Film review: Car franchise is still fast, but not that furious

2009-04-12 00:00

For fans of street racing and the muscle car genre, Fast and Furious 4 repackages the successful formula that we have come to know in the series. This is the world of white knuckle speed, burning rubber and the thrill of a chase through exotic landscapes.

FF4 reunites Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’ Conner (Paul Walker) in a plot that is simple yet resonant with the original. Both Dom and Brian are forced into an uneasy alliance, Dom on a path of revenge and Brian seeking justice. Their nemesis Brago is a heroin dealer and their driving skills are the key to unravelling their separate goals. You need not much more in structure to situate the setpieces for which the core audience has paid the ticket price.

The film begins with promise, reconceptualising a set-up similar to the opening in Quantum of Solace — a chase set on a narrow mountainous road that provides ample vertiginous moments.

Unlike the Bond film though, the sequence is edited for drama and suspense and provides edge of the seat thrills. One shot in particular has us in a roller-coaster move reaching a precipice and then rocketing downwards. Clearly director Justin Lin has a feel for the genre and some creative instincts that promise much for the film to follow. Lin does not disappoint, creating inventive approaches to old formulas. In one sequence, a GPS system animates elements of a street race, heightening suspense through geography, a crucial element lost on many MTV- style editors. In another, a car crash simulates itself around Dom as he re-imagines the death of his beloved.

If the visual set pieces are likely to satisfy fans, the remaining question surrounds the return of Diesel, a franchise favourite. Alas, its on this level that the film fails to capture the raw cyborgian machismo of the original. Rather it takes on a nostalgic and ponderous tone through its characters whose existential dilemmas replace the badass attitude of the muscle car junkies.

The result is a muted return for Diesel who broods a lot and is robbed of his charisma. Perhaps this is a tentative step forward in the hopes of developing future character arcs , or maybe it’s a nostalgic farewell from naughty boys now growing up.

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