Fast Franchise

The Fast Franchise: Volume 8 – ‘The Fate of the Furious’

The Fate of the Furious (2017) – Action | Drama

Directed by: F. Gary Gray

Starring: Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Vin Diesel

Review by Eric Scot Lemons

So I recently went through and watched and reviewed every Fast and Furious film (go back and check those articles if you are inclined). Now that there is a new F&F flick to whet my tingly parts, I have decided to write a review. This is the first of the series I have seen in the theater and also the first one I have seen sober. F8 is not the best film in the franchise, but it is pretty damn close. That distinction falls to Furious 7, which packed in tons of action and a great plot. It also features a heart-raping final ode to Paul Walker RIP. F8 has a ton of action and the best plot of the series, but is stalled by its two-hour twenty minute runtime.

So the film opens once more with booties and exotic locales as we travel to Havana, Cuba for Dom and Letty’s honeymoon. Dom is approached by a mysterious woman whom we know by the trailer to be the film’s main antagonist, Cipher, played amazingly by Charlize Theron. After this film and Fury Road, and the trailer for the upcoming Atomic Blonde, Theron is proving to be one of Hollywood’s most reliable ass-kicking action stars, and just like Mad Max, she steals the show. She somehow gets Dom to forsake his family, which if you’ve seen any of these films, you know there are like three things Dom loves; fast cars, family, and Corona beer.

So the most inexplicably badass motherfucker in F&F universe has turned on his wife and heist crew for some unknown reason, stealing an EMP and nuke plans for Cipher. Twist time: Dom has a son with Elena from a couple films ago and they are being held hostage and will die if Dom don’t comply (RHYMES ARE BACK!). The final battle set-piece takes place at a frozen sea in Russia and a nuclear submarine and some badass fucking stunts that do make everything the team has endured worth it. Dom must not only save his son and ex-lover, but save the world from a cyber terrorist. He succeeds.

The casting in this film is top-fucking-notch. Theron is a dream. Kurt Russell is back in Jack Burton form with sly smiles and amazing one-liners. Scott Eastwood is an excellent addition to the team, playing Russell’s assistant. The old standbys return as well; Tyrese is at his most hilarious in all the films. Jason Statham returns, working with the team in order to save his brother from some black site prison. His banter with The Rock is truly a highlight. Helen Mirren plays the foul-mouthed mother of Deckard Shaw and is beautiful in the role. F. Gary Gray gets the best acting out of the whole series in this one and his camera work is fun and fluid, leading to some truly magnificent sequences.

The action is really one of the let downs in this one, however. While the fight scenes are well choreographed and the final act of the film delights endlessly, there is a bit of a slog getting to this point. The plot is captivating, but not mindblowing enough to make up for action sequences we have seen in previous installments in the series. Overall, definitely check out the film. It is a solid flick worth seeing, but realize that there is better fare out in the franchise. 

Advertisements

The Fast Franchise: Volume 7 – ‘Furious 7’

fast7

Furious 7 (2015) – Action | Drama

Directed by: James Wan

Starring: Paul Walker RIP and Vin Diesel

Review by Eric Scot Lemons

So I mentioned in the past, The Fast & Furious tends to have a formula that has become a bit stale. Nothing that a new director can’t fix. Furious 7 brings on James Wan to replace Justin Lin, and he brings on the fucking pain. Not only is Furious 7 the best of the franchise, it is easily one of the best action films I have ever seen. James Wan ups the action and films some of the most giddyingly experimental shots I have ever seen. Again, these films feel built around high action stunts and this one does not disappoint with every scene relying on tension.

