Nevertheless, by standards of less trashy fare, Furious is bumper-to-bumper with witless dialogue, poor logic and trite characterizations, but it lives up to low expectations.
In the first scene we learn that a gang of hijackers in three black Honda Civics have been preying on truckers around Los Angeles. We see them in action, firing grapple-guns from moving cars into a truck cab.
Cut to Brian Spindler (Paul Walker), a car enthusiast and undercover cop trying to break into L.A.'s illegal street racing, where Dominic Torreto (Vin Diesel) is the alpha male. Director Rob Cohen shoots the film's first race with admitted bravado, beginning with a shot that bullets through an internal combustion engine. When the racers top 100 mph, the nighttime streets become eerily distorted to the drivers.
Brian rescues Dom after the police arrive, and together they run afoul of a nasty gang of Asian motorcyclists led by Johnny Tran (Rick Yune), who has a grudge with Dom and likes to spray stuff with a machine-gun. Having ingratiated himself with Dom's crew, Brian begins romancing Dom's sister (Jordana Brewster), but seems more attracted to Dom himself. In trying to track down the hijackers, Brian's detective work mostly consists of looking for three Honda Civics with the right kind of tires.
The plot imitates Kathryn Bigelow's Point Break, only substituting hot rods for surfboards. Gary Scott Thompson's script (based on Ken Li's magazine article that's probably more interesting than the actual film) flirts with a theme about surrogate families, but it only serves to divert attention from the fast-forward sequences people bought tickets for. Cohen's action scenes are perfectly competent and prove adept with a nail-biting sequence in which a hijacker hangs from the grill of a speeding truck while his fellows try to rescue him.
Furious offers plenty of vroom-vroom fetishization of automobiles, with Dom's team (a term they prefer to "gang") sharking through the streets in primary-colored speed machines. A huge portion of the film's dialogue is car talk about manifolds and torque and stuff like that. If you don't know mechanic-speak, you might find it incomprehensible, but at least they sound like they know what they're talking about. We learn that "Nos" is the slang for nitrous oxide gas, the accelerant-of-last-resort in The Road Warrior but apparently standard issue here.
At times Furious has uneasy implications about multi-culturalism: We see spectators rooting for the drivers of their own ethnic groups, and naming one event "Race Wars" has a sinister implication, especially in a film where Asians are so villainous. Like other dumb action movies, the soundtrack provides a kind of musical melting pot, a place where the loudest of hip-hop, techno and heavy metal can coexist in peace and disharmony.
Usually the performers in this kind of over-inflated B-movie can't act at all -- certainly Walker is as blank as a windshield -- but Diesel can, as he showed in Boiler Room. You might wonder if he was cast solely for his name ("Diesel Fuels Race Movie!"), but he carries the film with the right mixture of surly attitude and leonine magnetism.
As Dom's girlfriend, Girlfight's Michelle Rodriguez gets to do little but look buff 'n' tough, but few actresses could be as arresting in her place. With Rodriguez so underused, one imagines The Fast and the Furious rewritten with her as the under-cover cop, which would at least give the material a fresh spin. As is, Furious injects its race scenes with octane and adrenaline,
but your memory of it will be gone in 60 seconds.