The Fast and the Furious
Thank God for Vin Diesel. This unlikely-looking second lead (he's always the second lead) has on-screen power and magnetism enough to almost make up for the absence of energy and the flat affect of the lead, Paul Walker, who is apparently a graduate of the Keanu Reeves School of Expressive Acting. When Diesel is on screen, even mouthing the endless clichés the script has given him, "The Fast and the Furious" has power and pizazz and great kinetic energy. When he's not, the whole film seems to grind to a halt.
The story is simple. Young Brian O'Connor (Walker), an undercover cop, is sent to join a group of L.A. illegal street racers, most of whom seem to drive extremely hopped-up Acura Integras, in order to see whether they are connected to a series of truck hijackings, in which a little swarm of Integras surround the target, take him down, and remove the cargo. Is Dominic Toretto (Diesel) the ringleader? Or are the bad guys a very generic Asian gang who alternate between shooting at people from their Ducatis and racing their own Integras? Brian is determined to find out.
Meanwhile we're in for some fantastic night-time Los Angeles street shots, as the racers gather, trade insults, and drag-race each other. The cinematographer is Ericson Core, whose work here is a primer for anyone interested in action photography. Notice the surreal use of night lighting, including one magnificent aerial shot of a parade of cars moving down a boulevard, with the procession lit by a huge searchlight mounted on another helicopter flying low over the street and leading the parade. Core leaves the helicopter in the shot, I think as a little fillip for other cinematographers. I was also impressed by the use of Dolby surround sound, cranked up all the way when needed. The races themselves are a bit of a disappointment, since someone decided that ten seconds of real time - a quarter-mile race doesn't last long - should be stretched in the editing to something like three times its length. On the other hand, my dentist will be surprised to learn that there's another use for nitrous oxide, and it's not for patient comfort.
What I was not impressed by was the barely-written screenplay, which reduces everyone to a stick figure. Even Michelle Rodriguez (the wonderful lead in "Girlfight") is here only for her sullen looks. And then every so often we're required to send Brian back for a meeting in a safe house with his supervisor and the local FBI honcho (filmed, as is carefully pointed out by the cop, in the home built by Eddie Fisher for Elizabeth Taylor and apparently seized in a drug bust). Those scenes are embarrassingly bad, and stop the film dead in its tracks each time.
Nevertheless, when I could give myself up to the excitement of the races and the chases, I had a very good time, and I think you just might, too.