The plot is simple enough, with Jason Statham coming on as the brother of Luke Evans who wants to avenge his brother, who now rests in a coma. He is a super awesome rogue British operative who has decided to wage war on the Torretto clan. We got Dom still trying to seduce an amnesiac Letty and Brian still trying to come to terms with his role as a father. The Rock is attacked by Statham early in the film and breaks his arm and leg in a fall from a building onto a vehicle, and you know that moment they put the cast on The Rock, how that motherfucker is coming off. So this random fucking government agency led by Kurt Russell in his coolest role since Death Proof asks the Torretto team to recover a hacker who has hidden a device called The God’s Eye, which is essentially Eagle Eye from the Eagle Eye movie; a device which composites all digital surveillance devices (CCTVs and Iphones). If they recover it for the government, the government in turn will let them use it to track and kill Statham. Actually a cool fucking plot comparatively. They recover the device and lose it again in an ambush by Statham and return to LA to recover it. How the fuck do you beat The God’s Eye, a device you can’t escape from? Well, if you are fast and/or furious, you outrun it (and hack it). The Rock returns flexing his arm which causes the cast to break then proceeds to fly an ambulance into a drone!   

Cameos abound in this one. We get a creepy call back to Sean from Tokyo Drift that is supposed to take place immediately after the events of the third film, despite the fact that the actor has aged almost ten years since. Ronda Rousey plays a bodyguard that speaks like a statue learning to play a sassy black lady, but is very cool in the fight scenes. This is a film that feels like a cultural event, adding as many well known celebs as possible. It feels like they are taking a page out of The Expendables book, but rounding out the action in a way reminiscent of super spy thrillers like MI:Whatever, instead of campy 80’s bullet slingers.

Let’s get back to the stunts. There is seriously a scene in which Paul Walker RIP is inside a bus edging off a cliff. He ends up on top of it as it starts to teeter downward and he must run the full length of the tilting bus and jump off, only to catch the spoiler of Letty who is Tokyo-fucking-drifting around the edge of the cliff in order to catch him. So that’s awesome, and then they try to steal a car from the penthouse of a high rise and when shit hits the fan, they drive the car out the window into another skyscraper next door. When the brakes go out, they drive the car through that window and into ANOTHER skyscraper. Holy fuck. Seriously, check this movie out.

So on a somber note, this is the film that was in production when Paul Walker RIP passed. They apparently had to finish up his scenes with his two brothers as stand-ins, which is very noticeable in certain shots with that shitty CGI facial shit they do. They also had to rewrite an ending that had Brian decide to be a father instead of continuing to do Torretto missions. There is a sappy goodbye which is clearly intended for Walker RIP, and not Brian (cause everyone in the film lives next door to each other). It was a nice touch. I talked a lot of shit about Walker RIP, especially in early reviews, but as the series continued, Walker RIP became a highlight. I teared up. My wife all out bawled. But I can seriously say that Brian and Walker RIP’s absence will be felt throughout subsequent films.

Thank you for following me on this strange journey and be sure to check out Fate of the Furious when it hits theaters April 14th.

The Fast Franchise: Volume 6 – ‘The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift’

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006) – Action | Drama

Directed by: Justin Lin

Starring: Lucas Black and Sung Kang

Review by Eric Scot Lemons

And then there was Tokyo Drift. The Fast & Furious film chronology can easily be split into two parts, best defined by their look. The first three films produced, of which Tokyo Drift is included, are flashy, neon colored affairs that center almost exclusively on bragging rights involved in racing cars. The later three (that I have seen to this point) are hued in metallics and deep blues, focusing on heists and acrobatics. However, due to the strange chronology of the series, the events of Tokyo Drift take place after the events of the sixth film, in which the character Han dies during a car chase. It is all so confusing and stylistically jarring if you are watching the films in the same order as I am.

Story is not this film’s strong point. If you’ve ever seen a film, you have seen this story play out: fish out of water must prove himself. Sean (Lucas Black) is sent to live in Japan with his father, who I assume is in the Navy because every time he is seen, he is wearing a shirt that says “Navy.” He got in trouble for racing in America, so that’s his punishment. He goes to a formal Japanese school where he doesn’t understand the customs or the language and they suck as much “comedy” out of these situations as possible. He meets Twinkie (Bow Wow) and gets introduced to drifting, or sliding your car. He meets Han and they start racing together, and there are a fuckton of training montages, and a hot girl that the bad guy is dating, and there is a final showdown. So yes, you’ve seen this movie before.

