Fast & Furious (US - BD)
Gabe completes his Fast and Furious experience. No really, he's done...
Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is back, and out for revenge after discovering his former girlfriend, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), has been murdered. Meanwhile, FBI agent Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) is back in the agency’s good graces, and looking to capture a big time drug dealer. The good news and bad news is that Dominic and Brain are actually looking for the same guy, and are forced to once again join forces, only this time knowing more about each other than they did in the first film. Hijinx and car chases ensue.
Fast & Furious (not to, I repeat, not to be confused with The Fast and the Furious) starts things right with an appropriately idiotic, physics defying, car-based action scene. Then things move straight to a bunch of half naked, skinny, big-boobed girls dancing to bassy hip-hop. Good start, and definitely in-keeping with the series’ Citizen Kane-aping style. But does second time franchise director Justin Lin have anything new to add to the obviously perfect formula? Following these less inspired, but unexpectedly entertaining moments, Lin does his best Paul Greengrass impression with a decent rooftop chase, and works his best with a minimalist revenge thirsty plot that takes its every nuance far too seriously. Lin has grown as an action director, and despite more of his too slick for their own good visuals, I don’t think this particular film is his fault. Tokyo Drift (Lin’s previous entry in the series) is a dumbass movie, but found strength in the director’s strengths, such as humour. At the very least Lin manages to do something interesting with an extremely uninteresting story.
Fast & Furious’ tone is the real issue at hand. The filmmakers want this to be a return to the supposed grit of the series’ first film, which garbage man extraordinaire Rob Cohen made in an attempt to capture the feel of classic ‘60s and ‘70s car flicks like Bullitt and The French Connection. The problem is that the first film was probably the least entertaining of the whole series, and it wasn’t particularly gritty either. In my opinion these films only work as action porn, and the more the filmmakers understand that they aren’t going to impress anyone otherwise, the better for us. This script is a mush of generic TV crime episodes (you can almost hear the Law and Order ‘Dong Dong’ between scenes), with Vin Diesel stuck into the mix as a generic revenge movie caricature. The screenwriters find some time for generic car racing action here and there, but the supposed realistic look at street racing life is totally lost in a sea of blah emotional beats and melodramatic cowboy motifs. I lost interest so many times I had to continually remind myself of what had occurred previously in the sloppy narrative, rather than simply allowing the story to unfold. I don’t recall any major plot holes because I can barely recall the plot.
Contrary to what I assume most of my friends assume, I’m actually a pretty big fan of Paul Walker, and I think he did a great job with the super-dark aspects of Wayne Kramer’s underrated Running Scared (even if it was all a bit hammy). Here he’s lifeless, seemingly confused by the plot’s straight-faced tone. Diesel can get away with wooden, in fact he excels in such situations thanks to his very presence on film, but the rest of the cast takes things more like Walker, and ends up sounding unfortunately ridiculous, which might’ve worked had the intended tone not been so dead damn serious. The degree of onscreen violence is pretty impressive for a PG-13 rating, but if you’re going to take it seriously you might as well go for the full R. If they were allowed to cuss the cast might have felt a bit more genuine (probably not though).
Is it stupid that I think the Fast and Furious franchise would be better served by 1.85:1 framing? This entry isn’t as overall colour coded as previous entries, but certain scenes and sets carry a specific hue overview. At times Lin apes the warm outdoor look of the original film, but with a darker overall hue, and more intense contrast. Other times the entire print is overcome with blue, from highlights to shadows. Walker’s cop life is cool and particularly crisp. The look works the best when Lin mixes the styles, and creates a kind of comic book like world. This variety of styles leads to an uneven transfer, but one I’d overall refer to as worthy of the Best Buy display model. Every style has its share of advantages and disadvantages. Sometimes the image is so dark that detail is compromised, yet these scenes feature some of the cleanest black edges, while the brighter scenes are ripe with detail, but feature a lot more grain and less impressive black levels.
I’m not particularly fond of any of the hip-hop/techno de jour soundtracks found in this films, but the latest entry runs itself ragged flipping between tracks like a indecisive kid on his iPod shuffle. It’s really obnoxious. The DTS-HD track is exactly what we’ve come to respect from the series, or any other similar hyperactive car chase flick. The car engines all have their own voices, and zip through the channels with particular zeal, all while pumping the LFE enough to rock you off your couch. The obnoxious music and unimportant dialogue is surprisingly evenly mixed with all the overzealous noise, and often easy to make out amongst the ruckus. There is one moment where the mix favours some random chirping birds way too much, but overall this is exactly what the mindless action movie doctor ordered.
