‘The Fast and the Furious’ starts the franchise off with a heavy foot

The Fast and the Furious (2001)

The Fast and the Furious (2001)

Directed by Rob Cohen

6/10  PG-13

“Furious 7” might peel out of theaters as the third-highest-grossing film of all time. But that is just the latest and greatest (according to IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes) in the fourteen-year franchise, which is one of today’s most universally successful. But it had to start somewhere. Back in 2001, “The Fast and the Furious” hit the streets and drove into our hearts, inviting us into its big family. Over the next few days, I’ll put all seven movies into perspective, ending with the hugely successful latest installment, and let you know where I think it stands.

Undercover cop Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) is tasked with investigating the Los Angeles street racing epidemic, in which racers of all walks of life drag race for cash and pink slips. He befriends Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel), one of the most respected racers in the city, and his entourage—his sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster), his girlfriend, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), and his crew (Chad Lindberg, Johnny Strong, and Matt Schulze)—to get an advantage and inform the authorities when they’re clear to come in and make arrests. But when Brian and Dom get roped up in a violent altercation with racing rival and gang leader Johnny Tran (Rick Yune), Brian will have a decision to make—help out the new family that has taken him under their wing, or rat them out while they’re at their most vulnerable.

Like most of the streetcars in the film, the action of “The Fast and the Furious” seems to be super-charged…as if the whole film was hooked to tanks of NOS. At times, the stunts are preposterous. And throughout the years, they’ll only get more insane. But adrenaline junkies eat it up. “Visually, this movie is bitchin,” said a 29-year-old Paul Walker, just after “The Fast and the Furious” released. He was right. But what you hear coming from the characters’ mouths is less than desirable. The script is the lackluster product of a team of writers that includes David Ayer—this one is closer to “S.W.A.T.” than “Training Day,” unfortunately—as well as one writer who never wrote a screenplay before or after and another who has credits on every “Fast and Furious” movie besides “Tokyo Drift.” One thing they did do right was let “The Fast and the Furious” mirror the diversity of the street racing scene. We see racers from all walks of life. In the core cast alone are members of several races and nationalities. It’s one of the reasons the franchise has done so well. With racial minorities representing a quickly-growing percentage of moviegoers, the “Fast and Furious” movies benefit from having a cast member to represent nearly everyone. It’s refreshing.

Jordana Brewster and Paul Walker in The Fast and the Furious (2001)

That’s not to say that the cast is full of distinguished actors and actresses, however. I would even say that Paul Walker was never a great actor. But he always possessed a remarkably transfixing likability. As Brian O’Conner, Walker is heroic and humble. It’s his role. Vin Diesel is obviously having a good time as Dom, but other than that not much can be said. In minor roles, the talent is non-existent. Thankfully, the most important thing in life will always be the people in this room, right here, right now. (I know I’m getting ahead of myself, but please tell me that reference didn’t go to waste.)

“The Fast and the Furious” is a thrilling start to a franchise that has always blended action with emotion. Granted, the dialogue is normally pretty flat. But the good intentions are there. This is a family, and we can see that. It translates clearly, no matter who you are. And that’s where the “Fast and Furious” movie excels.

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