A Rapid Week of Rage: Furious 7

Rapid-Rage-7

To celebrate the release of Furious 7 this Easter weekend, each night, I’ll watch one Fast & Furious movie and report on my findings. Join me as I follow our valiant illegal drag-racers as they tokyo drift across the various speed bumps and barricades life throws at them. Last night, I completed the set with the final film featuring our hero Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), the brand-new Furious 7. Furious 7 just opened this weekend, making it the first Fast & Furious I experienced on the big screen. As such, I wasn’t table to take notes during the movie, so my recap may be a bit briefer and less detailed than usual (but, really, that’s probably for the best, given how long my synopses were getting). This review is lousy with spoilers, so don’t read it if that matters to you.

What happens:

The latest in the Fast & Furious franchise opens in the hospital room of Fast & Furious 6′s villain, Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). His brother, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) stands at his bedside, vowing revenge. He leaves the hospital and the camera pans over the destruction the older Shaw brother has wrought during his hospital visit.

Unaware of the course of vengeance Deckard Shaw has embarked upon, the Furious team is getting back to life a quarter-mile at a time. Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) attempts to help Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) recover her lost memories by taking her to “Race Wars.” (Remember that unfortunately named desert drag race from the first movie?) In the intervening years, Race Wars has become larger and more Baywatch-esque. We also see Hector (Noel Gugliemi) for the first time since The Fast and the Furious. Letty enters a race and crushes her opponent, then is promptly congratulated by none other than Iggy Azalea (for reasons unknown). Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) is adjusting to life as a new father. Instead of a Skyline, he’s driving a minivan and dropping little Jack off at daycare. Brian’s worried wife, Mia (Jordana Brewster) confides in her brother Dominic something Brian told her: he misses the bullets of his former life.

DSS agent Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) is also living a much less exciting life, spending most of his days doing paperwork. He escorts his partner Elena Neves (Elsa Pataky) to the door and when he returns to his office, Deckard Shaw is busy extracting the profiles of Dominic’s crew from his computer. Hobbs, realizing who Shaw is, confronts him and a massive fight erupts. Elena returns to help but Shaw detonates a bomb and Hobbs must grab Elena and leap out the window with her in his arms. He lands on a car roof, and while Elena is mostly uninjured, Hobbs is hospitalized.

Fun fact: Paul Walker was the only male lead in the Fast & Furious movies allowed to have hair.

Fun fact: Paul Walker was the only male lead in the Fast & Furious movies allowed to have hair.

Dominic searches for Letty and finds her sulking in the graveyard in front of her tombstone, but he’s got a quick fix for that. He whips out a sledgehammer and offers to destroy her gravestone. (She doesn’t think that will help.) While visiting the Toretto homestead at 1327, Mia tells Dominic that she’s pregnant, again, and she again is hesitant to tell Brian. (No word of a lie, a guy a few rows up from up audibly complained, “C’mon. Not again!”) Little Jack is playing with toy cars and Brian reminds him “cars can’t fly.” (Foreshadowing!) Around the same time, Dominic receives a package from Tokyo, then a phone call: it’s Shaw, fresh from killing Han in Tokyo, calling to tell Dominic he’s coming for his crew. Dominic quickly realizes the package from Tokyo is bad news, and he pushes Mia out of the blast radius of the resulting bomb (that mostly destroys his house). Dominic then visits Hobbs in the hospital and he warns him that the person targeting his crew must be Shaw’s brother, Deckard; Deckard is a former special forces assassin who’s gone rogue, and he seems hellbent on revenge. We also learn that Hobbs has a young daughter (who knew?).

Dominic, like Jack Shephard attempted to do with his father on Lost, retrieves Han’s body from Tokyo. There he meets up with Sean Boswell (Lucas Black, reprising his role from Tokyo Drift and looking like the oldest high schooler since Luke Perry). Boswell gives Dom some personal items from the crash site, including Letty’s crucifix necklace, which Deckard left at the murder scene. They hold a funeral in Los Angeles, which brings crew members Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej Parker (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) back into our story. While Roman expresses his dismay at all the funerals he’s been attending lately, Dom notices a suspicious car rolling through the cemetery. Dominic hops into his ride and chases the car across the city. Once he corners the car in an underground pathway, Dominic realizes it’s Deckard Shaw in the other vehicle. They drive into each other, full-force, totalling their cars. Dominic and Shaw exit their vehicles, ready to fight. Dom remarks that Shaw reinforced his car’s front-end, which is like “boxing with weighted gloves.” Shaw says that he doesn’t play by rules. Also, he suggests he comes from meaner streets that Dominic Toretto, and I was like, come on. No way a dude from England came from meaner streets than Dominic Toretto!

Shaw pulls a gun on Dominic, and it’s only the arrival of covert-ops soldiers that saves his life. Shaw runs away, and the covert-ops team leader, who will only go by the name of Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell!), introduces himself. The government spook tells him he has access to a computer program (God’s Eye) that can help Dominic find Shaw in no time. But he needs Dominic’s help first: a hacker named Ramsey – the creator of this worldwide surveillance system that makes use of all cameras (kind of like The Machine in Person of Interest) has been kidnapped by a deadly mercenary named Jakande (Djimon Hounsou). During this exposition, the government agent offers Dom a Belgian ale, but he remains loyal to Corona. If Dominic and his team bring back Ramsey and the computer program in one piece, this secret government group will help them take down Shaw. Dominic informs the team that they’ll be heading into certain danger once again, and Brian vows to Mia that after this mission, he’ll dedicate himself full-time to being a father. This move is largely motivated by a little pep talk from his best bro Dominic: “The bravest thing you ever did was being a good man to my sister. Being a good father to my nephew.”

The team works with the mysterious government man and his soldiers to figure out a plan to get Ramsey the hacker back. Jakande and his team have taken Ramsey, via mobile convoy, somewhere into the Caucasus Mountains. Roman, tired of his lesser role on the crew, suggests he should be leader. And, accidentally, suggests a location for drop-off in the mountains that’s just so insane, it might work. The crew gets to work modifying their cars because they’re about to be air-dropped into the mountains. The team, each in a separate vehicle, is dropped out of a massive cargo plane, sent hurtling to the ground below. (The Fast & Furious films are now literally recreating Point Break.) As they near the ground, parachutes open and they hit the mountain road running. Well, all of them do, save Roman, who was reluctant to skydive his car and, as a result of his delay, drifts over somewhere into the woods.

Brian O'Conner, working on his cardio.

Brian O’Conner, working on his cardio.

Jakande’s convoy of heavily armed vans and one even more heavily armed bus veer along the mountain roads. Dom and Brian’s crew catches up to them and a fierce road battle ensues, during which Tej must protect the rest of the crew via his armoured car, and the team dodges bullets from all the hidden gun turrets on the bus. Eventually, O’Conner leaps into the bus and rescues Ramsey, who is a young woman (played by Nathalie Emmanuel). He basically just throws her onto the hood of Dom’s car and Dom pulls her inside. But things go downhill after that. One of Jakande’s henchmen, Kiet (Tony Jaa!), starts kneeing the stuffing out of Brian, and Shaw arrives out of woods in a Mad Max all-terrain vehicle, ramming into Dom’s car over and over again. The end result of this epic action sequence is that (a) Roman briefly saves the day by appearing out of nowhere to help Dominic as he’s pursued by Shaw, (b) the bus crashes and Brian must run along the length of a bus as it topples off a cliff, then leap onto the spoiler of Letty’s car as she swerves it near the edge of said cliff, and (c) we learn that Dominic is invincible. Surrounded by Jakande’s men (and their cars), he asks Ramsey to put a helmet on, then drives straight off a cliff like Slash in the Guns ‘n’ Roses ”

Following the daring rescue, Ramsey puts her trust in Dom’s team. She’s able to size them up pretty quickly – though Roman insists he’s the “double-alpha” instead of the team’s joker. Ramsey says she sent the flash drive with the God’s Eye program on it to a friend in Abu Dhabi. So our team heads off to the United Arab Emirates. Unfortunately, Ramsey’s friend Safar (Ali Fazal) sold the flash drive to some billionaire who wanted it for his car. (You had one job, Safar!) So, the team must infiltrate the billionaire’s penthouse (where he keeps the car) at the top of one of the Etihad Towers. Luckily, the penthouse is hosting a party the very next night, and Safar can get them in.

During the party, the team does the various things they do best: Tej and Ramsey hack the penthouse’s security, Letty fights her way into the billionaire’s inner sanctum, and Dominic lifts a very expensive car up like The Hulk so Brian can act like a mechanic and check under the car for the flash drive. (Why would it even be there?) Roman, naturally, is creating a distraction by being his loud self. But the billionaire’s people catch on: their head of security, Kara (MMA fighter Ronda Rousey) starts pounding Letty and a brutal fight ensues. Meanwhile, the security gates around the car’s room in the penthouse begin to shut. Also, Shaw arrives and starts shooting up the place. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so Dom and Brian get into the car, and drive it out into the penthouse, then punch it right through the window. Despite Brian’s admonitions that cars can’t fly, Dom drives the car through the sky and crashes onto a lower floor on a neighbouring building. Then he does it again!

Meanwhile, Brian finds the flash drive in the dash. (Where I would have looked first.) They discard the car and our team escapes. After reconnecting with Mr. Nobody, Ramsey boots up God’s Eye and they find Shaw has holed up in a remote factory. Dom, Brian, Mr. Nobody, and a small crew of special-ops soldiers attempt to capture Shaw, but they’re ambushed by Jakande and his men. (Shaw and Jakande have joined forces!) Most of the special-ops crew are killed. Kurt Russell is shot a few times, and Brian and Dom are forced to flee, abandoning the tablet that had God’s Eye installed. (Why they felt the need to bring God’s Eye with them to the factory, we’ll never know.) Kurt Russell is injured, but not too badly (bulletproof vest). As an EVAC medical team comes to pick him up in the desert, he warns Brian and Dominic that if Jakande now has the God’s Eye, he’ll use it to hunt them down. Dominic decides to take the battle to Los Angeles for the home court advantage.

Cue the Space Jam soundtrack.

Cue the Space Jam soundtrack.

The team preps for final battle, souping up cars, sawing off shotguns, and the like. Mia tells Brian about their second forthcoming child, who will be a girl. Dom’s crew then sorts out their plan: Dominic is going to confront Shaw on his own, while Brian and the rest of the crew attempt (with Ramsey’s help) to regain control of God’s Eye. The only problem, they note, is that they need to be within two miles of the God’s Eye to hack it, and Jakande and his men will be eager to kill Ramsey (as the only person who can hack their high-tech toy), so they’ll have to keep her mobile. They compare it to playing a game of hot potato. The night of the attack, three cars are running: Brian and Ramsey, Roman and Tej, and Letty. Dominic, meanwhile, drives the streets on his own, hoping to lure Shaw out of hiding. The plan works. Jakande, from a helicopter above, uses God’s Eye to find Dominic and sends Shaw after him. He then uses God’s Eye to find Ramsey, who is busy hacking into God’s Eye from her laptop.

Dominic and Shaw have a rematch of their head-on collision battle on the rooftop of an abandoned parking garage. Only this time, Dom pops and wheelie and comes crashing down on Shaw’s hood, then unloads his shotgun into the car below. Both men emerge from their busted vehicles – Dom in one of those white ribbed sweaters he likes to get bloody – and engage in more intimate combat. Shaw takes (I think) two spears of metal and Dom takes two socket wrenches and they engage in the most bad-ass sword fight since the sledgehammer battle in Streets of Fire.

