I watched The Fast and the Furious for the first time

There appear to be a lot of films in the Fast and the Furious franchise and only a global pandemic has paused their proliferation. There is a point where natural curiosity overcomes my overall lack of interest in cars. So if I have to start somewhere then it makes sense to start at the first film.

Before hand I knew that the film was about a cop infiltrating a gang of street racers who are involved in robberies. If that sounds a bit like the film Point Break with Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze and “surfers” swapped out for “street racers” then, well, I haven’t watched Point Break either. I also know that the star of the film died much later in the franchise and that didn’t stop the films somehow evolving later into an action thriller with Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham.

Released in 2001 the film looks and sounds like a product of at least the previous decade and at times feels like it belongs in the 1980s or even the 1950s. The title, of course, is literally borrowed from a 1954 film but there is a definite 1950s pulp book feel to the way story frames the central street racing gang as all a bit scandalous and dangerous. It’s a macho culture and aside from two characters, women are portrayed primarily as sexual rewards. The first exception to that is Michelle Rodriguez’s character Letty, who is the girlfriend of gang leader Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) but also an equal member of the close knit gang and an adept driver. The second exception is Dominic Toretto’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) who is the primary love interest but still sort of falls into an ‘innocent young woman caught up in a criminal subculture’ archetype. Both women are definied in terms of the relationship to Dominic but that is sort of true of the whole movie. Vin Diesel gets to be centre of everything and only Paul Walker’s cop character Brian O’Conner ever gets to be defined in terms of any other relationships.

The street racing sequences are surprisingly quite dull. Each race is basically down a straight road between two cars. In the first race between Walker and Diesel they even have a kind of trippy visual effect when the characters press a go-faster button, as if they engaged warp speed. The more exciting actions sequences are confined to the first heist (which opens the film) and the second (which begins the final stage of the film).

Diesel and Rodriguez are the most convincing in their roles. Walker, not so much. The plot makes it obvious he’s a cop even before the surprise reveal but at the same time he’s never convincingly a cop even when talking to his boss and the FBI. His undercover role makes little sense and the obvious route for busting Dominic Toretto’s criminal operation is tax fraud, as he clearly is spending a lot more money than his garage could generate.

The four street racing factions we meet are split on ethnic lines with the Vietnamese Johnny Tran (Rick Yune) being the main bad guy. Despite his gang frequently shooting at cars and people on motorbikes, the police are less interested in that and focused on the lorry hijacking scheme. Aside from that the ethnic divisions don’t play a role in the plot.

I wouldn’t have guessed this was a franchise spawning film if I didn’t already know. Walker is wooden, the car sequences are OK but it’s not Mad Max. The writing is weak: Dominic and Brian bond because the plot says so, Mia and Brian fall in love because the plot says so. The characters feel like action figures being moved around. The lorry heist plans makes no sense and the surprise the gang faces when the lorry drivers start packing shotguns really shouldn’t have been a surprise.

I’m going to watch the rest. I’m genuinely curious now.

12 thoughts on “I watched The Fast and the Furious for the first time

  1. These films are pretty quintessential Murcan culture — cars, girls, guns. I actually enjoy watching them — unencumbered by the need for rational thought, to steal a catchphrase.

    And some of the stunts in subsequent installments are just jaw-dropping, which is a bonus.

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  2. By coincidence, I started watching the franchise earlier this year. But I watch a lot of stuff so I only just finished III.
    Like you, I couldn’t see the magic in the first film beyond Hot Women, Cool Cars, Male Bonding. The second film was a lot more fun, simply because the number of hidden agendas made it hard to figure out who was playing who. The third, Tokyo Drift, is a stinker, though it still has Hot Women, Cool Cars, Male Bonding.
    So maybe that’s all there is to it. I’ll be curious to see what you think.


    1. I mean there are lots of films with multiple sequels but typically they get less popular and draw less attention. So I guess I’m curious how this franchise got to be a BIG THING


  3. Lol, this was a hilarious review.

    So to explain why the franchise got to be a big thing over nearly twenty years: it started out as a very American “B” action movie (lower budget, cheesy action movie,) and became a big thing by getting multi-ethnic including injections of girl power, and international in scope, with wilder and wilder stunts as their budgets grew.

