Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:45 - Released 6/22/01

From the first few minutes of Rob Cohen's The Fast And The Furious, which include many lovingly-shot close-ups of street racing cars with cool paint jobs, you can tell it's going to be one of those fast, loud guy flicks with high-powered action sequences taking precedence over substance of plot. And that's okay, but director Cohen, whose most recent effort was last year's brain-dead college thriller The Skulls, made a fatal error in choosing his leading player. Cohen must enjoy working with pretty-boy actor Paul Walker (who played the Skulls villain), because he's hired him again, even though Walker continually shows he's not equipped for roles that require anything to go on behind those beautiful blue eyes. Walker has proven adequate in supporting roles before, but putting him in the lead is a risky move. On the other hand, cast opposite Walker is up-and-coming talent Vin Diesel (Saving Private Ryan), whose quietly intense style almost compensates for Walker's Keanu Reeves-brand woodenness. Almost, that is, but not quite.

In a story which originated in a magazine article by Ken Li, adapted for the big screen by Gary Scott Thompson, Erik Bergquist, and David Ayer, Walker plays undercover cop Brian Spindler. Desiring to win his detective badge, Brian attempts to help the FBI crack a case by infiltrating L.A.'s illicit street racing scene run by ex-con and ex-pro racer Dominic Toretto (Diesel), a charismatic and mysterious man whom everyone respects because he apparently wins every race. One would wonder why anyone bothers to race against him, but Brian tries and thereby wins Dominic's friendship. As the two get closer, he becomes familiar with the whole racing crowd, learning about the ins and outs of fast cars and fast girls, the use of "NOS" (Nitrous Oxide [propulsion] System) in converting regular automobiles into jet-propelled racing machines, and the group's rivalry with an Asian gang led by professional thug and red herring Johnny Tran (Rick Yune). He even begins to fall for Dom's hot-as-an-exhaust-pipe sister (Jordana Brewster). What he does not do is find out anything about the case he's supposed to be working on, involving a renegade group of badasses who have been hijacking truckers and stealing their cargo. This seriously irritates his superiors (Ted Levine and Thom Barry), and it also kind of ticked me off, since I knew I wasn't going to get out of the theatre until there was some sort of resolution to the story.

This movie is full of boobs of both sexes, although we never see any of the female kind, because that would require an R rating. We see plenty of the male kind, though. While Diesel is believable and intimidatingly charming in his way, Walker is so bland that when he laughs, milk comes out his NOS. He looks and acts like a teen, as he has in all his dubious teen movies (She's All That, Varsity Blues, Meet The Deedles), and displays none of the intense qualities needed for this role. Not a cop. Not a street racer. Not fast. Not furious. With a more versatile actor in the leading part, Cohen's film might have at least seemed more vital, because he certainly has the ability to craft high-powered action and reasonably believable dialogue. Moreover, the script, while filled with trite racing philosophy, is not without its merits. But Walker's characterization is like a brick wall at the end of the quarter mile, bringing credibility to a dead and deadly stop every time he opens his mouth. ***

Copyright 2001 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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