Meanwhile, Jakande has sent a predator drone after Ramsey, which means Brian needs to get her out of his car. During some daring car stunt work, she leans out the car window and is pulled into Roman’s passing car by Tej. The hack of God’s Eye is just about complete when Jakande destroys the cell tower she was using, so now Brian needs to manually reroute another nearby tower. He runs into the tower’s building but is promptly attacked by his old friend Kiet, who has clearly been practicing his parkour. Hobbs, still hospitalized, sees Dom’s team in trouble on the local news. The time for recovery is over: he flexes his bicep and breaks his arm cast. Then he downs a few painkillers, loads his weapons., and takes to the streets. The driving team has to make one more trade, moving Ramsey from Roman’s car to Letty’s moments before a predator drone’s missile destroys Roman’s ride. However, the predator drone is still on Letty’s tail, and it’s only when Hobbs, driving a commandeered ambulance, drives off an overpass onto the drone, that Letty and Ramsey escape danger. Meanwhile, after some fierce fighting, Brian shoves Kiet down an elevator shaft and gets his tower online. The hack succeeds. Jakande is not happy with this series of unfortunate events, and starts shouting “What?!” repeatedly like he’s gunning for Li’l Jon’s job.

Jakande and his chopper hover over to the parking garage roof, where Dom and Shaw are still having their knock-down, drag-out fight. Jakande opens fire on both of them and the rooftop begins to cave. Dominic remarks to Shaw, “The thing about street fights … the street always wins.” Then he stomps on the rooftop and Shaw falls to his doom, the victim of yet another California sinkhole. Hobbs, meanwhile, has removed the gun turret from the predator drone and begins to hunt for the helicopter. As he tells Ramsey, “Woman, I am the cavalry.” He starts shooting at the chopper, but soon runs out of bullets. The parking garage’s integrity weakens and Dominic, taking a bag of grenades from Shaw’s car, hops into his dad’s good-old death car, and races away. But the garage is collapsing all around him. He drives up some fallen concrete, sending the car in the air. He just narrowly misses colliding with the helicopter, but manages to toss the bag of grenades on board before crashing to the ground. Hobbs, seeing his opportunity, uses his pistol and shoots the bag of grenades, exploding Jakande’s helicopter and ending the death from above.

The team goes to the crash site, finding Dominic seemingly dead. Brian and Letty desperately try CPR. (I’ll give credit where credit is due: I’m impressed that seven films in, we’ve only once seen a tearful, desperate CPR attempt!) Letty then reveals to Dom’s unconscious body, cradled in her arms, that she remembers everything. The memories came flooding back. And she remembers that she and Dom got married in the Dominican Republic before she was nearly killed. (This is news to the audience, and the rest of Dom’s crew.) We see flashbacks of the simple wedding ceremony, Dominic dressed in his cleanest white tank top for the occasion. Dominic awakes and says, “It’s about time” she remembered. When Letty asks why he never told her they were married, Dom, ever sage, says, “You can’t tell someone they love you.” Too true, Dominic Toretto. Too true.

Following Deckard Shaw’s incarceration, Dominic’s crew, which now includes Ramsey, relax on the beach. The others watch as Brian and Mia play with their son, and take time to reflect on their happiness, realizing Brian will have a better life now that he’s officially retired from all this fastness and furiousness. Dom silently slips away, but Brian catches up to him at a stop sign. As the film shows a kind of best-of reel of Brian O’Conner’s life throughout the Fast & Furious series, Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s “See You Again” plays, and Brian and Dom finally say goodbye and veer off in separate directions.

Amazingly, this is not a shot from G.I. Joe.

Amazingly, this is not a shot from G.I. Joe.

Takeaway points:

  • Make no mistake, Furious 7 ups the ante in nearly every way from previous Fast & Furious movies, making it one the most exciting action movies … maybe ever? I can think of fewer action movies quite so incident-filled. There are at least three extremely impressive and ridiculous action set pieces. You are unlikely to fall asleep during a screening of Furious 7.
  • What’s most striking about Furious 7 is the weird meta-textual element of film’s finale. As most people know, series star Paul Walker died after or near the end of the filming on Furious 7. (And, spookily, he died in a high-speed single-vehicle car crash.) The film is dedicated to him, and the post-climactic denouement, complete with moving song and Paul Walker montage, is like a kind of video eulogy to character Brian O’Conner. But the thing is: Brian O’Conner isn’t dead. He’s fine. He is allegedly retired from the racing game, but we viewers have heard that before. So the last five minutes or so of the movie are actually about Walker and Vin Diesel – not about Brian O’Conner. It’s a strange melding of fiction and reality and I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like it in any major film. This would be akin to having Brandon Lee walk off into the sunset as Sarah McLachlan plays “I Will Remember You” at the end of The Crow. I’m not saying I didn’t like it. I just thought it was a weird admission for an action film to make: that this is a movie you’re watching, and it’s filled with actors, and those actors sometimes die too young.
  • As tragic as Walker’s death is, the appearance of both Jason Statham and Kurt Russell in this movie gave me hope for the future of the Fast & Furious series. Statham is probably best known for his role in the car-based action series, The Transporter. Kurt Russell was Stuntman Mike in Death Proof. Does this mean we can expect other actors famous for car-based roles to appear in future Fast & Furious movies? Is it too much to hope that Ryan Gosling‘s driver shows up in Furious 8?
  • This film is directed by James Wan, best known for horror movies like Saw and Insidious. Of the (currently) seven Fast & Furious films, only one was not directed by a director of colour. That’s not an unimpressive feat, as directing is (sadly, still) overwhelmingly a thing mostly white guys do. As I’ve mentioned before, the cast of these action movies is also considerably more diverse than the average action movie. The Hollywood Reporter has noted that 75% of the film’s opening weekend audience in the U.S. was not white. And this makes perfect sense. Audiences are finally seeing people in action films who look like them – or more attractive versions of them – and that, combined with some incredible action, means that not just white audiences are coming out in droves.
  • The problem with casting Tony Jaa and Ronda Rousey as villains in your movie is that the audience then has to believe that people like Paul Walker and Michelle Rodriguez could conceivably best them in hand-to-hand combat. Don’t get me wrong, both Walker (R.I.P.) and Rodriguez – I have no doubt – could quickly turn me to a pulp. But when facing Ong-Bak and an MMA champion who takes about 14 seconds to defeat her opponents? I could accept the flying car more.
  • This applies to most of the Fast & Furious films, but I’m only bringing it up now: it takes some real confidence to put Tyrese Gibson, one of the most attractive men alive, in your movie and make him the comic relief. I mean, it works. I love Roman Pearce now. He’s hilarious. But that’s a bold choice.
  • Given my weak attempt at a Catholic reading of Fast & Furious 6, I was amused that the deadly device our heroes are facing was called God’s Eye. With the seventh film, having faced criminals, law enforcement, and terrorists, the Fast & Furious gang finally take on the Almighty. On Easter weekend, no less.

How fast?: When you drive a car from one building to the next through the air, that car is moving pretty damn fast.

How furious? Tony Jaa and Ronda Rousey are hench-villains in this movie. You know it’s gotta’ be furious. So furious they dropped the “fast” from the title. Hobbs busts his cast with sheer muscle, then carries around a chain gun with the ease with which I might carry a bag of groceries. Letty stomps on a guard’s back. Dom saws off the barrels of his shotgun and wields socket wrenches like katana. Is this not furious enough for you?

Favourite car stunt: There are a lot of amazing stunts (or in some cases, probably, special effects) in Furious 7. When you almost forget Brian O’Conner taking a flying leap from a plummeting bus to grab for a car’s spoiler, you know the movie is jam-packed with some solid action. However, my favourite stunt was more of a finesse move: when Brian and Roman swerve their cars just close enough to one another that Ramsey can pass through the window from one car to another. It was a thing of beauty.

Most magical soundtrack cue: The final scene of the movie is scored to a Paul Walker tribute song named “See You Again” by Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth. I dare you to fight back the tears.

Unexpected cameo: I guess Iggy Azalea (a.k.a. Igloo Australia) was unexpected, but it was nothing I’d write home about. I was honestly more excited to see faces from the past, like Hector (Noel Gugliemi) and Sean Boswell (Lucas Black), again. It’s the little references to the past, like the mention of those Mia-made sandwiches from The Fast and the Furious, that make the movies work so well as a series.

Letty, Dominic, and Roman, going full Bond.

Letty, Dominic, and Roman, going full Bond.

Bechdel Test Moment: The penthouse’s head of security, Kara, and Letty talk about both (a) whether Letty is charming enough to cause unconsciousness, and (b) how much Kara hates boring parties. I’d say we’ve finally passed the Bechdel Test, boys!

Line of dialogue that makes it clear we’re talking both about a car and the driver’s sexual organ(s): When Brian and Dominic come upon the ridiculous sports car in the Abu Dhabi penthouse, Dom says, “Nothing is sadder than locking a beast in a cage.” And when he drives the car through a wall (and eventually through several buildings), he shouts, “Time to unleash the beast!” I think we know what beast he’s talking about. The cage is definitely a zipper.

Best fashion moment: Nothing beats Roman Pearce looking like James Bond in his white tuxedo.

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A Rapid Week of Rage: Fast & Furious 6

Rapid-Rage-6

To celebrate the release of Furious 7 this Easter weekend, each night, I’ll watch one Fast & Furious movie and report on my findings. Join me as I follow our valiant illegal drag-racers as they tokyo drift across the various speed bumps and barricades life throws at them. The gang returned in Fast & Furious 6, and this time, they’re drag racing to save the world (more or less).

What happens:

Our sixth Fast & Furious instalment opens mid-race on a treacherous mountain road. The film’s constant heroes, Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) and Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) are blasting around hairpin turns in the Canary Islands, and we notice that O’Conner has traded in his black Chuck Taylors for some kind of Airwalks as his driving shoes. (What the hell, O’Conner!?) However, they’re not in the middle of another heist or racing for pink slips – they’re racing to witness the birth of Brian’s new son, Jack. Dominic warns Brian that the moment he walks through the hospital doors to see his wife (and Dom’s sister) Mia (Jordana Brewster) and his new son, everything changes. His old life will end. This is followed by a dazzling and nostalgic credit sequence that recaps the Fast & Furious films 1 through 5 (excepting 3, which happens after this film).

Agent of the Diplomatic Security Service, Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), arrives in Moscow and meets up with his new partner, Riley (former MMA champion Gina Carano), who informs him that a military caravan was attacked by some drivers who made off with some important technology within 90 seconds – a bit slower than Nicolas Cage and friends). Hobbs notes that this could only be the work of one crew, so when he walks into an interrogation room to question the one suspect they arrested from the heist, and when he looks a lot like Vin Diesel from the back, you’re confused when he has a British accent. It’s not Toretto, but instead a British goon that Hobbs knows is working for a man named Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). Hobbs engages in some old-fashioned police brutality to find out Shaw is in London.

Dominic, peacefully in bed with his now-girlfriend and former Rio cop, Elena (Elsa Pataky), wakes up early to work on an engine on the patio of his Canary Island villa. Hobbs appears out of nowhere and chides Dominic that he was rather easy to find. Dominic shoots back that he likes it in the Canary Islands as there are no extradition laws. (Sick burn.) Hobbs tells him about the Moscow job. He knows it wasn’t him, and he doesn’t want to arrest him either, but he also knows that Toretto is going to want to help him bring in the crew that did it once he sees a photo. He shows Dominic the photo of Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and says she’s been working with Shaw. Elena, an extremely understanding girlfriend, urges Dominic to help Hobbs, saying that if it were her (deceased) husband in Hobbs’s photograph, she’d jump at the chance. Dominic agrees, but Hobbs insists he needs his team as well. They’re getting the band back together!

Planning the best Sweet 16 birthday party ever.

Planning the best Sweet 16 birthday party ever.

