When an action thriller is about street racing you'd expect plenty of car
chases, automotive acrobatics, a mixture of high octane and testosterone,
muscle cars and muscle guys, hot women and the things that charge up a young
audience. You get a lot of that here but the film has even more traction.
It made an impression on at least one adult male that is way older than the
target audience. Why?
There's a good love story wrapped around the manifolds and superchargers.
That, and good casting elevate it above the simple exploitation level.
A series of truck highjacks has brought in a squad of undercover cops to deal
with the problem and they do so by sending Officer Brian Earl Spilner (real
name Brian O'Conner) (Paul Walker) to infiltrate the number one racing clan.
It's led by Dominic "Dom" Toretto (Vin Diesel), the fastest and strongest
among 'em. O'Conner starts his quest by demonstrating his hangup with speedy
metal, then by hanging around Dom's bar, which Dom's sister Mia (Jordana
Brewster) runs and bartends. And, she's a fox. And, what's a boy to do? He
falls for her... hard.
But, Dom is having none of that and scoots this pretty boy off the premises
with strongarming and believable threats. Not to be foiled in that manner,
Spilner/O'Conner appears on the street ready to race and to earn some
respect. In the course of events he loses his ride, saves Dom's life and
some embarrassment, hooks up with Mia, and learns to respect Dom in ways he
But, whether because of envy, anger or frustration, some of the members of
the gang begin to suspect he could be what he really is and he has to prove
otherwise. He's clever but there is a showdown coming.
The racing sequences are brought off with considerable energy and as an
expression of this culture but are weakened by a plot device contrived to
give the races and the racers a dynamic advantage. Supposedly, whoever uses
a special propellant called NOS is likely to win. Not only is every racer
not using it for some inexplicable reason (it costs too much?) but everyone
seems so surprised when someone does use it and tears away from his
competitor at the prime moment. Are we to close our eyes to this writer's
trick to make people blind to the illogic while things come out the way he
wants? It sure takes the suspense out of the outcome. Fortunately, this
weakness is more than balanced by human relationships that are superior in a
movie about racing, machismo, and gangs.
Partly, the success of the movie rides on Vin Diesel's convincing portrayal
of a charismatic gang leader with intelligence and an ability to see more
than one dimension to life. We hope we'll be seeing more of him. Walker is
both attractive (in a female sense) and deep enough to add interesting
shading to his part in this competitive world, granting him admiration from
the male side of the equation.
All in all, a better movie than one might suspect from the promotion and
publicity stills and a pat on the back to director Rob Cohen ("Miami Vice"
TV, "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story", 1993) for putting it together with a
balanced complexity slightly outside the demands of the genre. Definitely
worth a look.
Domestic gross: $145,000,000. Foreign: $65,000,000.
~~ Jules Brenner