I watched 2Fast, 2Furious

The story so far. Curious about how a bloated film franchise spawned, I watched the first Fast and Furious movie, having never watched any of the films before. The initial film is an odd beast, partly based on an article in Vibe magazine entitled Racer X (https://www.vibe.com/2015/03/racer-x-rafael-estevez-kenneth-li-fast-and-furious-inspiration-may-1998 ). That article makes its own interesting connection with popular culture:

‘As a kid growing up in Washington heights, Estevez remembers being transfixed every week by TV’s The Dukes of Hazzard. “The Dukes pulled a lot of stunts, soared through the air, and were always getting chased by cops,” he recalls. “The best part was they would always get away.”’

There’s a long history of car movies (and in the above example, TV show) where the heroes are drivers and they have an antagonistic relationship with the police. I suppose that’s inevitable given the inherent public menace of driving really, really quickly on public roads but the connection is more free floating than that. 1977’s Smokey and the Bandit has the hero using his car to help a truck smuggling crates of Coor’s beer or, to step away from the American south, 1969’s The Italian Job is overtly a crime caper film that features Mini Coopers as part of a complex getaway plan after a gold heist. This second example was loosely remade in 2003 by F Gary Gray, the same year as 2Fast 2Furious was released and notably included Jason Statham in the cast.

I’ll contend that there’s a shitty-libertarian aesthetic to the car movie. Driving is posed as heroic and in opposition to authority, the police are antagonists (not always the main antagonist) or at the very least in an ambiguous role (as Paul Walker’s character is in the first Fast & Furious film). However, given the inevitable chaos and destruction that necessarily gets depicted (often bloodlessly but still extensive) there is no sense in which laws against driving really, really fast on public streets look like a bad idea. The drivers are people fighting for their freedom (in one sense) but they aren’t fighting against injustices necessarily (nor consistently depicted as doing so).

In the first film Vin Diesel’s Dominic character gets to personify this muddled ethic/aesthetic. He’d rather die than go back to prison and he commits violent crime (hijacking lorries) to fund the one experience that makes him feel free — illegal street racing. It is the pursuit of happiness in chrome and fuelled by nitrous oxide. Paul Walker’s Brian is unconvincing as a police officer in the first film and inevitably let’s Dominic escape at the end of the film.

The sequel is, I think, the film that first vaguely nudged my notice with it’s cute-but-corney sequel title. If you had asked me a couple of weeks ago, I’d have said the title was 2Fast, 2Furious: Tokyo Drift because that kind of absurd sequel title is what had permeated into online culture. It isn’t a good film by an stretch of the imagination but it is a much better film than the first.

Brian O’Conner is now living in Miami as an illegal street racer having abandoned being a cop (or being sacked or he’s on the run — it’s a little unclear) after the events of the first film. After being caught racing, he is recruited by FBI Agent Bilkins from the first film to join an undercover operation against a South American drug lord. That whole scenario retains the very 1980s feel that was in the first film.

This isn’t quite a heist film but it is more like one than the first film. That original film was still trying to do a kind of slice-of-life examination of a sub-culture (and failing) that reflected some aspects of the original article. The sequel is more clearly living in the land of fiction. Yet surprisingly, the sequel feels like it has a lot more racing in it.

The film starts with an extended racing sequence which is a lot more fun to watch than the first film’s races. I was genuinely surprised by how much better it was. That certainly wasn’t due to realism because I have exactly zero experience with cars other than as a passenger. However, I’ve played my own share of racing video games and even if your only experience was with Mario Kart, the aesthetic connection between this first race and games is clear.

There’s no Vin Diesel in this film, so the male bonding aspect comes in the form of Tyrese Gibson, who plays a boyhood friend of O’Conner’s called Roman Pearce. The stakes are established by the FBI promising to clear the criminal records of both O’Conner and Pearce if they help take down the drug lord.