Toretto’s team is scattered across the globe – Roman (Tyrese Gibson) is taking some attractive women to Macao in his custom It’s Roman, bitches private jet, Gisele (Gal Gadot) and Han (Sung Kang) are travelling in Asia. A surprisingly ripped Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) is acting as Caribbean Robin Hood, making ATMs explode with money. But once they get calls from Dominic, they rush to help him. Then Dominic makes a house call to Brian, Mia, and his new nephew. Brian is growing restless in his domestic life, but wants to be a good father to Jack. So when Dom shows him the photo of Letty, he’s conflicted. He worries it could be a lie – faking a photo is something he would have done when he was a cop. (You just can never trust the cops in these movies!) But if Dom is hunting Shaw, he wants in. Dom reminds Brian that he promised he’d leave this life behind, but Mia insists they both go to help Letty. She insists they are stronger when they work together (which is a pretty true mark of a great friendship).

The assembled team arrives in London to be briefed on the Owen Shaw situation. Because they’re now working for the government, they have some high-tech facilities.Shaw used to work for the U.K.’s mobility unit, which means he’s a bit of a vehicle specialist. He seems to be collecting components to build a “nightshade device,” which would disable a country’s military grid for a day – this is a device that could be worth billions. He has collected three components and there’s only one remaining part he needs. (The plot seems to be taken directly from the G.I. Joe cartoon’s “Weather Dominator” series.) Hobbs also notes that they have a chance to make their makeshift family whole again, as Letty appears to be working for Shaw. Dominic says that if his team is successful, Hobbs needs to grant them all full pardons. During all this exposition, we witness perhaps my favourite scene in the Fast & Furious movies, when inveterate snacker Roman asks fellow snack fiend Han for some of his chips, and Han notes his bag is already empty. (The snacking angle in this movies is primo.)

The member of Shaw’s team they arrested is being wired and sent back to meet with his boss, and the team and Hobbs’s men keep surveillance on the situation. But as Shaw is speaking with his henchman, the team learns the rest of Shaw’s team has staged an assault on Interpol. They race over to Interpol headquarters with only Hobbs and Dominic staying behind to keep watch on Shaw. Shaw hops in a low-riding dragster and drives off, just as the building and bridge surrounding the building explode – he’s rigged the entire area with bombs. Hobbs and Toretto hop into cars and chase after Shaw. However, Shaw’s ride has been modified into a kind of ramp car, with a metal ramp on its hood, so that he can flip over any oncoming police cars, much like something out of Robot Wars. As the chase continues, the rest of Toretto’s crew reach Interpol and are attacked by the heavy firepower of Shaw’s crew. Another member of Shaw’s group, Vegh (Clara Paget) has a second ramp car. As Toretto’s team pursues the fleeing Shaw crew, Shaw’s men shoot discs onto their cars that disrupt their computer systems, causing the cars to fly out of control. The discs put most of the team out of commission, save Brian, who cleverly shears the disc off his car’s side by sideswiping a pillar.

The two chases converge and continue into a tunnel. Brian pursues Vegh, Riley and Hobbs race after Shaw, and Toretto finds Letty and speeds after her. Vegh flips Brian’s car while Hobbs leaps onto Shaw’s dragster and is quickly shaken off. Only Dominic corner his quarry, but as soon as he exits the car to talk to Letty, she shoots him in the shoulder and drives off. (What are you doing, Letty!?)

Back at their headquarters, our heroes regroup. Dominic takes the bullet out of his shoulder himself (surely there must be someone else who could do this for him), but it’s not the bullet that hurts the most. Still, he tells Brian that Letty is family, and you don’t turn your back on family … even if they shoot you, I guess. Shaw’s team regroups as well, and Shaw is a bit struck that he’s finally found formidable opponents. One of his men has run information on Toretto’s team and finds a photo of Dom and Letty, joshing around in happier times. Letty claims she has no memory of him at all. Whether she’s telling the truth or not, Shaw wants his team to find his opponents’ weakness and exploit them. Tej is running info on the bad guys as well, and Roman remarks they look like their evil twins. Hobbs arrives to inform them that what Shaw took from Interpol was a database of all the locations where he can obtain the nightshade device’s final component. But that information will only be accurate for 96 hours. They’re on a tight timeline.

This is not a car you find on AutoMart.

This is not a car you find on AutoMart.

Han, Roman, Riley, and Gisele leave to investigate the limited number of London garages where one could get the modifications done on the ramp cars they saw. Tej and Hobbs head out on a hunt to find fast cars that don’t have electronic dashes (so those disruptors won’t work on them). And Dominic and Brian, realizing the bullet he was shot with is from a specific Russian gun purchased in a country with strict gun laws, set out to track down the pawn shop it came from to see if they can find Letty. Tej and Hobbs hit up a fancy car auction and Hobbs tries to convince Tej not to steal anything. They encounter a stuffy British auctioneer who informs them “the kitchen help entrance is at the back.” Tej, using his ill-gotten Fast Five gains, buys a bunch of awesome (digital-free) cars, then, to humiliate the condescending auctioneer, asks for his shirt and pants, as well. (The best revenge is living well … and taking someone’s shirt.) Dominic and Brian encounter some heavies when they start asking questions at the pawn shop, but who’s really any match for the dynamic duo of Brian O’Conner and Dominic Toretto?

The third portion of our team encounters a few more problems. While Gisele and Riley first try to charm, then rough up a skeevy British garage owner for information, Roman realizes that Han is totally in love with Gisele and wants to marry her. The garage owner admits he’s working for Shaw, but secretly alerts Shaw that he’s in trouble. Three of Shaw’s thugs (including Letty) arrive and they open fire on the garage office, hitting the owner. (Letty seems a bit confused, as if she didn’t know anyone was going to get killed.) Han and Roman run after one of the killers, Jah (Joe Taslim), Riley chases after Letty, and Gisele shoots the third man, Ivory, dead, then returns to check on the garage owner. While Riley and Letty get into a massive drag-out fight in Waterloo tube station, and Han and Roman attempt to best Jah in martial arts (after Jah makes short work of three police officers), Gisele gets the garage owner to give her his phone and to confess that Shaw is working with Braga (John Ortiz ), from Fast & Furious (#4)! Letty eventually shoves Riley down a staircase and escapes by subway, and Jah subdues both Han and Roman, then walks away.

When Letty returns to headquarters and tells Shaw that Ivory was killed, Shaw shows little sympathy for his dead team member. (This is bad managerial style.) Seeing Letty is upset, Shaw follows her to the garage and acts vaguely pervy and threatening, while revealing some of the hidden back story: he found Letty in the hospital and she had no memory when he conscripted her into his team. When Toretto’s team reconvenes, Gisele informs them that her old boss, Braga, is involved. Brian decides he needs to pay his old collar a visit in prison. Only one problem: Brian is a wanted fugitive and if he sets foot on U.S. soil, he’ll be arrested.

O’Conner strikes a deal with his old work nemesis, Stasiak (remember him?). Stasiak has given him a false identity to get him into prison, but he only has a short time before they figure out who he really is, and then Stasiak won’t able to help him get out. Stasiak has learned Braga is in solitary, so Brian will have to do something bad to get into solitary as well. He decides to break his former colleague Stasiak’s nose. Placed in solitary, Brian is approached that night by Braga, accompanied by two shiv-toting thugs. Braga reveals how he used to run a whole bunch of operations with Shaw’s help, and tells him what really happened with Letty: when they found out she was an undercover plant, Fenix didn’t shoot her directly; he shot her car. The resulting explosion knocked her unconscious. Shaw went to the hospital to finish the job, but once he realized she had no memory of her past life, he realized he could mould her into the perfect driver for his operation. So nefarious! The backstory explained, he opens the door and his thugs attack Brian, but Brian breaks fingers and busts skulls on his way to freedom.

Back in Merrie Old England, Dominic visits an illegal street race, which looks kind of like a Transplants music video. He finds Letty there and challenges her to a race for pink slips. “Ride or die, remember?” Dom asks, and Letty seems like maybe she does. They race through the London streets, zipping around double-decker buses and drifting around roundabouts. “This guy is crazy!” Letty marvels. Dominic wins the race and they pull over to an abandoned parking lot. In intimate conversation, Dominic tries to make Letty remember who she was. “Show me how you drive and I’ll show you who you are,’” Dominic says, making a strong case to become the Confucius of drag racing. He then tells her how she received her various scars (sexy), and reveals they have matching hip scars from their time in the Dominican. He gives her her old crucifix, hoping it stirs up more old memories. Letty says she isn’t the woman he remembers and drives off. That’s when Shaw arrives to start a pissing contest with his arch enemy.

Shaw talks about men and their codes. He notes his code is all about precision. The parts of his team are like interchangeable parts. If a part isn’t working, he’ll swap it out. Dominic’s code is loyal to a fault. He treats his team as a family, and that makes him vulnerable, Shaw notes. Shaw warns Dominic to walk away from his pursuit. If he does, he won’t hurt his family. That’s when a laser sight appears on Dominic’s chest. But the tables turn, and soon Shaw sees a laser sight on his own chest. Hobbs, who had followed Dominic, has his gun trained on the British criminal mastermind. Both men part ways. Back at his home base, Shaw questions Letty’s loyalties, but she passes her crucifix to Shaw and says he can keep it. Dominic means nothing to her.

Dom and Letty play "show me your scars and I'll show you mine."

Dom and Letty play “show me your scars and I’ll show you mine.”

After doing, like, computer stuff, Tej figures out the general vicinity of Shaw’s hideout. Riley and Hobbs investigate but find it’s been evacuated. However, Hobbs notices some paint on the ground and brings a sample back. The team is able to analyze the paint and find it’s specific to certain military bases (really?). They cross-reference this with the database of military locations where Shaw could procure his last component and realize his next target is a NATO base in Spain. Tej informs Hobbs (or “Samoan Thor,” as he calls him) the NATO base is in trouble, and Hobbs is already on the road. Hobbs and Riley soon thereafter secure the NATO base and the soldiers there catch one of Shaw’s men trying to weaken their defence systems. They decide to move the component from the base to make it safer. Brian returns from the United States in one piece and warns his team to be wary of Shaw. Braga told him Shaw only lets people close if he wants them there. Dominic and Brian then realize that Shaw’s target isn’t the base, but the convoy that will be transporting the component!

Shaw and his team roll up in black trucks and cars and commandeer the military transport. Moments later, Toretto’s team arrives in the vicinity, zooming down the other side of the freeway. That’s when Shaw literally explodes out of the front of the transport truck in a tank. So, this throws Toretto’s team’s plans for a loop. As Tej says into the walkie-talkie (yes, the walk talkies are back!), “Uh, guys … they got a tank!” Han and Gisele, on motorbikes, leap onto the truck driven by one of Shaw’s goons and take it from him. Meanwhile, the tank fires on Brian, Dominic, and Roman, all driving muscle cars. Shaw also gleefully starts running over random cars in his panzer, crushing the drivers inside, I imagine. (We do see some drivers jump out of their cars before they’re flattened, but only some.) Roman’s car gets caught in the front treads of the tank, so he cables his car to it. Brian then jumps the divider to the other side of the freeway and Roman takes a flying leap onto his car’s roof (and it looks pretty awesome). The convoy is driving over a bridge and Dominic notes that Roman’s disabled car, cabled to the tank, could make a pretty good anchor. Brian attempts to push Roman’s car off the side of the bridge and Shaw, realizing what they’re trying to do, orders Letty to cut the cable. She stands out on top of the tank just as Brian succeeds and Roman’s car anchors the tank to the sea below. Letty is thrown from the tank in the resulting hard stop, which leaves it to Dominic, who has been tailing Brian, to leap from his car across the bridge, catch Letty, and land on a car’s roof. (Realism: not Fast & Furious 6‘s strong point.)