    But the first movie was just essentially a Point Break-ish standard hanging with thieves undercover story with car drivers instead of surfers, yes, with a touch of moderately stereotypical Latino culture. Walker’s the protagonist in the story, but the star is Vin Diesel’s character. The film did much better than they expected, due to timing and the heist sequences, which laid it open for a sequel. Problem was, Vin Diesel had starred in three “B” action movies that were all hits and could support franchises all around the same time — sf alien horror movie Pitch Black, spy/extreme sports film xXx on which he got to be an exec producer, and F&F. He decided that he could not do all three at once and went with Pitch Black because they let him have almost full control on the sequel as producer (that’s a whole other story.)

    So 2 Fast 2 Furious starred only Walker, but added new long term players Tyrese and Ludacris to the franchise. It did reasonably well, in part because of the international non-U.S. market, which was becoming more and more critical for action movies to make bank. They did the third one, Tokyo Drift, with the idea of it being an anthology-like franchise, with Lucas Black being the star and going for the Asian markets. It also did reasonably well, but not as much and there was concern that the franchise was running out of steam. So they got Diesel, Walker, Rodriguez and Brewster to all come back for #4, Fast & Furious, with a decent sized budget and that’s when it started to get quite big.

    By the time they got to the fifth one, Fast 5, they had a large budget, a multiethnic stable of characters from the previous films to draw from including more kickass women than action films usually bother with, added The Rock and other enjoyable actors, had all their themes down about found families and the brotherhood between Walker and Diesel’s characters, better jokes, splashy action sequences and locations and spy thriller elements that became a bigger and bigger part of the franchise. They are basically now James Bond/Mission: Impossible type movies, complete with some Brits and have had one highly effective spin-off film.

    So if you watch the whole sequence, you will see a fairly wild progression.

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  4. I have to admit that I have never seen a single Fast and Furious movie either.

    I get my fill of car chases, explosions and (male) bonding from the German TV series “Alarm for Cobra 11”. And frankly, what I’ve seen of the “Fast and Furious” movies doesn’t look all that impressive with regard to stunts and action sequences, especially if your baseline is “Alarm for Cobra 11”, whose stunts look like multi-million dollar Hollywood movies.

    That said, “Alarm for Cobra 11” is currently going through yet another phase where they replaced the showrunner (and most of the cast) and decide to go for a “serious prestige TV” vibe. The only problem is that if I want grim Scandinavian noir drama type stuff, I will watch a Scandinavian crime drama. If I watch “Alarm for Cobra 11”, I want car chases, explosions and banter.


    1. We got “Alerte Cobra” in France, and since the only main german TV import before in France was “Derrick”, it was quite surprising πŸ™‚
      And yes, the actions sequence are quite good, or , like my old father say “how many cars can they break !”

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  5. My embarrassing pop culture confession: after reading the plot summary on Wikipedia and looking at some stills, I am still not sure if I have even seen this. I saw a number of Vin Diesel movies back in the day and apparently I have for some time confused this with the Nicholas Cage vehicle Gone in 60 Seconds (which came out within a year or two).

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  6. I jumped in with the Hobbs and Shaw movie and thought it was delightful. I ended up seeing it several times (several other friends wanted to see it and I tagged along with all of them), each time discovering a new scene at the end. It has a wonderful final driving scene that is amazing for the way the sun rises and sets several times depending on where on the island they have driven to.

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    1. @ejmam β€”

      .” It has a wonderful final driving scene that is amazing for the way the sun rises and sets several times depending on where on the island they have driven to.”

      So the movie is definitely genre!

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  7. So as others have mentioned, it’s weird because it was not meant to be a Franchise. The first one – which you watched, was meant to be a car racing version of Point Break, featuring drag racing (I hope you were joking about the racing being in straight lines, because that’s what street drag racing IS). There was no intention of a sequel, but it did well enough they made one anyway, but they didn’t want to pay for Vin Diesel so they left him out and it didn’t quite do as well as a result. Then they made a third one basically as a cash grab sequel (Tokyo Drift) and everyone expected the series to die out.

    But well, Someone thought, let’s see if we reunite the original cast for a new movie and see how that works and well it did really well in terms of money, especially with Vin Diesel back, and so someone then thought: Well we upped the stunts last time and reunited people from the old cast, what if we up the stunts again, reunite people from ALL the old casts including movies 2-3, and add The Rock?

    The result, Fast Five, is the best in the series, an absolute joy to watch, and was an absolute smash hit. The fact that it was a very diverse cast at that point only helped sell the film to everyone and resulted in what we have now. So if you’re watching in order, you’re going to find the difference between 1-2-3 and the others to be very weird, because they’re kind of not the same series lol.

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