At this point the plot doesn’t make any sense. There are plans and betrayals and twists but quite what anybody is trying to achieve is unclear. The schemes of the police, customs, FBI and the drug lord are mainly pretexts for situations where people have to drive really fast. O’Conner and Pearce need a second set of cars? Problem solved! They’ll race a couple of side characters and win their cars! Yup, it is a video-game style quest and the film uses video game plotting to move O’Conner from one driving sequence to another.

The plot doesn’t withstand any close examination but neither did the plot of the first film. What it does do is move the characters quickly to new action sequences and in each sequence there is a clearly explained (if very localised) set of stakes. Race here to collect a package to prove you can drive quickly enough to get the job with the drug lord. Race now to win two extra racing cars that your FBI/Customs handlers don’t know about.

Everything moves towards an epic all-the-police-cars style car chase sequence with a heist-move-like we-planned-all-this-earlier sequence and a final showdown with a baddy. That showdown, involving launching a car into the air to crash onto a boat, gets an overt Dukes of Hazard reference from one of the main characters.

This film knows that it is ridiculous which gives it a major advantage to the original. It avoids the confused ethics of the first which tries to cast Dominic as a heroic character who just wants to live a quiet life exceeding the speed limit and beating up lorry drivers by adding in a stock movie villain character in the form of evil-south-American drug lord. It also knows that people want to see absurd car stunts but to its credit when the heroes do crash land their car on top of a boat they are shown as being badly stunned by the experience.

22 thoughts on “I watched 2Fast, 2Furious

  1. The “shitty libertarian” idea arguably goes back at least to the 1950s film Thunder Road, where Robert Mitchum delivers ‘shine for the local bootlegging gang, always one step ahead of the revenuers. The revenuers actually gave the filmmakers a lot of help under the impression they’d be the good guys.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You beat me to it.

      I was gonna say — this whole trope with the cars got into American culture through the real-life bootleggers during Prohibition, which created all sorts of Real Life exciting stories as well as myriad myths.

      And no doubt it also owes a lot to earlier stories like Robin Hood and dashing bandits in the American West.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I’m really torn, because I intended to leave a comment along the lines of ‘you said “shitty libertarian”, but you repeat yourself!’

      OTOH, my beloved maternal great-grandfather was actually one of those bootlegging drivers for a few years at the beginning of prohibition, and more than once repeated to me one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard: “Don’t let the revenuers piss on your parade!”

      I would not characterize his political philosophy as libertarian (I know that in the last presidential election he lived to vote in he voted for George McGovern, for instance)… but I haven’t watched Thunder Road in forever.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. It would take until I think the fourth movie (Admittedly I haven’t seen movie 3) for law enforcement to go from antagonist to good guys really, although they’re always regarded as at best untrustworthy or incompetent without hte help of the outlaw heroes.

    So yeah definitely a libertarian-ish POV, which well makes sense given the good guys are street racers (well to start)

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Driving really fast is fun. though I’ll admit to only being a passenger at anything above 85mph and never going more than 125 even then — with an experienced amateur racing driver in a brand new Porsche on a road where there’s no traffic and it’s so flat that you can see anyone coming once they’re over the horizon.

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    1. For a while, my father owned a ‘67 427 Corvette Stingray that had been modified for racing, with over 400 horsepower. I did not ever ask him how fast he had driven in it, and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to know!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I got my old car up to 90mph on a quiet stretch of motorway once. I frequently will drive at 70-80km/h (45-50ish mph) on my bike here which is quite enough for me even on the good roads. My bike *can* get up to about 110km/h but these things tend to feel sketchy when they’re maxing out. The fastest I’ve driven for long stretches is 90km/h because the road was just long and straight and boring and the most dangerous thing about it was the complete morons that gathered at every traffic light on the way. Best to leave them in the dust.

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      1. “Still, Sgt. Kerry Schmidt said he gave the officer who caught him speeding the impression he felt confident behind the wheel of his parents’ Mercedes C 63 AMG.”

        “Mercedes” says it all, doesn’t it? Entitled rich kid.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. 190?! On an urban freeway? Throw the book at him.

        His rich parents can pay whatever the entitled little snot runs up in fines.