Letty is reunited with her old friends (all it took was Dominic saving her life), and Shaw is in custody. But the story is far from over. Shaw tells Toretto and Hobbs that they’re going to give him his final nightshade component and let him walk away free. When they scoff, Shaw asks them to call Mia. Yes, two of Shaw’s goons have kidnapped Mia; Shaw exploited Dominic and Brian’s weakness: their fondness for family. Hobbs allows Dominic to let Shaw go, but says that words like “amnesty” and “pardon” are off the table. “Those words went out the day we were born,” Dominic says. Shaw drives off with his team and the component and bring along – in a twist – Riley, who was a double agent working for Shaw!

Shaw and his crew race down the airplane runway, a getaway during which he reveals his true evil: he’s going to kill Mia anyway. Dominic’s team jumps into action, and Letty decides to go with them. Our heroes close in on Shaw when a massive cargo plane lands in front of him and (still moving) opens its bay doors. Shaw drives his truck into the cargo plane first. Inside the cargo plane are his goons Vegh and the man-mountain Klaus, along with their captive, Mia. Shaw’s team members are to join him, but Han and Tej smash their cars out of the way so Dominic (with Brian and Letty along for the ride) can beat them to the plane. They drive up the ramp and run down Riley. Once they exit, they split up, battling the various Shaw members inside the cargo bay: Letty fights Riley, Dominic fights the giant Klaus, and Brian battles Shaw. (The most important thing you need to know about those match-ups is Dom does a flying head-butt at Klaus.) Hobbs eventually joins in on the plane fight (he hops onto the landing gear from Tej’s truck) and gives Toretto’s team the advantage. (He even pairs up with Dominic and the two team up against Klaus, Batman and Robin style.) Soon Brian and Mia drive out of the plane using the ramp and have a race battle with Vegh and her ramp car.

Meanwhile, Gisele has harpooned the wing of the plane and her and Han’s truck is hitched to the plane, as is the truck of Shaw’s goon. Gisele nearly falls off the truck, now dangling partway into the air, but Han grabs her. That’s when Shaw’s goon comes up behind him and, to save Han’s life, Gisele releases his hand and shoots the goon as she hurtles to the ground below. Han becomes furious rather fast after that, and tosses the goon into one of the plane’s engines. Letty, using another harpoon gun (they’re all over this movie), shoots Riley out of the plane. At this point, I realize this plane is on the longest runway in the world.

After all the harpooning and engine exploding, the plane is beginning to crash. Hobbs and Letty make flying leaps into Hobbs’s car, but Dominic stays for Shaw and the nightshade device component. As the team watches the plane crash and explode into flames, they worry that Dom has died. But then his muscle car smashes out the nose of the exploding, flaming airplane. Still, it appears he can’t outrun the explosion, and his car rolls a bunch of times. The other team members watch from the end of the runway (ah, it does have an end) in horror. Their eyes search frantically for Dominic in the explosion’s aftermath, and – of course – he emerges alive with the McGuffin in hand. He and Letty embrace. But then a tearful Mia asks, “Where’s Gisele?” and Han is so sad, it’s unbearable. Dominic hands Hobbs the McGuffin device (in a metal briefcase) and Hobbs tells him to name his price. “1327,” he answers.

1327 is the address of Dominic’s old home in Los Angeles, and next we see the Fast & Furious family, they’re at yet another barbecue. Han, still distraught over Gisele’s death, says he’s going to leave for Tokyo, and Roman and Tej banter while cooking. Hobbs arrives in Dominic’s driveway with Elena and informs the crew they’ve all been officially pardoned, and the three-way brotherly love triangle of Brian, Dominic, and now Hobbs, grows. Elena meets Letty and they both marvel at whatta man, whatta man, whatta mighty good man Dominic is. Elena will step aside, she tells Dom. “This is your family,” she says. Hers is the police force. (Which is a weird thing to say, when you remember her police department in Rio di Janeiro was universally crooked and most of them tried to kill her.) And while Letty still doesn’t remember her past, she says she feels like she’s home. Roman says grace and the credits roll.

But wait! It’s not over yet! In a post-credit sequence, we jump in medias res into Tokyo Drift (the third film). The scene recounts the chase in which Han dies, but we see it from a different vantage this time. From this new perspective, it’s not just a random car that T-bones Han while D.K. is shooting at him. Instead, that car hit him with purpose. A driver (played by Jason Statham!) emerges from the killer car and immediately calls Dominic Toretto. “You don’t know me,” he says, “but you’re about to.”

Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson), in glider mode.

Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson), in glider mode.

Takeaway points:

    • So, given the ending (and post-credit sequence) of Fast & Furious 6, it’s clear that The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift takes place after Fast & Furious 6 and before Furious 7. So, my outlandish prediction about little Jack O’Conner-Toretto’s future was incorrect. I’m not sure if the intersection with Tokyo Drift was set up by Justin Lin from the get-go – Han’s comment in the fourth movie that he might go to Tokyo makes me think it wasn’t – but the various interlocking parts of each Furious film snap together in a very satisfying manner. After all, it was kind of odd that Han’s doom came at the hand (or bumper) of an anonymous Tokyo driver.
    • Obviously, realism is not the Fast & Furious films’ strong suit. But some of the sequences really stretch believability in Fast & Furious 6. And I’m not even talking about that flying leap over the bridge where Dom saves Letty’s life. I was more incensed by Gisele’s death. Why is it that when Hobbs and Letty leap from a flying cargo plane into a jeep below, they don’t even injure their knees, but Gisele, falling from a jeep that can’t be that much higher than the plane’s cargo bay (considering it is dangling from that very same plane), dies upon impact? The plot required Gisele to die, I suppose, to get Han to Tokyo (sans girlfriend), but her death seems so outside the super-human physics established in the series.
    • I haven’t mentioned it before, but the preponderance of crucifixes in the Fast & Furious movies, as well as how Toretto insists someone say “grace” before each meal, makes it impossible to not talk about faith in the Fast & Furious movies. Despite the criminal activity Dominic Toretto regularly undertakes, he’s undoubtedly a Catholic, and one who holds that faith important. I’ll draw your attention to the speech in Fast Five when Dominic remembers his father’s barbecues: “If you weren’t at church, you didn’t get to attend the barbecue.” Family is central to Fast & Furious movies, much as it is to Catholics. And in this sixth film, Letty asks how Dominic knew there would be a car to “break their fall” when he stops her from falling off a bridge to her death. His answer: he didn’t know. He had faith. Also, the Fast & Furious saga features at least one resurrection after Letty dies for Toretto’s sins (see Fast & Furious). I don’t know enough about Catholicism to explore this angle much more, but I think a Catholic reading of the Fast & Furious saga would be very interesting. And if someone hasn’t already made a Last Supper homage featuring the Fast & Furious family at a backyard barbecue, the internet is clearly broken.
    • Most of this movie takes place in the United Kingdom, but I didn’t notice any effect that driving on the opposite side of the road had on the chases. (Our heroes regularly drive through oncoming traffic, so it’s understandable it didn’t make much difference.)
    • Though most of the Fast & Furious movies revolve around a “code” of sorts, this instalment is the first to explicitly outline Toretto’s code – one of loyalty to his extended family of misfits and adrenaline addicts – and position it in stark contrast to Owen Shaw’s ruthless, machine-like code of precision. Shaw’s code is an analog to the rule of capitalism, in which people are replaced when they become obsolete or detrimental to financial gain. Toretto’s code, and how it manifests itself in his motley, multiracial, and sometimes conflict-ridden family, reminds me most of the notion of Houses in ball culture, as seen in Paris Is Burning, with Dominic as the sole house parent. Instead of competing in realness and vogueing, they compete in illegal street races. After all, both subcultures involve drag. So, as reluctant as I was to read the loving male relationships in the F & F movies with any sort of homosexual undertone, I do believe that the saga begs for a queer reading, if only for its reinterpretation of “family” and male homosocial activity.
    • My car knowledge is growing with each Fast & Furious movie. I already knew what a Dodge Charger was, but I now realize that a Skyline is a car. (The car that Brian O’Conner typically drives.) And I no longer think someone was fired when the characters talk about racing for pink slips.

How fast?: Fast & Furious 6 is very fast. Not just in the speed of the cars, but in the rapidity of the exposition: one hour in, we’d already gone through what would be considered a full plot for most normal action movies. Also, the relative speeds of the vehicles in this movie was very confusing. I admit I’m no gear head, but should a tank be able to outrun a speeding Dodge Charger? Or, likewise, would a car have much chance keeping pace with an airplane that’s about to lift off?

How furious? The fighting in this film is pretty furious. As this series has progressed, more and more attention has been devoted to the hand-to-hand combat, with it becoming just as significant as the car chases. Consider the fury of the Riley-Letty battle in the Tube. Or Shaw’s henchman, Jah, fighting Roman and Han at the same time. And, as even-keeled as Han typically is, the death of Gisele made him plenty furious – so much so that he needed to leave the country for Tokyo. Oh, and throw her killer into a plane engine.

Favourite car stunt: The entire convoy / tank sequence on the highway and bridge is – to steal one of the film’s actor’s names – ludicrous. If I were to drill down into that scene further, the part where Brian jumps the highway divider to assist Roman, and then Roman leaps onto his speeding car’s roof, was a standout for me. Alone in my apartment, I shouted, “What?!”

Most magical soundtrack cue: Nothing struck me as particularly magical, so I’m going to select 2 Chainz and Wiz Khalifa’s “We Own It,” because it was featured twice.

Unexpected cameo: Sure, the Jason Statham appearance is, obviously, a pleasant surprise. It’s probably too much to hope he’s playing Frank Martin, transporter extraordinaire. (Frank probably wouldn’t kill Han, though.) But even more amazing: singer Rita Ora (now on screens everywhere as Christian’s half-sister in Fifty Shades of Grey) appears as the race caller at Dominic and Letty’s sexually charged drag race.

Luda looking his best while walkie-talking.

Luda looking his best while walkie-talking.

Bechdel Test Moment: I’ll hand it to Fast & Furious 6: there are way more interactions between the women in the film than in any previous Fast & Furious, though – antithetical to the Bechdel Test – they are mostly conversations about men, whether they be the shining example of manhood that is Dominic Toretto or the infant Jack. However, Riley and Letty do talk – with their fists – in the subway station. About how they’re going to kill each other and such.

Line of dialogue that makes it clear we’re talking both about a car and the driver’s sexual organ(s): “That ain’t a plane. That’s a planet.” – Roman, seeing the cargo plane land

Best fashion moment: As the Fast & Furious films increase in number, not only do their budgets improve, but their clothing gets nicer (which makes some sense in the context of the films, as all our principal characters, save government stiff Hobbs, are now millionaires). But I particularly envied Tej’s black baseball jacket. I would totally wear that. (Fast & Furious 6 also marks the return of Mia’s sun dress / cardigan combos – I guess because she’s a mother now.)

Next up: Furious 7 (2015).

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A Rapid Week of Rage: Fast Five

Rapid-Rage-5

To celebrate the release of Furious 7 this Easter weekend, each night, I’ll watch one Fast & Furious movie and report on my findings. Join me as I follow our valiant illegal drag-racers as they tokyo drift across the various speed bumps and barricades life throws at them. Last night, I witnessed the movie that brings (almost) the whole gang back together and adds Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to the hi-octane stew, Fast Five.

