Usually when any franchise reaches its fourth chapter it sputters on fumes, headed for the great direct-to-DVD junkyard in the sky. It's an even worse sign when one of those installments features a newer, younger cast with only a vague connection to the first (The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift — also directed by Lin), yet the studio wizzes at Universal are attempting to recapture the magic, put the band back together and party like it's 2001.
While the original cast's once-fresh faces mostly failed to set Hollywood ablaze in the intervening eight years, you'll be forgiven for forgetting what all the Paul Walker fuss was about. The blandly handsome leading man appears to be roused from a brief career slumber to reprise the role of brash lawman Brian O'Conner, now working for an FBI task force on the hunt for an elusive drug kingpin. To track the baddie down, he's forced to reteam with old pal and rival Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel), the former king of street racing, now a fugitive south of the border. Toretto and his speed-freaked crew now earn a living hijacking trucks, and in the movie's most exciting scene they gank an oil tanker on a ridiculously steep, twisting mountain road. A family death forces Dom out of hiding and back into Brian's line of fire, and they're quickly back to their old tricks, burning rubber, grinding steel and wreaking utter havoc on Los Angeles — as if its traffic problems weren't already awful enough. Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster pop in as eye-candy foils, though this is a strictly bromantic affair — the ladies' storylines are pit stops. Really, any moment involving conversation or plot development kicks the flick into neutral, with only the merest connective tissue holding the story together.
Diesel's dramatic range makes Dolph Lundgren look like Laurence Olivier. His squinty, pug-like features display a wide gamut of emotion, ranging from rage to confusion to consternation to love, all of which look something like Spuds McKenzie dumping a deuce. Yet he flashes a certain cave-dweller charisma, even when describing his dream woman: "Twenty percent angel, 80 percent devil."
Despite the weak dialogue, the insane chases satisfy, though with more CGI padding, including a chirpy GPS unit with graphics straight out of Tron — ironic considering that the first flick inspired so many slick video games, and now the series truly feels like one.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.