Junkfood Cinema: The Fast and the Furious

By  · Published on April 29th, 2011

Welcome back to Junkfood Cinema; we get furious when we don’t get our fast food. Before you could slam on the brakes, you managed to crash head-on into one of the internet’s most obnoxious dividing walls. Every week I put the pedal to the floor, a floor almost entirely obscured by half-eaten Zero bars and discarded McRib wrappers, to bring you the very best in the very worst cinema has to offer.

I will drive a truckload of mockery right up the unsuspecting film’s tailpipe before totally switching lanes and filling your eye sockets with premium unleaded love for that very same lemon. Finally, to really drive home this absurd running metaphor, I will supercharge your taste buds by pairing the film with a greasy snack that will leave tread marks on your esophagus all the way down.

This week’s treat: The Fast and the Furious

What Makes It Bad?

So, so, so many flagrant faults to chose from. The Fast and the Furious is like a cherry-red Ferrari with a poorly-pressed cube of elephant dung where its engine should be. It looks really slick and pretty, in that it is mostly shot like a music video, but its shortcomings are so potent that it actually produces a perceptible stench as you watch: like burning motor oil mixed with gorilla farts. It becomes evident after only a few moments that this is a film whose target audience harbors a collective IQ lower than the top speed obtainable in a poor-maintained El Camino. Case in point, the music cues that spell out exactly what is happening on screen (watch yo back!) and the ideology to which it subscribes that the ability to drive in a straight line for ten seconds is the measuring stick of a man’s true worth. Also, the cars represent the main characters in the film with actual meat puppets, aka the cast, placing a distant fourth in importance, behind scantily clad walking bad decisions and a soundtrack full of hip hop footnotes.

Speaking of meat puppets, the stars of this film amount to the most notorious one-two punch of Hollywood missteps. First, we have a walking aggregation of left over tough guy DNA known to the world as Vin Diesel. Much like in Pitch Black, another JFC alumnus, Vin grunts and growls his way through the already meager dialogue and manages to somehow make even entire monologues sound monosyllabic. Constituting the other half of the film’s pivotal bromance is one Paul Walker. I have a theory that Paul Walker is actually a Make-a-Wish kid whose last request, as he bravely battled his terminal gorgeousness, was to be featured in a film. And since the human characters in this film are so completely negligible, the producers thought his golden locks and blue, Siberian Husky eyes would help foster a female following even if he was devoid of anything that even rhymes with talent. Listen to Paul deliver any given line like an Arizona State freshmen frat rush and this theory holds water. Surround these titans of dunderheadedness with Jamie Kennedy’s more annoying, meth-addicted cousin and so-high-she-forgot-what-movies-were Michelle Rodriguez and we’ve got ourselves a fraking movie! Oh, and I love how Vin Diesel’s crew travels everywhere in individual, color-coded vehicles…much like the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers.

Oh, and special mention, in the form of his very own paragraph, goes to Ja Rule. Not satisfied being merely one of the worst rappers on the planet, Ja decided to demand screentime in exchange for lending the nothing-if-not-understated track to the soundtrack. I’m not sure if it’s the fact that he’s the only “actor” who could ever make Vin seem articulate and angel-voiced by comparison or his impression of a mentally-deficient Confucius with the quip about how racing cars is the most important aspect of racing cars but I want to stab him the minute he appears on screen. Here’s the shortlist of rappers I’d rather have seen in this role…

Kurtis Blow

Flavor Flav

Young MC

Buff Love from the Fat Boys

Kid n/or Play

Why I Love It!

Roger Corman, a hero of mine who deserves his image laser-carved onto the surface of the moon, dabbled in-and in some cases invented-various facets of exploitation. One of his greatest was the glorious carsploitation subgenre which included Deathrace 2000, Grand Theft Auto, and Eat My Dust. In many ways, that spirit of exploitation is alive and well here. But The Fast and the Furious was not content to be saddled with this tawdry classification as it was far too…not tawdry enough. Instead, The Fast and the Furious is hardcore, inter-race-tial, auto-erotic pornography. As someone who enjoys vehicles that look they were die-cast in 12-year-old Brian’s idealization of his first car, I find it easy to lose myself in the simple pleasure of watching these machines perform. I feel the same way about The Fast and the Furious as I do about Step-Up or Drumline: if the film was simply 90 minutes of its paramount activity with no vain attempts at plot, I would be fully on-board. You know, like those illegal street racing videos except with this film’s fetishistic cinematography. Also, I would be lying to my readers – and my penis – if I feigned disdain for the animated sex dolls that dance around these vehicles throughout much of the film.

My absolute favorite thing about The Fast and the Furious is that it’s a nearly point-for-point remake of Point Break. Don’t believe me? Let’s break it down. Point Break is about a cop who is sent undercover to ascertain the identities of a group of thieves. Check. The fish-out-of-water cop must throw himself headfirst into the hobby in which the thieves almost certainly participate. Strike surfing and replace with racing. Check. The cop becomes friends with a formidable presence in said hobby after that guy rescues him from a beating. Check. The cop then erroneously believes that the thieves are not comprised of the group into which he has become ingratiated. Check. When he finds out that it is, in fact, his friend and that friend’s cohorts perpetrating the robberies, he can’t bring himself to apprehend said friend and lets him get away. Seriously, do I need to draw you a diagram?

They even go so far as to add in a plot device about the cop eating terrible food over and over from the same diner as a thinly-veiled pretense for spending more time with his love interest. As someone who loves Point Break, this lawsuit-flirting similarity makes me endlessly happy. I will say Ted Levine is a favorable upgrade from Gary Busey, but then so is a tower of unwashed jockstraps. The other edge Point Break has over The Fast and the Furious that it had the foresight to make cold, hard cash the criminal enticement instead of trucks full of tube TVs and DVD players. The fact that these gearhead bozos are risking their lives for a haul that would currently not even net them enough to refill their gas tanks makes The Fast and the Furious a special breed of dated.

I’ve always kind of liked Vin Diesel. No, I don’t think he’s a good actor but that’s mostly because I have a fully functioning brain; sorry Paul Walker, didn’t mean to brag. But I respect the fact that Vin is a big personality who is always Vin no matter how the trappings around him may change. Why do I respect this? Because it’s exactly what lies at the heart of John Wayne’s universal appeal. Chew on that.

Junkfood Pairing: Tuna Fish Sandwich, No Crust

This film got special mention in JFC’s Decade of Guilty Pleasures many moons ago, but the impending release of the fifth film in this inexplicably still active franchise, coupled with the fact that I just can’t stop watching the damn thing, demanded a return visit. In what is again a reference to the film it’s homaging remaking stealing from, Walker continually orders a tuna fish sandwich from the same dive diner to get close to both his target and his target’s fine-as-leather-interior sister. Since tuna is a meat that borders far too closely on healthy, I highly recommend obtaining one from the seediest, dirtiest, most wasn’t-this-building-featured-on-world’s-bloodiest-screwdriver-murdersi-est gas stations you can find.

Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.