What happens:

Whereas Point Break was clearly the inspiration for most of the previous Fast & Furious films – with the exception of Tokyo Drift, which is the spiritual child of dance films – Fast Five is more like a car-based Ocean’s 11. Fast Five picks up exactly where Fast & Furious ended, with Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) on a bus headed to prison, and his old pal Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), and associates Leo and Santos (Tego Calderon and Don Omar, who I think have new names?), zipping down the freeway, about to stage a death-defying escape. And death-defying it is, with Brian somehow wedging his car in front of the swerving prison bus (thrown off-track by Mia), and causing the bus to flip over him with minimal damage to his own car. From news reports, we learn that – improbably – the resulting accident led to no fatalities, and the only prisoner unaccounted for is notorious street racer Dominic Toretto. Now Brian O’Conner, Mia Toretto, and Dominic are all fugitives, running from the law.

Next we see Brian and Mia, they’re driving into Rio Di Janeiro (that’s a long trip), entering a Brazilian favela. As they exit their car and walk further into the urban slums, they are slowly surrounded by gun-toting thugs. But then their old associate Vince (Matt Schulze) – remember him from The Fast and the Furious? – emerges and greets Mia with a hug. (Brian, he’s not as happy to see.) Vince is scheduled to arrive with them in Rio soon. Vince has changed a lot since the first movie. He’s matured a bit, is now married to a woman named Rosa, and has an infant boy. But what hasn’t changed is his love of high-speed robbery. He informs Brian and Mia of a high-end car theft that needs drivers and should be easy money. (Though given the set piece that follows, I’d be curious to see what Vince’s idea of difficult money is.) Meanwhile, Mia starts feeling ill, and because this is a movie, that’s a sure-fire sign she’s pregnant.

Brian and Mia reluctantly agree to the heist, which involves thieving some expensive cars from a train. Posing as tourists, they pick the pocket of a train conductor and gain access to the train car holding the vehicles. Meanwhile, Vince and the rest of his Brazilian crew drive a crazy Road-Warrior-esque truck alongside the train tracks. Brian discovers the cars are DEA seizures and starts to worry that this job may be harder than anticipated. Before he can fret too much, Vince and crew cut open the side of the car with acetylene torches and – surprise! – Dominic is with them. He hops into the train car with Vince and its hugs all around. Vince is first to take a car. He drives it out of the train car onto the flatbed of the truck running alongside the train, then is deposited onto the ground and drives off. A verbal altercation erupts between our heroes and Vince’s new guys, led by Zizi (Michael Irby), and Dom makes a quick decision to change the plans. Mia gets in the next car, and as soon as she’s on the ground, drives the other way. Zizi smells something fishy and begins to fight with Brian and Dominic. The heist goes haywire!

Dominic Toretto brings new meaning to the phrase, 'riding the rails.'

Dominic Toretto brings new meaning to the phrase, ‘riding the rails.’

The DEA (previously chilling in a passenger car) also realize they’re being robbed, so they rush to their seized cars. Brian leaps onto the flatbed truck and battles the dudes aboard, nearly losing his pretty face to a torch, while Dominic and Zizi battle it out in the train car. (At one point, Dom is hit in the back with a crowbar, but is largely unfazed.) The Road Warrior truck veers out of control (due to the battle on board) and drives straight into the side of the train, violently wedging into an empty (let’s say) car. Meanwhile, the DEA reaches the car storage section and are promptly shot to death by Zizi. While Zizi is getting his murder on, Dominic hops into the last remaining car in the train and drives it out the side of the train. Brian, trapped on a burning truck that’s stuck in a train and is about to be sheared off the train’s side by a rapidly approaching bridge, is in a bit of a tight spot. Luckily, his best bro Dominic pulls up in his silver bullet of a car. Brian leaps onto Dom’s car just before the bridge destroys the unfortunately placed truck. However, it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire: that bridge was there for a reason. Dom drives straight off a cliff. He and Brian leap from the car and plummet to the river below. Miraculously, they both survive the fall, but armed goons are waiting for them as they emerge on the riverbank.

Next we see our heroes, they’re dangling from chains in some sort of cartel dungeon. Corrupt Brazilian business magnate, Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), arrives and wants to know but one thing: where is the car that Mia took? He leaves after making some vague threats, and, left alone with but two thugs, Brian and Dominic escape pretty handily. They reconnect with Mia at a designated safe house, but Vince has yet to arrive. Mia warns her two best guys that the DEA agents’ deaths are being blamed on them, which has taken their fugitive status up to public enemies numbers one and two. There’s no way the DEA is going to take it easy on them. And she’s right, because in the next scene, we see who the DEA has put in charge of hunting Brian and Dominic down: a hulking, heavily armed man named Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) who arrives at a Brazilian airfield and starts barking orders like “make sure you’ve got your fun-derwear on” and “stay the fuck out of my way.” Most importantly, though, he warns his team to never, ever let the two fugitives get into cars.

Vince finally arrives at the safe house (way late), and Brian’s distrust of him grows. They realize there’s something in Mia’s car that Reyes wanted, but they can’t figure out what it is. In downtown Rio Di Janiero, Reyes lectures some random businessmen about his work in the favelas, comparing his efforts to the colonization of Brazil by the Portuguese (strangely, as if this would be endearing). In short, instead of brutalizing the favela populace, he brings them small gifts from a better life, which (in his mind) means they owe him for life. That night, Dominic walks in on Vince removing a microchip from the stolen car. Vince knew what the car had the whole time and wants to return it to Reyes to set things right. But Dominic, feeling the hot sting of betrayal, shouts at him to get out. Vince stabs back, accusing Dominic of ruining their “family” when he started listening to Brian: “Look at our family now! Where’s Letty, Dom? Where’s Letty?” Vince leaves, and our remaining heroes discover the microchip is, in fact, a delivery schedule for Reyes’s secret drug operations. But then they realize, it’s more than that. The quantities involved are way too big: this isn’t low-level distribution; the chip reveals where the dealers pick up their stashes.

Back with the DEA, Hobbs takes on a local rookie officer as a translator, Elena Neves. When she wonders why she was chosen, and not a more experienced officer, Hobbs notes that because her husband (a former officer himself) was killed by criminals in the favela, she is both extremely motivated and can’t be bought by the criminal underworld. (There’s that trademark F & F distrust of the law, even from a lawman.) Soon, the DEA uncover the location of Brian, Dominic, and Mia. But they’re beat to the punch by Reyes’s gang. Our heroes flee, leaping across favela rooftops, as the DEA and Reyes’s goons spray each other with bullets. The translator, Elena, finally catches Toretto, but as she’s calling him in, a thug shoots at her and Dominic quickly protects her from the gunfire. After jumping from some unlikely heights, Dominic, Mia, and Brian escape through a sewer culvert. That’s when Mia reveals to her boyfriend and brother that she’s pregnant. They have a heartfelt group hug and continue their escape.

Hobbs and Elena learn that 'this is Bra-ZILL!!!'

Hobbs and Elena learn that ‘this is Bra-ZILL!!!’

In the aftermath of the favela ambush, Elena finds the crucifix Dominic wears. She then expresses her doubts to Hobbs as the DEA combs the evacuated safe house. She doesn’t think O’Conner and Toretto killed the DEA agents; that’s not their M.O. Hobbs, who lives a more worry-free life, says that they’re just names on a list and she shouldn’t worry about whether they did it or not. The DEA discovers the abandoned (and vivisected) car is connected to a businessman named Reyes, and Elena informs them that Reyes alleged to be connected to nearly every shady dealing in the city. Hobbs orders his team to reassemble the car: the three fugitives took it apart for a reason, and he wants to know why.

While Mia sleeps, Brian and Dom discuss their daddy issues. Dominic’s dad held regular barbecues and helped Mia with her homework every night. But he was also killed in a car crash, so he wasn’t perfect. Conversely, Brian’s dad was entirely absent, and Brian worries about what kind of father he’ll be to his future child. Dominic realizes that the microchip could set them up for a final job that would score them enough money to disappear forever. This could be the perfect thing for Brian and Mia’s new family. However, if they’re going to go up against the most powerful man in Brazil, they’re going to need a team. (Yeah, they are!)

And so, a Fast & Furious all-stars edition is assembled in Rio Di Janiero. Returning to the F & F family are the ever-snacking Han (Sung Kang), Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), the Spanish-speaking duo of Leo and Santos, and Braga’s former henchwoman, Gisele (Gal Gadot). The convergence of all these fast and furious drivers leads to some hilarious interactions. I especially enjoyed when Roman asked Tej, “When you gonna’ give Martin Luther King his car back?” and when Roman and Dominic silently size each other up. (I couldn’t help think of the Seinfeld episode where George meets “the summer him.”) Brian and Dominic outline their ambitious Ocean’s 11 strike on Reyes’s operation. Roman is immediately spooked: “You bring us to another country so we can rob the dude who runs it?” But when he learns that there’s $100 million at stake, with a cut of $11 million each, he’s sold. Han wisely advises that as soon as they hit one of the locations, Reyes will triple protection at all the other locations. “Exactly,” Dominic cryptically intones.

The team raids the first drug production house, barging in with machine guns and rounding up all the workers. Once they’ve assembled all the people and money at the location, the team unmasks themselves and lights the pile of money on fire. “You tell your boss exactly who did this,” Dominic growls. The DEA, having reassembled the car, can’t figure out what was taken. (It seems to run fine.) Hobbs, disappointed in his team, simply turns on the dash computer and finds a computer error. They took some sort of computer hardware. When they receive word that one of Reyes’s properties was robbed, Hobbs and Elena are certain its their fugitives: “Who else would be stupid enough to rob Reyes?”

Reyes, falling right into the Furious team’s trap, hears about the destruction of the money and orders his crew to take all the money out of his properties and consolidate them in one vault. Toretto’s team, each member monitoring a different Reyes location, follow the money and realize, just as they expected, it is all being pooled in one location. The only trouble is, that one location is a police station! While most of the team worries their mission just got a whole lot more impossible, Dominic says it doesn’t change anything. They’re still doing the job.

Reyes arrives at the police station to check on his money, and at the same time orders the paid-off police to do a better job handling this Hobbs guy from the DEA. (The DEA killed sixteen of his men in the favela, so he’s unimpressed with their handling of the situation.) Our heroes need to do some reconnaissance on the police vault, so Roman, as the smoothest-talking of the bunch, tries to charm his way into the evidence room. It fails, but he is able to leave a banker’s box with evidence, which (unbeknownst to the police) contains a remote-control car mounted with a video camera. Tej knows a lot about safes (apparently), and worries about the quality of the vault inside the police station. But the plan is in action: Leo and Santos cause a sewage issue at the police station, then pose as maintenance workers to gain access to the police garage and cameras. As the team studies the garage, they realize they’re going to need cars that turn more quickly if they’re going to escape from the station without showing up on camera. And then we’re back to basics, with Brian and Dominic street racing for pink slips.

The team sets up a test track (similar to the police station garage), and then attempt to race the test track and not appear on any of the security cameras. (No easy feat!) When Han sees Gisele driving, he immediately falls in love. Still, no car seems fast enough. Han, Leo, and Santos find Tej a duplicate of the police safe to test on, which is a huge help, but Tej warns that they’ll still need Reyes’s palm print to open the safe. This looks like a job for Han, but Gisele volunteers to go along with him. (Does this look like a love connection, or what?) While stalking Reyes at one of his resorts, Gisele and Han get to talking (and we learn Han snacks so much because he quit smoking!). Gisele uses her feminine wiles (and bikini) to infiltrate Reyes’s inner circle and get a palm print from the man himself squarely on her bikini bottom. Mission: accomplished. But it’s not all sunshine and roses. Mia informs the team that the DEA tracked all of Toretto’s known associates coming into Brazil, and there are now warrants out for everyone. It’s time, Dominic realizes, to send Hobbs a message.

