The Fast And The Furious wasn’t necessarily 2001’s best summer movie, but it felt like one of the freshest. The cop-goes-undercover plot came on loan, but the film sported a batch of new faces (including breakout star Vin Diesel), kept at least a toe grounded in L.A.’s street-racing culture, and relied on rubber-to-asphalt stunt sequences amid a season of not-so-impressive CGI effects. In the years since, both the series and its stars have moved on, and not always to better things. Though Paul Walker, who played an FBI agent with a yen for fast cars and little use for traffic laws, has lost some of his initial callowness, Diesel never really found the right outlet for his star quality. Maybe it was time to get the old gang back together.
From the interchangeable title on, Fast & Furious arrives packaged as a homecoming. It begins as one as well, opening with a memorable moving heist sequence set in the hills of the Dominican Republic. Diesel still sports a tough-guy aura with tender-guy undertones. Erstwhile charismatic co-star Michelle Rodriguez returns to his side, and what’s on the screen looks genuinely dangerous. Too bad F&F plays its best hand first. Rodriguez exits and the action returns to L.A., where Walker is running afoul of an FBI boss who doesn’t like his maverick ways, but has to respect that he gets the job done. Soon Walker and Diesel are teaming up again to take down a drug boss who’s using street racers to haul drugs from Mexico to the U.S.
Recalled to duty after The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift, director Justin Lin occasionally tries to smuggle some sly humor into the movie, framing Diesel against a pumping oil well as if they were just two different sorts of powerful machines, and playing up the chemistry between two men trying to out-macho each other. The action scenes don’t always get the balance between flash and danger right, but the movie remains agreeably dopey—presenting street-racing culture as a hotbed of colorful stereotypes and lipstick lesbianism—until a climax that just isn’t there. Sure, there’s a finale, but it’s a claustrophobic, poorly choreographed mess that owes more to nervous editing than nitro-burning action. With it, a franchise that started as a corrective for distressing action-movie trends becomes what it started out hating. Time for something new.