. That’s a healthy profit from an unlikely film.

In Conclusion

I still think, in some ways, this film can be argued to be the best film in the Fast and Furious franchise. It’s full of heart, even if it is a copycat of another film. It also sticks fairly close to reality. While the car stunts are cool and impressive, it doesn’t feel like they are things that couldn’t happen. People get injured, and car crashes seem to leave people hurt in this movie. Bullets are lethal or at least dangerous. And the bit of romance/love interest stuff that goes on here is understated but necessary. We see both the heroes of the movie, Brian and Dom, do things that are heroic, even if they are committing crimes. It just feels like a classic movie that wasn’t meant to be anything but a good time at the theater where you get to enjoy your popcorn, see some cool stuff, and feel like it all ends the right way. And after all, isn’t that why we go to the movies in the first place?

While I don’t think anyone would call this film high art, it’s certainly a good time. And if you haven’t gone back to see where the beginning of all the madness happens in a while, I highly recommend you check this one out again.

Speedily yours,

Slick Dungeon


12 thoughts on “The Fast and the Furious – Movie Review

  1. I was going to mention Point Break if you didn’t. Try watching then back to back, there are so many borrowed scenes it hilarious. Great movies though. Can’t complain one bit.

    Liked by 2 people

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