Dominic and friends begin partying in plain sight, hanging with the massive crowds at a street racing hub. Hobbs and his DEA team appear and pull guns on Toretto and crew. That’s when Dominic cockily informs Hobbs of his mistake: “Thinking you’re in America. You’re a long way from home. This is Bra-ZILLLL!!!!” (He shouts this like Alex Trebek over-pronouncing a non-English clue on Jeopardy!) Everyone in the crowd then pulls guns on the dozen or so DEA agents, and they reluctantly skulk away. Little do they know that electronics man Tej was hiding a tracker on Hobbs’s truck while all this was happening. When Elena returns to her home, Dominic is waiting for her. He throws her against the wall and takes the crucifix from her neck. Elena eventually realizes the crucifix must have belonged to someone important (Letty, obvi), and Dominic realizes Elena is one of the very few good cops (her husband died; she stays in the favela to make life better). They reach an understanding and, seeds of a romance planted, Dominic scurries off into the night.

Okay, back to the heist: Han doubts there’s any way they can drive fast enough to avoid notice in the police garage. “We need … invisible cars,” he sighs. This leads to an idea: Dominic, Brian, Han, and Roman break into the police parking lot and steal four police cruisers (which would be totally inconspicuous in a police parking garage). Unable to resist, they drag race the cop cars. Since – pending the successful operation of their heist – they’ll soon be millionaires, they race for a million-dollar quarter mile. (This series is a cautionary tale about inflation; they were happy with $2,000 in The Fast and the Furious.) O’Conner just barely squeaks by Dominic, and he’s so overjoyed that he’s finally beaten Dominic, it’s adorable. But Han and Roman are pretty sure Dom let off the throttle at the end. “He let you win,” they say.

Forget King Kong vs. Godzilla.

Forget King Kong vs. Godzilla.

Mia, shopping for supplies at the market, is ambushed by Vince (!). But not to worry: he’s actually saving her from some of Reyes’s thugs who have come looking for her. He brings Mia back to the safe house, and Dom welcomes him back to the family with a celebratory barbecue. During this barbecue, the crew talk about what they’ll do with the money – “So that’s your dream? To start a day job? That’s stupid.” – and the whole team learns Mia is expecting. But the good times are short-lived. They hear (from police-band radio) that Hobbs is on the other end of the city, so they think it’s their opportunity to start the heist. But it’s a trick, and Hobbs and the DEA show up in the crew’s staging ground when only Vince, Mia, Brian, and Dominic are on-site. (Apparently, Hobbs discovered the tracker and “flipped the receiver” – is that a thing?) A big man fight ensues with Dominic and Hobbs pounding on one another and tossing each other into walls. (It was impressive that a man The Rock’s size can do a kip-up.) Brian, Mia, and Vince are apprehended, and only Dom and Hobbs are left brawling. Dom gets the upper-hand on Hobbs and is just about to bash his skull in with a socket wrench when he stops short and surrenders. Our four heroes are arrested and tossed in the back of the DEA’s armoured van.

While transporting the fugitives, the DEA are ambushed by Reyes’s thugs, who have set up a trap for them in the favela. Hobbs and the DEA leave Elena with the fugitives in the truck and start firing automatic weapons into the buildings all around. However, gunfire and grenades kill Hobbs’s entire team. Injured by an explosion, Hobbs falls to the ground and Reyes’s men converge on him. That’s when the cavalry arrives: Elena has freed the fugitives and they find guns and start shooting the hell out of Reyes’s goons. Dominic offers Hobbs his hand and the following arm grab / handshake (shades of Arnold and Carl Weathers in Predator) is so meaty it’s nearly pornographic. They pull Hobbs back to the armoured van and escape the favela. Vince, however, wasn’t so lucky. He’s been shot in the stomach, and with his dying breath, tells Dominic, “You’ve gotta’ meet my son, Nico. We named him after you.”

After all the bloodshed, Dominic still wants to finish the job. But Reyes is on high-alert and heavily armed, so everyone else isn’t so keen. Hobbs is the first to volunteer for the job: he wants to ride with Toretto … at least until they nail Reyes. And soon, everyone is in. The job has changed, though: they lead a full frontal assault on the police station, smashing through walls and opening fire on police officers. (But I guess they’re corrupt police officers, right?) Dominic and Brian, the two most expert drivers, attach cables to the Reyes vault and literally pull it out of the wall and drive away with it thudding behind them. Soon, the entire police force is following that runaway vault. The following epic car chase is one of the more bonkers and destructive things committed to film since The Blues Brothers. (I kind of worry they just devastated part of Rio Di Janeiro and left it.)

Steering while attached to a massive vault (which is in turn being pulled by a second car) can be difficult, so Dominic and Brian end up destroying a few banks and the like while on their wild chase. Han and Roman, disguised as police officers in police cruisers, arrive and drive a few of the cop cars off the road, buying our heroes a little bit of time. But it isn’t long before more police arrive, as well as Reyes himself, being driven by his second-in-command, Zizi. Dominic and Brian realize there are too many police; they’ll never outrun them. Dominic cuts Brian’s cable loose, then turns around, driving straight into the onslaught of police cars. He weaves his muscle car around, turning the vault into some kind of monstrously heavy whip, totalling police cruisers left and right, at one point shearing off one’s roof. Just as he reaches close to Reyes’s car, Dominic leaps out and sends his car into a headlong collision.

Before driving, you want to make sure your trailer is properly attached.

Before driving, you want to make sure your trailer is properly attached.

As Dominic gets to his feet, a bloodied Zizi emerges with a gun. But he’s quickly shot down by Brian, who disobeyed Dominic’s orders to keep driving with the vault in order to help his best friend. (It’s what bros do, right?) Hobbs then rolls up in his armoured van, casually shoots dead Reyes, who had been writhing around on the road, and tells our two fugitives that they’ve earned twenty-four hours. They have to leave the safe of money there, but he’ll give them a day’s head start before he starts pursuing them again. “Toretto,” Hobbs says as Dominic departs, “I’ll see you soon.” “No you won’t,” he says, and flashes that 100-watt Vin Diesel smile.

Moments later, Hobbs takes a look at the vault and realizes it’s completely empty. A flashback reveals what happened. During that short window when police weren’t pursuing them (thanks to Han and Roman), they loaded the safe into a garbage truck (piloted by Gisele, Leo, and Santos), and replaced it with the duplicate safe that Tej was practicing on. Hobbs, realizing he’s been duped, can only chuckle. Back at another safe house, Tej successfully opens the safe and more money than anyone has ever seen before spills out.

The denouement that follows features the various team members spending their hard-stolen money. Leo and Santos hit the casino. Roman and Tej (who does open a garage) buy identical rare sports cars. Han and Gisele (now a couple) make out while driving through Europe (it’s on someone’s bucket list, I’m sure). Because he’s a mensch, Dominic leaves Vince’s widow Rosa a massive sum of money, and when we next see him, he’s at a secluded beach house with his new steady Elena, his very pregnant sister, and his sort-of-brother-in-law. Brian and Dominic talk about going for a race, and the credits roll – but we’re not done yet! In a post-credit sequence, customs agent Monica Fuentes (Eva Mendes), delivers a file to Hobbs in his office about a recent hijacking. “Toretto?” he asks. It’s not, but she insists he’ll be interested. He finds a surveillance photo of Letty, and Fuentes asks, “Do you believe in ghosts?” Which means there’s going to be a Fast & Furious 6, and it may or may not involved haunted cars.

Fast Five, with one of the most racially diverse Ocean's 11 in film history.

Fast Five, with one of the most racially diverse Ocean’s 11 in film history.

Takeaway points:

    • As the Fast Five team trained for their big heist, I came to the realization that in an action movie with at least a dozen principal characters, a very small percentage (two) are white. Fast Five features – without a doubt – the most diverse cast of any recent action movie, at least in terms of cultural background. (I’ll admit the series is extremely dude-heavy, and homosexuality doesn’t seem to exist in the Fast & Furious universe.) And it’s all overseen by a director of colour (Justin Lin, again). This aspect – that Fast & Furious movies are movies that reflect the cultural diversity of North America and/or the world – is something that the Fast & Furious movies don’t get a lot of credit for … or they’re only starting to get credit for. Compare how Joss Whedon’s projects are viewed (politically) to something like The Fast and the Furious. Yet take a look at the principal cast of The Avengers. Or even The upcoming Avengers : Age of Ultron. Aside from Samuel L. Jackson, you could use the same cast to remake The Believer.
    • The return of Han (Sung Kang), as well as his comment near the end to Gisele that he’ll get to Tokyo later, makes one wonder: when does Tokyo Drift happen? Since Han dies in Tokyo Drift, it must take place after Fast Five. But how many months or years after? Outlandish theory: could Sean Boswell be the future son of Mia Toretto and Brian O’Conner? Lucas Black looks like he could come from that genetic material, right? And Mr. Boswell could just be an older, beat-down-by-the-world Brian O’Conner. (He does like cars.) Han just ages well and obviously takes Sean under his wing because he’s his old friend’s son. (We never see Han and Mr. Boswell meet.) Tokyo doesn’t appear overly futuristic in the third movie (save the police officers’ uniforms), but I’m not ruling this out as a possibility. Either way, each movie that features Han is tinged with some sadness, as audiences know he is not long for this world.
    • Fast Five features the first direct metaphor of villain as colonizer. We’ve had villainous cartel leaders and villainous gangsters and even some villainous police, but I believe this is the first villainous respectable (to the uninformed) businessman. And that businessman explicitly cites the colonization of South America as his ideal business model. In his brief (and kind of out-of-nowhere) monologue, he posits (as many economists and political theorists have before) that capitalism and (even more controversially) philanthropy are the new colonialism. If this doesn’t beg for a post-colonial reading of Fast Five, I don’t know what does.
    • In Fast Five, we see how the distrust of police seen in every previous film has become active aggression against the police. The police officers in Fast Five are all under the thumb of Reyes, and so, audience members are meant to think nothing of our heroes firing machine guns at police officers or causing their brutal vehicular manslaughter. The film seems to suggest that this is indicative of life in Brazil (let’s remember Dominic’s announcement to Hobbs that he’s not in America anymore), but I think that’s (a) unfair to Brazil, and (b) too fair to the police forces in the United States. Nevertheless, the increased animosity towards legal authorities in Fast Five is in keeping with the series, and in keeping with its message that the bro code (as embodied by Dominic Toretto) is the only law that need be adhered to.
    • Two random thoughts that don’t really connect to anything larger: (1) I really thought Vince was going to betray the gang once he reappeared near the end. He just seemed so skeezy. I guess I should have known to trust Toretto’s judgment. (See above.) And (2) I couldn’t figure out why I suddenly loved Roman Pearce in Fast Five. I really resented him in 2 Fast 2 Furious, but I couldn’t get enough of him in Fast Five. Any explanations you readers can offer are much appreciated
    • More than anything, I love how the Fast & Furious movies are bringing walkie-talkies back. I haven’t seen this much good walkie-talkie banter since Smokey & the Bandit.

How fast?: Faster than a speeding locomotive, at the beginning. And let me put it this way: one of the key plot points of Fast Five is the team attempting to drive a car so fast that it doesn’t appear on any of a parking garage’s security cameras. So, faster than security camera’s frame rate. Is that fast enough for you?

How furious? Fast Five has some definite fury. The hand-to-hand combat between Dominic and Hobbs was extremely intense, but Dominic hesitates before killing Hobbs with a wrench, so he’s become better equipped to contain his fury, I suppose. That said, for the fifth film, they dropped the “furious” from the title, so the real focus is on speed.

Favourite car stunt: It’s not one stunt, but the final chase through the streets of Rio is a thing of destructive beauty. Like Kali, the Goddess of Destruction herself. I wasn’t sure they could top that train sequence, but I think they managed.