This film is definitely the worst of the old school and therefore, the worst of the series. Lucas Black is brought in to be the Paul Walker RIP analog, which I read was the studio’s decision, believing Walker RIP to be too old to continue making F&F movies, but you showed them, right, Paul? RIP. Black has the badass look but is a terrible actor. There are moments when he is telling someone about something and I just am curious why he wants to kick their ass. His tone never matches the scenes. He is full of unnecessary intensity and creepy unmatched goofiness. Bow Wow is clearly a Ludacris analog. And just like the first film, Asians are corrupt as fuck. The only trustworthy people are expats living in Tokyo – including Han – the best motherfucker of all the motherfuckers.

Let’s talk at length about Han, cause he is my favorite subject when it comes to the Fast & Furious films. Sung Kang is such a natural and cool actor that despite being of Korean descent, isn’t a tech genius or a member of the Yakuza, or a martial arts expert. He is just a charming dude making money – which is what doesn’t make sense. Han’s past with the Torretto clan had him raking in millions and millions of dollars in capers, yet he goes to Japan and runs minor scams and skims money from the Yakuza. High risk, low reward type shit you’d think he’d be over.

Also, at the end of the 6th film, we see Han heartbroken over the loss of his love, Gal Gadot. In Japan, he seems carefree and untouched by any trouble ever. Now, I totally understand that the character was given so much more depth in the subsequent films to be produced after TD, but they could have worked harder to mesh these two worlds. Clearly, Justin Lin just loves working with Kang, whom has such an amazing presence in this world. But makes some connections, dude.

Ultimately, the film is flawed due to its title. This is a film focusing on car drifting. Which sounds cool, but after the first time you’ve seen it, you’ve seen the extent of what is going to happen. It is a highly technical racing skill, I am sure, but doesn’t translate well to film. Especially after I just saw F&F 6 in which there are people flying through the fucking air and grabbing love interests before they fall to their death. And this makes the film a strange subject. Like I’ve said, this film should be seen after 6, but really doesn’t fit in with latter F&F flicks. I knew it was going to be bad going in and it was still such a let down, due to what I am used to from Lin & Co. Try to avoid this one, unless you really love Han, or have to witness every piece of Furious lore. But seriously, it isn’t worth it.

The Fast Franchise: Volume 5 – ‘Fast & Furious 6’

fast6.jpg

Fast & Furious 6 (2013) – Action | Drama

Directed by: Justin Lin

Starring: Vin Diesel and Paul Walker

Review by Eric Scot Lemons

‘How did we get to this point?’ That seems to be the theme behind Fast & Furious 6; ruminating on the past and decisions made. The crew is back together for another task and this film is packed with emotion, which I guess they felt was missing in the other five flicks. Remember how Letty, the love of Dom’s life, died in a previous movie? Well, she is back. But wait, she has amnesia, which seems to be the go-to, along with ‘evil twin’ for bringing a side character back from the dead. We get to see Dom play the suitor to a girl he’d been boning for years, but he approaches the whole situation in that creepy, too close muttering incoherently in her ear style that I believe James Gandolfini probably perfected as he rounded out to 500 pounds. It is romantic, I suppose, if you know their love story, but amnesiac Letty doesn’t. So he just comes across to the audience as a sexual predator.

So the gang, like I said, is back together. They seem to be the default team random government agencies (this time it is DSS) hire to get bad guys who are hard to get. The bad guy in this one is Luke Evans and he is actually really good, mostly because he has that classic Brit baddy feel. The Rock returns for this one and as always, is an amazing motherfucker. He walks into a room of like 20 overweight security guards at computers and just fucking intimidates them into following whatever plan he had going. But seriously, I have no clue what happened or why it happened in this movie. It is so convoluted and every character’s motivation seems to be some lofty ideal unrooted in reality. The end goal is to be granted amnesty by the US government so they can return home to East LA, but there were moments in which side characters just beat on each other for like 10 minutes, and I actually asked my wife, “Why are they fighting?” Why are they fighting is not a question that should be ever asked in an action film, where good and evil are two distinct opposite stances, but all of these characters seem devoted to being a dick to each other.

