Written by: Gary Scott Thompson, Erik Bergquist, David Ayer
Starring: Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Rick Yune
Passions in life give us a different drive where we could do it for free if only to get the experience of it. Unfortunately, not all passions happen to fall on the right side of the law much like the street racing followed in The Fast and the Furious. A fun and particular look into a specific lifestyle and the group of people comprising it.
LAPD officer Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) has taken on an undercover role in discovering who has been robbing delivery trucks filled with various electronics. This leads him to befriend local criminal and street racing king, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), who lives by a particular code and has no issues fighting off anyone with the potential to threaten it.
Who would have thought this small feature would explode into the multiple decade-spanning franchise it has become? With such simplicity in its story, it manages to get the job done because of the way it unapologetically provides a peek behind the curtain of a lifestyle not many have experienced. Most people may witness a street race through pure happenstance but there’s a whole culture centered on crafting vehicles to their greatest potential and then showing it off. Sure, with it being male-dominated it tends to have tinges of misogyny bleeding through but the overall story still lands.
The two factors pulling together this narrative are Toretto and O’Conner, which will remain the same for the entire series. They both have a love for cars with Toretto loving good ol’ American muscle vehicles and O’Conner preferring imports with more versatility. They come from completely different worlds and live by conflicting codes but the love of vehicles unites them in a way that breaks down all potential barriers. However, the central conflict remains where O’Conner needs to balance the respect he gains for Toretto with the job he has in discovering who has been stealing their electronics. The LAPD detective has his work cut out for him, especially when trying to be a chameleon within a crowd not too fond of law enforcement.
Plenty of philosophy within this race world gets dropped on both O’Conner and the audience as we navigate this story through his perspective. In the first race where he gets the attention of the local racers, he barely loses to Toretto and has a level of pride in getting close to which the racing veteran publicly rebukes him in front of the roaring crowd. He states that it does not matter someone wins by an inch or a mile, winning is winning. A valuable lesson for O’Conner to take with him.
Watching this film feels like a capsule of a different era where the treasured electronics being stolen are old Panasonic televisions you could probably not even give away in the current marketplace. Much of this story feels like its era in popular culture, and it does falter at times because of it. I honestly would not begrudge anyone for not caring for a film like this as at times it gets too invested in car lingo. Heck, my wife got 7 minutes into it and immediately lost interest. However, I do believe the seeds of greatness get planted in this feature film where it exceeds far beyond being a Point Break rip-off and very much its own thing. There are overly cheesy moments and no one in this cast will be in the running for Academy Awards with the performances they give in this film, but it really hits at the attitude of a particular subgroup in a specific time in life. The rebels on the streets end up not being the devils law enforcement and your elderly neighbor make them out to be. O’Conner leads the audience through it all as he learns this on his own.
The main reason to jump into this story is the races and they prove to be the bread and butter as they get filmed in a clear manner, display all of the stakes involved, and express just how ridiculously fast they go. A quarter-mile at a time, it all becomes about the hardware the drivers are able to put together and it shows with how much work and effort goes into it. Whether it be for money or pink slips (betting your vehicle), each race has something on the line for the individuals involved and it gets felt with each character as they begin to rev their engines.
With a film taking place in Los Angeles, The Fast and the Furious does not sugarcoat anything about the culture. This franchise, as a whole, has proven to be able to collect a diverse cast and set of locations to display the culture and how racing integrates into them. The representation of Los Angeles feels authentic from having the different ethnic groups involved and the banter shared between them. Plenty of cheesiness, yes, but beautifully authentic in showing a Los Angeles outside of Hollywood.
Rev up your engines (I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist) for the first film of a respectably transformative franchise. It introduces complicated but loveable characters to follow and allows a peek into the thriving and dangerous culture of street racing. With enough great racing sequences to get through the more undesirable aspects, it works overall and holds up beyond my pure nostalgia for these films.