Most magical soundtrack cue: As the safe opens at the end of Fast Five, “Danza Kuduro,” by Don Omar (Leo himself!), starts playing over top the money reveal and the following financial misadventures of the various team members, and it’s a joyous end cap to a (mostly) successful bank job.

Unexpected cameo: I really didn’t expect to see Eva Mendes reappear in the Fast & Furious series.

Fashion plate Han Lue, enjoying a post-barbecue snack.

Fashion plate Han Lue, enjoying a post-barbecue snack.

Bechdel Test Moment: For the first time in Fast & Furious history, two women speak to one another, and not about men! At the very beginning, Mia and Vince’s wife Rosa talk about whether Mia is pregnant. The very following line of dialogue is about whether Mia has told Brian about the pregnancy, but I’m still going to count this as a sad little victory.

Line of dialogue that makes it clear we’re talking both about a car and the driver’s sexual organ(s): “That monster has never seen a set of tail lights, ever.” – Dominic, on his muscle car. (I don’t know what tail lights could mean in this context, but it sounds lewd.)

Best fashion moment: Though there’s no denying Roman Pearce looks good in his sharkskin suit at Fast Five‘s finale, Han Lue’s fashion game is the most adept of any of our driverly Ocean’s 11. The particular standout is his pink button-down shirt worn during the family barbecue.

Next up: Fast & Furious 6 (2013).

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A Rapid Week of Rage: Fast & Furious

Rapid-Rage-4

To celebrate the release of Furious 7 this Easter Sunday, each night, I’ll watch one Fast & Furious movie and report on my findings. Join me as I follow our valiant illegal drag-racers as they tokyo drift across the various speed bumps and barricades life throws at them. Today, we cover Fast & Furious, the fourth in the series and the return of the first film’s principal cast. (It also has a title that is identical to the first film, save for a few missing articles.) As the poster tagline said, “New model. Original parts.”

What happens:

Fast & Furious begins with Dominic Toretto‘s (Vin Diesel’s) newly assembled team doing what they do best: hijacking trucks in the Dominican Republic. Toretto’s new crew is considerably more culturally diverse than his gang in The Fast and the Furious. Gone are Vince and Leon, replaced with the Latin-American duo of Tego (Tego Calderon) and Don Omar (as himself), as well as a mystery woman named Cara (Mirtha Michelle) and, from Tokyo Drift, Han (Sung Kang)! Han’s appearance behind the wheels places the fourth movie before the third, chronologically. A multi-tanker oil truck is driving along a treacherous stretch of rocky mountain pass when Toretto’s team, driving two to a vehicle, rolls up on it. Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) kisses Dominic and leaps from the car onto the trailer. She makes her way to the hitch and sprays it with some sort of liquid nitrogen. Meanwhile, Han makes a rapid 180 with his truck and reverses into the trailer, while his partner, Cara, runs to the truck flatbed and hitches the tanker to Han’s truck. Letty then smashes the now-frozen hitch with a hammer and Han drives away with a tanker full of petroleum. Pretty slick heist.

Tego and Don Omar move in to do the same with the truck’s second tanker when the trucker gets wise. He smashes into Dominic’s car – sending Letty scrambling and her hammer onto the road – and begins firing a pistol at them. At this point, Tego and Don Omar’s truck is already linked to the trailer, so Dominic orders Letty to spray the hitch. “I lost the hammer!” she yells. But Dominic Toretto doesn’t need a hammer. After Letty sprays the hitch, he smashes into it with his car, releasing the tanker car. By this point, the trucker realizes he’s driving too fast and the truck is on a collision course with a tight curve. He jumps from the vehicle. Letty must then leap onto Toretto’s hood while he outruns the driverless truck. The truck, running into the turn, crashes, and Dominic and Letty have to perfectly time a rapid escape: at the last second, they speed under the flaming tanker bouncing down the hill.

Any heist you can walk away from is a successful heist, so the team celebrates at a beach party. Dominic divvies up the money from the job, but Han is in no mood to celebrate. Looking pensive (and snacking, obviously), he warns Dominic that the authorities know too much about them, and he worries they’ll be caught soon. He can’t work on another job with Dom, and intimates he might drift over (my words) to Tokyo. Dominic then approaches his steady lady, Letty, reclining like mermaid on the beach. Dominic knows the authorities are after him (or he just learned from Han they are), and doesn’t want Letty to get caught with him. Letty thinks this is ridiculous (after all, she’s a pretty bad-ass truck hijacker, too), and tells him not to worry. They start making out on the beach, but that night, in a classic Spider-Man/James Bond/every tortured male hero move, he walks out on Letty, leaving her asleep in bed beside her cut of the heist.

Then we jump to the City of Angels, where Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker, no longer dressed like a skater, but in a suit) is in a foot chase with some perp through the crowded streets. At some point, the chasee knocks down a random security guard, takes his gun, and begins to fire into a crowd. O’Conner pursues the crook into a building and corners him on the roof. The perp, however, is waiting for him, gun trained on the rooftop doorway. But he doesn’t expect Brian O’Conner to jump through a nearby window, knocking both of them off the roof and two storeys down onto a car roof below. Holding a gun to the perp’s face, he shouts, “Give me a name!” That name: David Park.

Brian O’Conner is now working for the FBI. He shows up for a meeting and his superior, Penning, chides him for his little stunt downtown, but O’Conner notes his actions got results. Another agent, Stasiak (Shea Whigham), is unimpressed, given how many David Parks there must be in Los Angeles, a city with a large Korean-American population. The FBI is attempting to crack down on drug cartel leader Arturo Braga. The cartel is recruiting street racers (aren’t they always), and David Park is their connection. In a line of exposition that demonstrates the brilliant simplicity of Fast & Furious, O’Conner notes, “We find Park, we find the bad guys.”

Michelle Rodriguez, surfing on a car hood, like a boss.

Michelle Rodriguez, surfing on a car hood, like a boss.

Dominic Toretto, meanwhile, has been laying low in Mexico. But he receives a phone call from his sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster) that Letty has been murdered! O’Conner and the FBI, also looking for Toretto, keep watch over Letty’s funeral (historically, the funeral attended by the sweetest rides), hoping he’ll make an appearance. However, Toretto stays out of their line of sight and mourns from a distant hilltop. He later returns to his house, the old Toretto homestead, to see his sister. During a tearful reunion, Mia warns Dominic their house is probably under surveillance. She also shows him his old Dad-haunted muscle car, which Mia says Letty had been fixing up. “It’s like she knew you were coming back,” Mia says. Dom asks to see the crash site.

Dominic walks through the skid marks on a lonely stretch of highway, recreating the scene in his mind as if he were, like, Will Graham in Hannibal or Willem Dafoe in Boondock Saints. From some powder burns, Dom is able to determine (a) Letty was shot after the crash, and (b) the other car involved used nitro methyl, and only one mechanic in Los Angeles sells it. Brian, meanwhile, sits alone in his car, reading through the various records of the dozens of David Parks in Los Angeles that his partner Trinh (Liza Lapria, one of my favourite character actresses of all time) assembled, and eating a burrito of sadness. While that’s happening, his fellow FBI agent, the dickish Stasiak, brings in Mia to interrogate her about whether her brother is back in town.

While Dominic menaces the nitro-meth-selling mechanic, Brian reconnects with his old flame, Mia. Brian takes Mia out of the FBI office almost as soon as Stasiak brings her in. Across town, Dom is holding an engine block over the weasel mechanic’s head with one arm (Vin Diesel is a monster!), threatening to let go unless he tells him who he did the nitro meth upgrade for. The answer: he modified a green Torino for David Park. (But, as we learned earlier, there are a lot of David Parks in Los Angeles. It couldn’t be the same guy, could it?) Over lunch, Mia and Brian don’t exactly rekindle their old-time magic. Brian warns her to stay away from Dom, and Mia lashes out at him, wondering if that’s all he has to say after so many years and after lying to her about being a cop. She asks him why he let Dom go all those years ago, and he can’t answer. Mia storms out and Brian, I guess, finishes another meal in utter despair.

Thanks to Trinh pulling the vehicle registration of some of the most likely David Parks, Brian figures out which David Park is his suspect by seeing which one has the most awesome car. However, as he arrives at Park’s apartment, Dominic Toretto has Mr. Park dangling out his window by his leg. Dom wants to know who owns the green Torino, and Park starts blubbering about some mysterious race. Brian comes up behind this tableau and draws his gun, telling his old frenemy Dom to put Park down. He tells him that Park is just a means for the FBI to get to Braga. So now, Dominic has another name. He drops Park and Brian runs to his rescue. While he’s pulling Park in through the window, Dominic escapes.

O’Conner returns to the FBI where he’s immediately confronted by Stasiak, enraged he let Mia go. O’Conner, showing some of that furiousness of the movie’s title, smashes Stasiak’s annoying face into a wall and Penning has to break it up. After a stern warning, Penning informs Brian, Stasiak, and Trinh of the good news: Campos (John Ortiz), Braga’s second-in-command, is holding a race in Koreatown to find a new driver. Braga has already selected three drivers, but he needs a fourth. David Park, cooperating with the FBI, can get O’Conner into that race. Brian picks a car from the FBI’s impound lot and promptly begins modifying it. As an additional modification, he also has to include an FBI tracking device. Dominic Toretto is also hard at work modifying his own car. He’s planning to race for that driver spot in Braga’s operation, as it will bring him one step closer to Letty’s killer in the green Torino.

Both O’Conner and Toretto arrive for the race (awkward), and they’re promptly greeted by one of Braga’s new drivers, a mouthy guy who looks like David Spade in a cowboy outfit. Campos, driving golf balls into a netting over the parking lot, tells the assembled drivers the rules of the race and what they’ll be doing for him. His assistant, Gisele (Gal Gadot) contributes additional background. When Dominic asks what they’ll be driving, Campos says they don’t need to know. Dom shoots back with some car wisdom: “You said you wanted real drivers. A real driver knows exactly what’s in his car.” One of the other drivers, an anxious guy who speaks in Chris-Tucker-like tones, asks who’s closing the streets off. Campos’s answer: no one. They’re street racing on the busy Los Angeles streets tonight! They get the directions on dashboard GPS and race off, at many times driving headlong into oncoming traffic. Brian, you’ll be happy to know, is still rocking the black Chucks as he jams the pedal to the metal. Two of the other drivers quickly get into horrible accidents. Brian, meanwhile, gets knocked way off-course and must drive through a fence and down a hill to get back onto the highway. The nervous guy from earlier tries to ram Dom’s muscle car, but Dom brakes hard and sends the other driver rolling over the edge of an overpass. Then it’s just Brian and Dom.

It's always a good time at the club when Campos is around.

It’s always a good time at the club when Campos is around.

Brian starts gaining on Dom in the straightaway, but Dom bumps him at the last minute, causing Brian’s car to spin out. Dom has won the driver spot in Braga’s organization, totally ruining Brian’s undercover operation. He jumps out the car, outraged that Dom bumped him. “I didn’t realize there were any rules,” Dom growls. Interestingly, though, Dominic does not reveal that Brian is an FBI agent to Campos, nor does Brian tell Campos that Dominic is joining their organization just to get revenge. (Bro code and all, I guess.) However, Brian has a Plan B. The FBI break into the home of the David Spade guy – busy engaging in some foot fetish play with some young ladies – and plant crystal meth in his house. The charges won’t stick, Brian explains to a fellow agent, but Braga will need a new driver. And who else would he choose but the race’s runner-up?