Despite my Profile 1.0 handicap, the folks behind this Blu-ray disc have kept me in mind while prepping the U-Control extras. Instead of a traditional PiP, director Justin Lin and actor Paul Walker are placed in front of the film and behind the scenes footage full screen. It’s a branching option rather than a PiP option, hence my player’s ability to handle it. The information is solid, and augments Lin’s solo commentary track effectively. Lin is an intuitive and natural speaker, and fills us in on the technical aspects without drying the information out. Meanwhile, the behind the scenes footage, which almost exclusively pertain to the scenes that required some kind of special effects, reveal a surprising amount of practical effects work. There’s also another PiP option to see the car tech specs in text form.
Vin Diesel’s short film, Los Bandoleros (20:20, HD), is likely the disc’s most substantial and interesting extra. This story leads up to Fast and Furious’ opening scene, which does come across as kind of sudden and unimportant to the rest of the story. I was just chalking it up to a mislead James Bond homage, but apparently there was some story missing. Diesel’s skills don’t come as a surprise, assuming you’ve seen his other shorts, or know the stories about him taking lessons from Spielberg on the set of Saving Private Ryan, but Los Bandoleros is still a bit surprising in how much style it squeezes from such a brief runtime. The plot is weak (it’s basically the first act of a heist flick), but the characterizations are efficient, and the technical bits are impressive, if not a little too similar to Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Mexican shot work (a change of framing could see it edited into Amores Perros without an obvious style shift).
Next up are two car-based featurettes. ‘Under the Hood: Muscle Cars’ (07:00, HD)covers the old school power wrecks, while ‘Under the Hood: Imports’ (05:00, HD) covers the new school neon hot rods. Aspects of the technical specs of both kinds of cars, the cars’ place in the Fast and Furious canon, and the actual filming processes are all covered in the form of behind the scenes footage and interviews. Man are imports boring.
‘Getting the Gang Back Together’ (09:50, HD) is a fluffy EPK like look at the gathering of the original cast members. Everyone involved lies through their teeth while discussing the cast’s reasons for coming back (we know it was the money Vin), and talks the film up as the second coming of something classic. The rest of the cast, and the basic making-of process is covered too, but it’s very made-for-TV trailer in style.
‘Driving School with Vin Diesel’ (03:50, HD) is another one in the series’ series of stunt car training with the actor. ‘Shooting the Big Rig Heist’ (09:50, HD) covers the difficulty of creating the film’s opening action scene, and features a lot of footage that can be found on the U-Control option. ‘Races and Chases’ (11:00, HD) is a general look at the film’s other action sequences, and the processes of mapping them out in the story, and actually filming them. ‘High Octane Action’ (11:20, HD) is a bit of a repetitive follow up, but does focus more specifically on the stunts over the technical aspects of filming the action. Somehow the scenes were largely much more dangerous to film than appears on screen. I thought more of this stuff was digital than actually was. These are pretty inclusive featurettes, probably the most content fulfilling of all the otherwise fluffy featurettes on the disc.
Also featured on the disc is a gag reel (05:00, HD), ‘South of the Border’ (03:00, HD), a look at the trials and tribulations of filming in Mexico, a ‘Virtual Car Garage’ (this was also an option on the Tokyo Drift Disc), a ‘Video Mash-Up’ option, a ‘Blanco’ music video (04:00, SD), and trailers.
Viewers that keep the series’ low-level aspirations in mind will probably not find themselves too disappointed in Fast and Furious, though there’s a hint of the filmmakers expecting more drama and character study this time around the track. Director Justin Lin obviously has some skill, now he just needs to find a property on which he can build an original style. This Blu-ray release is as perfect as the stock will allow in the video fields, and generally equally impressive on the audio front. The extras aren’t extremely gratifying, but we could do worse, and for once I’m able to experience the ‘in-movie’ experience on my Profile 1.0 player.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 28th July 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DTS 5.1 French, DTS 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French and Spanish
Extras: Director's Commentary, U-Control Options, 'Los Bandoleros', Under the Hood, Getting the Gang Back Together, Driving School with Vin Diesel, Shooting the Big Rig Heist, Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Justin Lin
Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, John Ortiz
Length: 107 minutes
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