What is there really to say about this film? It is good. Not the best one, but it is good. It probably has the best stunts of the entire franchise, with the final set piece involving cars and a massive jumbo jet, and attacks on all fronts. And there is another scene involving a tank and fast cars and a bridge that is two miles suspended above the Earth, or so it would seem. Why? Cause it is fucking awesome, but truth be told, it makes no sense in the film. It just is the way it is.

Dialogue is absolute shit in this, and makes me feel spoiled by Fast Five. Gal Gadot dies in the end, leading Han to go to Tokyo without her because he is Korean. Jordana Brewster unfortunately survives this one, despite her forehead slowly consuming the majority of her skull. Paul Walker RIP kinda takes a back seat to this one, cause this is definitely Dom’s flick. Nos is not featured in the cars, but I swear to fucking god, they make a Nos gun. It sounds made up cause what does that even mean? But there’s a Nos gun.

Ultimately, I asked the same question in this film. How did we get to this point? Everyone seems to be going through the motions. The action has become more cartoonish and the motivations more lazy. These films definitely follow a formula, one that has become increasingly stale. But the end of the film finds the gang returning to LA, time for a reset. Raise their children. Make jokes about each other’s engines. Until some new adventure crests on the horizon.

The Fast Franchise: Volume 4 – ‘Fast Five’

Fast 5

Fast Five (2011) – Action | Drama

Directed by: Justin Lin

Starring: Vin Diesel and Paul Walker

Review by Eric Scot Lemons

So, I decided a while back to review the entire franchise of The Fast and The Furious as a joke. I had always heard they were fun films and seem to be very popular with fans of action flicks, but my Satan, these have turned into a spectacle to behold. What started out as a joke film about street racers and car stereo boosters has become international espionage and heist films that stand beside some of the best in cinema. This is all hyperbole, but fucking christ these are cool ass flicks.

Fast Five is the first in the series not to open on women in booty shorts and skirts standing around neon painted, over-sized remote control cars. No, this one opens on a gang of fucking best friends forever racing after the jailhouse bus that Dom is cruising in. They figure, what better way to get our friend out of jail than fucking crashing his goddamn bus along interstate. Well, it worked. And Dom is a free man. They kick sand down to Rio or some other country ran by a despot with a Spanish accent, and proceed to do what they do best: fuck shit up for rich amoral dudes. They decide to assemble a team of recognizable stars from the other films, including Tyrese, who has apparently grown out of his shirtless phase, and Luda who has apparently grown out of his manic, wisecracking leprechaun shtick.

Everyone is a happy family taking down drug dealers, until BAH BAH BAAAAH. The Dwayne The Motherfucking Rock Johnson shows up as some kind of law enforcement agent hellbent on catching the Torretto clan, as well as the crazy bad guy. When a film relies so heavily on a muscle-bound brown bald dude, what better way to up the ante than adding another one. Seriously though, there were times when the characters were running away from the camera and I couldn’t tell if it was Vinny D or The People’s Elbow. So the whole thing about this movie is they are trying to steal money from the druglord, but the druglord knows they are coming so he hides the vault in a police station. HEIST TIME, Y’ALL!!

Things get fucking boring for a while when you get like three fucking heist preparation montages backed by witty banter, and Ludacris has somehow become a fucking hacker tech genius. You do see the budding relationship between the new best character in the F&F, a Korean driver from Tokyo Drift (weird, right?) named Han. What is Han’s last name, you ask. Seoul-Oh. Not kidding they named the Korean badass and all around sexy man tiger, Han Seoul-Oh. That’s some next level shit. But Han Seoul-Oh is developing a romance with Gal Gadot and it is saucy.