        When I used to work writing tickets for illegal parking in disabled spaces, it was always the Mercedes, BMW, Humvee, and random sports cars. Never the single mom in a 10 year old Honda. Always the entitled ones. My boss once tagged a brand new Ferrari which a salesman had borrowed from the dealership to run around town with. The ticket meant that the car no longer legally counted as new and therefore would have to be sold as used — which meant thousands lopped off the price right then.

        It gave us all warm fuzzies.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Yes, and as noted, ‘stunt’ driving… which, for those not from Ontario, was legislation introduced several years ago in Ontario for explicitly this sort of situation. Among other things, if you’re going enough over the speed limit to trigger that charge, the police can basically impound the car immediately as well as toss you in a holding cell and suspend your licence.

        It wasn’t an uncontroversial law at the time. Among other things, there have been a few cases where some kid doing a joyride in his parents’ car left his parents stranded for a while. (That’s unlikely to be an issue in this case if his parents are rich enough.) But it has generally worked out, and we’ve seen less of this sort of idiocy since then.

        (We have a few highways like the 400 which are pretty straight and across pretty flat land, and sadly, some people see that as a challenge.)

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Regarding Ferraris, there used to be a Ferrari dealership within walking distance of my house, so Ferraris were not exactly a rare sight in the neighbourhood. Crashed Ferraris were not a rare sight either, since newly minted Ferrari owners often couldn’t handle their vehicles and went too fast.

        Maybe 200 metres from the Ferrari dealership, there is a traffic light, which is where my favourite Ferrari accident happened. The owner of a brand new Ferrari drove out of the dealership onto the road. The speed limit is 50 km/h, but the Ferrari was likely going faster. And so the inevitable happened. At the traffic light, the Ferrari rear-ended a tractor. The Ferrari was totalled, while the tractor was able to drive onwards without problems. So this Ferrari worth half a million Euro or so drove exactly 200 metres before it was totalled.

        Regarding driving speed, in Germany some highways, usually in rural areas, have no speed limit, which means you can go as fast as you want. Usually, I drive 120 to 130 km/h in areas with no speed limit, traffic permitting, because otherwise the fuel costs explode and the accident risk is too high, especially if it’s a longer drive..

        I have gone faster on occasion, when I had a new car or was testdriving a car and wanted to see how fast it can go. I think I got up to 190-200 km/h with my Dad’s Mercedes GLK once. It probably could have gone faster, but I find anything over 180 km/h actively unpleasant. And I only do this, when the highway is largely empty and the weather is clear, otherwise it’s way too dangerous.

        Also contrary to popular imagination, very few people actually go faster than 120 to 130 km/h on German highways, even if it’s legal. Of course, you do get the idiots going 160 or 180 km/h in the left lane (and boy, do they hate it, if you pull ahead of them to overtake a truck at 120 km/h or so), but they’re fairly rare. A large number of them seem to be foreigners from countries which do have speed limits, which is really dangerous, because they’re not used to high speeds.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. @Cora Buhlert:
        Heh. Back when I was taking driving courses with Young Drivers of Canada (which was over thirty years ago so details are fuzzy in my memory) they actually mentioned the Autobahn. And one of the things they mentioned was that somebody had actually done time trials comparing a car that was driving ‘with the flow of traffic’ against a car that had been trying to go as fast as possible. The latter car arrived first, sure, but only by a few minutes over an hour long trip, because it still had to contend with the other traffic on the road.

        The point being, of course, that racing as quickly as possible didn’t actually buy you much time, and wasn’t worth the safety nightmare of doing that sort of thing.

        (My own training was in British Columbia, which has a lot less of a highway racing problem because there are far fewer straight highways in a province that is practically all mountains.)

        Liked by 2 people

      6. My dad was stationed in Germany in the mid-50s and had very fond memories of the Autobahn. Particularly since German manufacturing was still recovering and he’d brought over his big V8 American car. Many a young man thought he’d easily win against the giant lumbering American family car.

        My brother remembers learning to lipread German curses as he watched the men recede through the back window. (Mom didn’t let him put this knowledge to work.)

        Liked by 1 person

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