Brian and Dominic arrive at Braga’s club to meet with Campos, who begins to realize the two drivers must know each other. “He used to date my sister,” Dominic explains. “You’re a lucky man,” Campos says to Brian. “You’re still alive.” Then Dominic flashes that big charming smile we all love. Campos leaves them to enjoy the club, and our two heroes start snooping. Brian follows Campos and spies on a secret back-room meeting between him and (probably) Braga. Dom, meanwhile, finds the garage and a green Torino inside. There, he again encounters Gisele, who says that the car belongs to Fenix. (Not the city of Phoenix.) Gisele starts flirting with Dom pretty fierce, and asks him what kind of woman he goes for. Dominic then delivers a monologue about his perfect woman, straight out of some sort of hybrid of Top Gear and The Bachelor: “20% angel, 80% devil.” When Gisele remarks that this woman doesn’t sound anything like her, Dom confesses, “It ain’t.” (Awww, he’s still in love with Letty!)

Brian O’Conner returns to the FBI with some glasses that may have Braga’s fingerprints. While Trinh starts running the prints against international databases, Brian gets his first work call from Braga. He races over to the meeting point, a secluded garage, but it quickly becomes clear that Braga’s goons are scanning all the drivers’ cars for tracking devices. O’Conner desperately (but, like, causally) rips out the FBI scanner from his gearshift and dumps it into a can of NOS in the cup holder. Or maybe it’s NOS-flavoured soda? (It was unclear.) Disaster temporarily averted, all the drivers and their cars are loaded into a truck and driven to parts unknown. When they’re dumped out of the trucks, they find themselves in Mexico. Gisele, who ferried them here, tells them to drive and connect with Fenix (a.k.a. Letty’s killer), who will provide the drug haul and lead them through a blind spot along the American border. “Vaya con dios,” she tells Dominic, maintaining the spiritual Point Break connection.

The drivers race through the desert, meet up with Fenix, who drives them through a secret tunnel through the mountains. This tunnel conceals them from the border patrol, but it’s a dangerous old mining tunnel, full of dead ends and rickety supports. (Think of the mine in The Temple of Doom.) When the drivers emerge from the harrowing tunnel race, Dominic exits the car and taunts Fenix (who has a hammer and sickle neck tattoo) by saying “only pussies use nitro meth.” Obviously, Fenix gets all up in his face about this. But little does he know that Dom rigged the nitrous in his car to ignite. The car explodes, chaos erupts, and Dom starts beating on Fenix while Brian grabs a machine gun and starts firing. Brian grabs a truck and Dominic, leaving Fenix alive, joins him in his escape.

Brian checks in with his friends at the FBI, who are none too pleased with him. Traffic cameras picked up photos of him and Toretto together. They want Brian to scrap the Braga operation and bring in Toretto instead. Brian sees this as a much greater opportunity to nail Braga and refuses. Dom, who was hit by something (he’s bleeding) finds the approximately $6 million of drugs in the back of the truck. They have to hide it, so they stash the truck where the FBI and cartel is least likely to look for it: the FBI impound lot. They then go to Dominic’s Los Angeles safe house (near some oil derricks) and Brian calls Mia. Mia arrives and patches up her brother’s wound. Then they all say grace and have a mostly pleasant dinner. But after, as Brian and Mia chat about men and their codes (not, like, cheat codes), Dom finds Letty’s cell phone and calls the last incoming number. Brian’s phone starts ringing and Dominic immediately loses his cool. He tosses Brian through some shelving units and starts pounding him, despite Mia’s protests. “You were running Letty?!” he shouts. Brian explains that Letty was working for the FBI for him. Letty was trying to clear Dom’s name. Dominic retreats in shame. A perfectly good evening is ruined.

The FBI wants O’Conner to bring in the drug shipment he found in the truck, but Brian realizes they can use this to get Braga. (This old story again.) He’s confident he can get Braga to agree to an in-person trade. Dominic, in his sweet white sweater, calls Gisele and sets up the trade. While they wait in a parking garage for Braga and his thugs to arrive, Brian tells Dominic how the FBI is going to clear his record once the operation is done. Dom smiles and turns to him, “You still put out milk and cookies for Santa Claus?” (I love how cynical these movies are about law enforcement! Also, I love seeing Vin Diesel smile.) Campos, Gisele, and Fenix show up and deliver Braga, an older Mexican gentleman in a suit carrying a duffel bag full of money. While this trade-off is happening, Trinh (back at the FBI office) has had a breakthrough with the fingerprints on the glass. She’s being sent a photo of Braga from Interpol (or somewhere). Stasiak, like Markham before him in 2 Fast 2 Furious, gets anxious about the trade and tells the SWAT team to move in too early. And just before they strike, Brian, Dom, and Trinh back at the office realize something crucial: the old man isn’t Braga; Campos is Braga!

A firefight erupts and Fenix and Campos/Braga hop into a car. They just about nearly run over Gisele, but Dom dives to push her out the car’s path. Braga escapes and O’Conner is taken off the case, due to the massive screw-up (that was largely Stasiak’s fault). Which is just as well, as Braga is reportedly back in Mexico, outside the FBI’s jurisdiction. Dom stands before Letty’s grave like he’s in a Seal music video and makes some hard decisions. (We also learn that Letty’s full name is Leticia Ortiz.) He heads back to his garage and does some man stuff with Brian. Dominic is going into Mexico to find Braga and Brian wants to join him. Just then, Mia returns from grocery shopping. Brian follows her in, she starts crying, and they promptly knock boots on the kitchen counter. (Sometimes words are unnecessary.) All while Dominic tinkers with an engine outside.

Outside the Mexican border, Brian and Dominic (now fondling Letty’s massive crucifix) wait for Gisele to arrive. Since Dom saved her life, she returns the favour by telling her how to find Braga in Mexico. Then it’s a kiss on the cheek, another “vaya con dios,” and our heroes head into enemy territory. Braga and his goons, meanwhile, arrive at a Spanish mission and pay off the padre so they can use it as their sanctuary. (Both the state and the church are overtly crooked in the world of Fast & Furious!) Yet within minutes, Brian and Dominic have entered the church with guns trained on Braga. Braga, with misguided faith in people’s respect for the Catholic church, insists he can’t be arrested here, but Brian has other thoughts.

With Braga in their custody, Brian and Dominc, much like so many Taco Bell customers before them, run for the border. Braga’s men find he’s been taken, and the race is on to stop our heroes before they reach the U. S. of A. Braga starts off taunting his driver, Brian, but becomes a whole less lot cocky once his own men start firing upon the car. The whole situation becomes very Mad Max, with cars racing and bumping into one another across a desert landscape. Brian, remembering where the secret cross-border tunnel was earlier, smashes through the false mountain entrance, pursued by a very angry Fenix. As they emerge on the American side, Fenix rams Brian’s car, causing them to roll. The devoted goon pulls his boss Braga from the wreck, and a wheezing Brian drags himself from the other car door. Fenix is just about to shoot Brian dead when Dominic emerges from the tunnel in his black muscle car of doom. Brian holds Fenix’s ankle so he can’t escape, and Dom rams his car straight into Fenix’s chest, killing him.

Sirens blare in the distance, and Dominic decides he’s not running anymore. He’s going to face the consequences of a lifetime of to-the-extreme actions. Weeks or months later, we see Toretto in his orange prison jumpsuit, being arraigned in court. Despite Brian’s testimony about how Dominic was invaluable to the arrest of a drug cartel boss, the judge, like Shania Twain, is not impressed much. He sentences Toretto to twenty-five years to life, without parole. Mia and Brian are anguished. In the final sequence, Dominic boards a prison bus. As it speeds down the freeway, it’s pursued by three black, super-charged vehicles driven by Brian, Mia, and the duo of Tego and Don Omar. Looks like we’ve got a mobile prison break on our hands!

Dominic and Brian, being adorable, even when close to death.

Dominic and Brian, being adorable, even when close to death.

Takeaway points:

  • Fast & Furious continues this series’ complete lack of trust in the law. You can’t trust the police or any branch of the government in this series. Instead, individual men’s codes supersede all government laws. This particular film also demonstrates that the church can also not be trusted. Basically: Man’s Law < God’s Law < Dominic Toretto’s Law.
  • If I’ve learned one thing from the Fast & Furious movies, it’s that criminal organizations are constantly in need of good street racers. If you want to get into a cartel or the mafia or the yakuza, they’re always hiring drivers.
  • Invariably in every Fast & Furious movie, our heroes end up in the club at some point, but never once do our heroes dance. Which seems a shame. However, you can always count on there to be at least two women kissing at the club.
  • The death of Letty in Fast & Furious is tragic, and all the more disheartening because it happens off-screen. This leaves both Dominic and the audience unable to truly mourn, and certainly unable to move on (as we see in the scene where he politely declines Gisele’s advances). The film also suffers without Letty, because Michelle Rodriguez is undeniably an electric on-screen presence. Her murder also reduces our number of compelling heroines. Mia is reduced to a cry factory for most of the action, so it’s good to see her behind the wheel at the finale. At least Gisele steps up with the potential to become a recurring character.
  • The other night, I remarked to a friend how strangely novel it was to see an action movie set in L.A. that features so many Latino or Mexican-American cast members, as well as so much spoken Spanish. So many other contemporary movies set in Los Angeles act as if the city was a white enclave where the Mexican-American population simply doesn’t exist.
  • The hip-hop/musical artists who double as actors in this Fast & Furious movie are Don Omar and Tego Calderon, who appear to be playing themselves. But their roles are tiny. There’s so much Pitbull on the soundtrack, you’d think they could have thrown him a bone and given him a role, too.

How fast?: It’s pretty fast! Even in the treacherous, hard-turn tunnels between Mexico and the U.S., our heroes rarely let the meters fall below 100 mph. Still, I’ve seen faster in some of the other movies.

How furious? The fourth movie may be the most furious one yet! The increased fury is largely due to (a) the return of Vin Diesel as Dominic Toretto, and (b) the death of Letty, Dominic Toretto’s partner. Letty’s death means Dom is quick to drop perps from buildings, throw his buds through metal shelving units, and even ram his car into people. Even the usually serene Brian O’Conner is smashing his co-workers’ faces into walls. The fury is contagious!

Favourite car stunt: Is it wrong to think they frontloaded this movie with all the best car action? The multi-tanker oil truck heist is fantastic. I can’t resist a hairpin 180, nor can I resist Michelle Rodriguez leaping onto the roof of a moving vehicle.

Most magical soundtrack cue: Soulja Boy’s “Crank That” is on the Fast & Furious soundtrack, so it’s automatic winner. Plus, its a remix by Blink-182 and former Aquabat, Travis Barker, so … that happened.

Unexpected cameo: If you thought you recognized that perp that Brian O’Conner knocks off a rooftop, that’s because he’s played by Cesar Garcia, who you might know as No-Doze, Tuco’s really unfortunate right-hand man in Breaking Bad.

Vin Diesel wears a lot of white for someone who works on cars / is regularly spattered with blood.

Vin Diesel wears a lot of white for someone who works on cars / is regularly spattered with blood.

Bechdel Test Moment: I honestly cannot remember two women speaking to one another in this movie. Mia recalls speaking to Letty while Dom was M.I.A, but that happens off-screen, and they probably talk about Dom, so it wouldn’t count. One can assume Mia also spoke to some female mourners at Letty’s funeral, possibly about grief.

Line of dialogue that makes it clear we’re talking both about a car and the driver’s sexual organ(s): “I’m a boy who appreciates a good body, regardless of the make.” – Dominic (to Gisele)

Best fashion moment: For much of the film, Dominic is dressed in khaki pants and a bright white ribbed sweater, like he’s a member of soulDecision. I should also draw attention to Mia’s almost universally hideous wardrobe. In nearly every scene, she’s clothed in a sun dress with a cardigan pulled over top, I imagine to signify her girl-next-door-ishness. But it reads more like her car-obsessed older brother chose her outfit.

Next up: Fast Five (2011).

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