The stunts were fucking insane throughout, but as seems to be the way with F&F films, the most exciting stunts occur in the first third, despite the fact that we are quarter-miles away from the climax. Like there’s this part where Paul Walker RIP is stuck on a train and Dom has to drive next to the train speeding toward a bridge. Paul Walker RIP jumps just in time and they drive into the water. It is cooler when you see it, trust me. The final stunt is one where they attach the vault to two cars and drag it through the fucking city using it as a wrecking ball, wiping out corrupt cops, or as we call them in America, cops. At one point, it looks like one of the bad guys has the drop on the two cars when all of a sudden it is taken out by, you guessed it, Han fucking Seoul-Oh, like Han Solo in Star Wars! Ah shit, it is really amazing.

The film is by far the best of the series, and the addition of The Rock gives it a sense of gravity and seriousness that has been missing. Jordana Brewster is still in this one and she sucks and looks like she’s had plastic surgery. Vin Diesel weirdly has huge pecs and a huge tummy. But I ain’t complaining.

The Fast Franchise: Volume 2 – ‘2 Fast 2 Furious’

2fast

2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) – Action | Drama

Directed by: John Singleton

Starring: Paul Walker and Tyrese Gibson

Review by Eric Scot Lemons

2 Fast 2 Furious is, at its core, a film for people who don’t know the difference between two and too. The inevitable sequel to the 2001 street racing hit loses much of what made the original so spectacular, most importantly Vin Diesel. This film loses its star and its director, and replaces the LA locale with the supposedly vibrant Miami. Bienvenidos a Miami! But realistically the film could have been shot in Hoboken. I really couldn’t get a grasp on this film. There were so many times in which I wanted to just roll my eyes due to the boring shots, yet there was some truly beautiful blocking and depth of field to certain scenes. I was so impressed with the first third of the film visually, I looked up the director on IMDB. I was actually curious about who directed a Fast and Furious flick. Surprised me too. It was Oscar-nominated director John Singleton.

The plot follows the most boring character of the original film, Brian (last named changed from Spilner to O’Connor, because he’s a fucking hero now) as he is recruited by the FBI to work undercover to take down a cartel kingpin. Well, I mean, he is recruited by US Customs, but also(?) works for the FBI. I couldn’t quite understand what was going on, plotwise. And it does follow the same cognitive dissonance of Armageddon in which it appears easier to train a street racer to be an FBI agent than the other way around. But Brian decides to bring along his best friend from back in the day, who now hates him, played by Tyrese Gibson. A clear replacement for Dom. A racing pal to whom Brian must prove himself. The rest of the film is fast cars and Eva Mendes as a love interest that really doesn’t add anything other than a motivation to complete the movie. The drug lord is maniacal but pretty bland, wearing clothes from 70’s Kung-Fu flicks.

gay fight 2

Paul Walker RIP very clearly cannot carry a movie by himself. Luckily, they hired Tyrese, who is legitimately good at trash-talking and being tough (the two primary needs for a role in any F&F movie), but feels amateurish when he is clearly told to comedically riff. Paul Walker RIP went from bland pretty boy in the first flick to Cali surf kid, spending most of the film in a West Coast Customs t-shirt and Dickies Shorts. Ludacris is hit or miss (ANOTHER FUCKING RHYME!)

Many of the car races feel recycled from the first film also. You know the stakes and you know the characters and you know what is going to happen. There is not a lot of suspense built into the Win or Lose scenarios. I was, however, thoroughly impressed by the scene in which the bad guy is torturing a cop by placing a rat under a bucket on his bare chest, and heating the bucket, forcing the rat to try to burrow through the man’s torso. The effect is super cool and the imagination runs roughshod with the concept.

Overall, the film feels pieced together in an attempt for a quick cash grab, without fully understanding the world of the original film, nor the reason people tuned in. I would probably never watch this flick again, as it was just dumb without the fun. The film ends with the two homies jumping a ramp onto a yacht that is speeding away – which sounds amazing. But somehow, it lets you down and thus, is the perfect analogy for the film.

