The Fast and the Furious

(2001) ** Pg-13
107 min. Universal Pictures. Director: John Singleton. Cast: Paul Walker, Tyrese Gibson, Eva Mendes, Cole Hauser, Chris 'Ludacris'.

The posturing, macho world of import drag racing epic The Fast and the Furious (The Young and the Restless was already taken) updates 50s hot-rodder pics, but the problem is that the stilted dialogue and style-over-substance form seem instantly dated. The admittedly melodramatic antecedent Rebel Without a Cause may be a relic, but its deep-digging emotional humanism makes it eternal. Here, director Rob Cohen is interested exclusively in his amped-up visuals and hearty, young stars.

Vin Diesel, though he's no Brando, easily steals the picture from protagonist Paul Walker; Diesel's hulking, steely presence makes his borderline malcontent an antihero. Walker plays an undercover cop investigating needlessly elaborate truck heists and insinuating himself into Diesel's world of cop-dodging races. He also plays like an unwelcome meeting of Keanu Reeves and Kevin Costner. Jordana Brewster, almost as pretty as Walker, plays his love interest, while scowling Michelle Rodriguez (Girlfight) lurks around the edges of the picture.

The Fast and the Furious is all premise, laying out the culture and ethos of street racing. Everyone wants a "ten-second car," to bust out the quarter mile. Winning is all-important, and its achieved with dangerous bursts of nitrous oxide gas, or NOS. Diesel's Dominic Toretto opines, "I live my life a quarter mile at a time. Nothing else matters. For those ten seconds or less, I'm free."

Beyond these "insights," Cohen makes a half-hearted effort to comment on the multicultural tensions of L.A. Pointedly renaming the real-life event Drag Wars "Race Wars," Cohen has Toretto and girlfriend Letty (Rodriguez) beat up the sinister Asian contingent (the Trans) on the scene. In the end, though, the film gives up any effort to make sense in favor of a few more climaxes. Hitchcock could pull off leaps in logic, but not Cohen.

Unquestionably, The Fast and the Furious offers plenty of guilty-pleasure action sequences. Cohen and his various teams of artisans succeed in raising the pulse somewhat with the drag races and willfully preposterous stunts of characters leaping onto big rigs. If you make it to the end of the picture, stick out the credits (as one always should) to see the plot continued.

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Aspect ratios: 2.35:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 3/24/2009

Distributor: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Part of Universal's new The Fast and the Furious Trilogy Blu-ray package, The Fast and the Furious looks and sounds spectacular in hi-def. The feature transfer here is impeccable, both spotless and film-like in quality, while the sound mix works up a good rattle. This fully-loaded collector's edition also offers a great set of features.

Several new bonus features grace the Blu-ray edition, including a Digital Copy on a second disc. Aside from My Scenes bookmarking and a BD-Live hookup, you''ll find two U-Control features, two featurettes, and an interactive editing suite. In U-Control, there's a Tech Specs option for stats on the hot rods and a tally of insurance damages (!) as the film proceeds; there's also a Picture-in-Picture track compiling more interviews and behind-the-scenes footage.

"Dom's Charger" (4:22, HD) finds Vin Diesel, writer Chris Morgan, picture car coordinator Dennis McCarthy, director Rob Cohen, and second unit director Mic Rodgers discussing Dom's signature hot rod.

In "Quarter Mile at a Time" (9:44, HD), archival footage, clips, and interviews with Petersen Automotive Museum Director Dick Messer, third generation street racer Geoff McNiel, stunt coordinator/second unit director Terry J. Leonard, Babe Mittry of Street Rods Forever car club, and former drag racer "Frantic" Fred Badberg tell the history of drag racing.

The Fast and the Furious Video Mash-Up allows the viewer to select  one of five music tracks and then create a video "mash-up." Through the magic of BD-Live, one can then post one's mash-up to the web.

The Blu-ray also compiles most of the bonus features from previous DVD issues. "The Making of The Fast and the Furious" (18:03, SD) is featurette gloss, with quick cuts of B-roll footage, film clips, and interviews with Cohen, Diesel, Paul Walker, Rick Yune, Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez, technical consultants Craig Lieberman and R.J. DeVera, executive producer Doug Claybourne, stunt coordinator Mic Rodgers, stunt double Mike Justus, and Matt Schulze.

A feature commentary by exuberant director Rob Cohen explains how he sees his filmic hijacking of an eighteen-wheeler as taken from John Ford's Stagecoach and notes the choice to try to freshen up the use of L.A. locations by highlighting the hills. He also explains how Universal traded stock footage to Roger Corman for use of the title he used in 1954. Cohen sounds pretty defensive at one point, calling the lifting of elements from Point Break and Donnie Brasco stealing from the best (Point Break is among the best?) and quoting box-office figures to date as proof of his pudding.

The "Deleted Scenes" (6:24, SD) make more explicit the connection between driving and sex, with one scene playing like a beer commercial, with the shirtless men lounging in the sun atop their cars, talking about their first times...driving. Another scene details the first sex between the young a car. The eight clips are presented with Cohen's commentary of why each "hit the bin." An additional five clips--with no commentary--come under the title "Hot off the Street" (4:42, SD). "More than Furious" (2:23, SD) is an alternate ending to the film.

The "Paul Walker Public Service Announcement" (:36) warns against attempting to repeat any of the driving stunts.

"For entertainment puposes only," "Tricking Out a Hot Import Car" (19:13, SD) has host 2002 Plaboy Playmate of the Year Dalene Kurtis get a how-to lesson from The Fast and the Furious technical advisor Craig Lieberman.

The "Turbo-Charged Prelude to 2 Fast 2 Furious" (6:12, SD) is an "electrifying short film" bridging the original film to its sequel.

The behind-the-scenes options include the "Multiple Camera Angle Stunt Sequence," giving the view from each of eight cameras which shot the final stunt crash and "Movie Magic Interactive Special Effects," showing the film elements and composite shots which were put together to fill out the stunt sequence.

A four-and-a-half-minute "Featurette on Editing for the Motion Picture Association of America" (4:36, SD) is a perhaps unintentionally funny look into how the MPAA holds filmmakers hostage in the editing room, trimming frames to get the ratings contractually required by their studios. It's well worth watching (plus you get to see Cohen scrawling notes longhand in a journal, using a fountain pen. Ah, genius at work.

A superfluous "Visual Effects Montage" (3:44, SD) strings together most of the effects, intercutting storyboards, animatics, blue-screen footage of the actors, and finished shots. A suite titled "Storyboards to Final Feature Comparison" (6:50, SD) lets you do just that with the first race sequence and the final stunt (you can also just peruse the storyboards). A "Sneak Peek at 2 Fast 2 Furious" (5:11, SD) features Paul Walker, Tyrese Gibson, Eva Mendes, and John Singleton.

"Music Videos" (13:11 with "Play All" option, SD) by Ja Rule, Caddillac Tah, and Saliva are included, along with a soundtrack "spot." The "Theatrical Trailer" (1:43, SD) is included, as well. 

The Blu-ray drops text features from the original DVD, including the Vibe magazine article that inspired the film, "Racer X" by Kenneth Li, and the "Production Notes" (always nice), and "Cast & Filmmakers" bios. That disappointment aside, it's a definitive special edition of the film.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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