The Fast Franchise: Volume One – ‘The Fast and the Furious’

Fast-Furious

The Fast and the Furious (2001) – Action | Drama

Directed by: Rob Cohen

Starring: Vin Diesel and Paul Walker

Review by Eric Scot Lemons

For those of you who are unenlightened, The Fast and the Furious is a tale of men, mostly white, who are both quick and angry. They drive cars, not to run errands, but to race each other and steal “high-end” electronics. The story centers around Brian, who is secretly a cop trying to infiltrate a gang of street racers in order to get to the bottom of a bunch of thefts involving fast cars. It is essentially Point Break but for a new generation of douchebags who unironically drink Nos energy drink and put over-sized spoilers, and neon racing stripes on their souped up Kia Sentras. Everyone in the film speaks with a superfluous intensity and in faux manly witticisms. “I live my life a quarter mile at a time.” The soundtrack is a mix between Ja Rule B-sides and Limp Bizkit hits. That all being said, this may be one of the coolest movies I have ever seen.

Vin Diesel is Dom, the leader of the gang and brother of the girl Brian wants to bang (that’s a motherfucking rhyme, FYI), and speaks using guttural utterances with the least possible use of his tongue. This is probably why Diesel (formerly known as Mark Sinclair) has done voice work for such eloquent characters as Iron Giant and Groot. He cares about two things: racing cars and protecting his sister. Also sexing Michelle Rodriguez in Room-esque montages. Also, his dead dad. So, there are a bunch of things he cares about. He is “boosting merch,” as the streetwise LAPD call it, and Brian, played by the creepily handsome Paul Walker (RIP), is the man sent undercover to fuck his sister and, secondarily stop(?) them from stealing car stereos from moving semis. He falls in love with both Dom’s sister and potentially with Dom himself, and when it is time to arrest Dom for being a life criminal, he inexplicably lets him go – because they had achieved something so much greater than justice. And the Bro Code supercedes all other laws. Drive off in my discreet bright orange racer so the cops don’t find you.

That’s all I can tell you about the plot. There is some side shit about Asians stealing shit too. But it just feels like excuses to get in epic, and I mean fucking epic, car chases. The best thing about the film is the practical effects on the car chases and crashes. They are constantly going after peeps in semis and on motorcycles around busy streets and there are a lot of long looks from drivers to each other as they prepare to do something awesome. It is fun. The plot is dumb. But every time the engines rev and the music starts pumping with, “Watch your back!” you can’t help but pay attention. I love films that know exactly what they are.  This is a film made to feature high action and countless (amazing amount) of product placement, and all the writer had to do is put in a little dialogue to make you slightly care about the handsome white man in the green car as he runs after the Japanese man in the black car.

And that’s something I wanted to talk about with this initial foray into the speedster franchise. There seems to be this weird subtext of race that permeates throughout. Nothing is defined in such terms blatantly, but during the initial race, we see a clear definition of groups: there are the Asians, the Latinos, the Black racers, and the white team. And though all enter in with friendly competition, there still is a defining line differentiating all the teams. Dom, played by a half-black Vin Diesel is the wrench in purely racial grouping, but having his sister be a white Jordana Brewster with a shit load of bronzer makes me wonder if Dom was written as white and cast with the up-and-coming Diesel, fresh off of his success in Pitch Black.

In fact, the big racing competition where all the groups eventually meet is called “Race Wars.” Is this the work of the Alt-Right race-driven concepts of supremacy, wherein the only person of color to defeat the main white group is the aforementioned Japanese man, using illegally smuggled parts? Or is this just the laziness of a white screenwriter who can’t think outside of his own prejudices? I tend to believe it is the latter, rather than the former, due to the fact that pretty much everyone in this film is corrupt on some level, and the corruption becomes law.  And while I don’t believe The Fast and the Furious intends to be a narrative on the competition between races, I do believe that White Nationalists play this movie in the lobby of their headquarters. Probably in North Idaho. Or the White House.

Overall, this movie is flush with idiotic fun and fast cars and Morpheus sunglasses. Will the film bring about enlightenment or the path to understanding the human condition? Nope. But if you want to get stoned and see bright colors and hear loud music. Check this fucker out.