Pure, nitrous oxide-injected adrenaline meets street-smart bravado when The Fast and the Furious takes to the streets of L.A. Beefy guys with wrenches for fingers have been drag racing ever since Henry Ford rolled out the Model T in 1908. But nearly a century later, racing speeds are up to 150 mph. The cars are spiffy, high performance dreams. The stakes are thousands of dollars. And the subculture of racers is imbedded deep into urban life. Under the hood, behind the wheel, and between the sheets. It’s just that kind of movie.
It would be more fun to watch The Fast and the Furious if you didn’t know going in that Brian is an undercover cop trying to infiltrate the underground race scene. But Universal blew that surprise in its own advertising. So there he is, a rookie detective trying to impress the tires off a hardcore group of street racers who just happen to be in the business of hijacking semis full of high-tech stereo equipment. The government provides Brian with an $80,000 tricked out car, which he promptly loses in a racing bet his first night out. No sweat, the car blows up anyway a few hours later when a rival gang riddles it with machine-gun fire. But not before Brian saves racing god Dominic, or Dom as his buddies call him, from getting snatched up by the cops. So now Dom owes him one. A good place to be for an undercover guy.
A veritable Point Break clone, Furious replaces surfing with racing and bank heists with truck-jacking. Paul Walker’s Brian falls for the girl. He gets sucked into the scene. He goes soft on the bad guys. Walker even acts a bit like Keanu Reeves. Adrenaline: 10. Originality: 2.
positive elements: There is honor among these thieves, for what that’s worth. Dom takes good care of his "team," and does everything in his power to protect them—from both the cops and from enemy factions. Dom also has a strong sense of family, demonstrated by his care for his sister, Mia.
spiritual content: Dom asks his main bolt-man, Jesse, to say grace before they eat, but Jesse is clueless about even beginning a prayer. "Dear heavenly ..." he trails off. "Spirit," whispers a friend. "Dear heavenly spirit," Jesse repeats, and then thanks God for all the high-tech engine parts that make his cars so muscular.
sexual content: A brief scene has Brian and Mia in bed together. Shirts are off, etc., but there’s no explicit nudity. Dom and his girlfriend grope each other in the garage before collapsing to the floor, obviously commencing a sexual romp. During a party, Dom tells one of his guys—who’s glued to a girl—to take it upstairs ("You know you can’t do any body work with the cover still on," he quips). Shots of numerous women linger on revealing hemlines and see-through blouses. Before a big race (they’re all big races), one of the guys’ girlfriends takes his hand and thrusts it under her shirt to caress her breast—for luck. When Mia changes clothes onscreen, she reveals her bare back and side. At an event dubbed "Race Wars," a woman drops her pants and wiggles a nearly-bare behind at the crowd (she’s wearing a g-string).
violent content: Too many car chases and car crashes to count. Where does one end and another begin? In one sequence Dom and Brian race a speeding freight train to the crossing, flying past the tracks a fraction of a second ahead of the engine. During a hijacking, the trucker pulls out a shotgun and starts blasting his assailants. One of the guys is shot in the leg and gets his arm twisted and caught in the cable that keeps him attached to the outside of the speeding semi.
Placing just behind car chases in frequency are fist fights, ranging from mano a mano grudge matches to all-out brawls. All the good racers use nitrous oxide to give their cars an extra blast, but that volatile gas also causes a few cars to erupt in massive explosions. Brian shoots a man off his motorcycle. Another man crashes his cycle when he’s run off the road. Machine-gun fire in a drive-by shooting kills one of Dom’s men.
crude or profane language: A couple of f-words and more than 30 s-words stand out amongst many other "lesser" profanities. Jesus’ name is flagrantly abused.
drug and alcohol content: The team drinks beer at just about every occasion. A couple of characters light up cigarettes and an FBI man smokes a cigar.
other negative elements: [Spoiler Warning] Long gone are the days of Sam Spade or even Dirty Harry, detectives of yore who tracked down their men and brought them forcibly to justice. As in Point Break, The Fast and the Furious subscribes to a new, more relativistic sensibility in which the cop lets the crook go in the end because he can’t bear to cage such a beautifully wild creature. In other words, he feels sorry for him. And Brian doesn’t just allow himself to be out-manned and outgunned. He actually hands Dom the keys to his car so that he can speed off into the Mexican sunset a free man. Despite how outraged some folks get about the inadequacies of our justice system, that’s an abominable message to throw at teens. If it’s okay to be the "bad guy" if you’re a nice guy, then we should just throw all the annoying people in jail and be done with it. Sure, it’s a warm fuzzy ending to a movie in which audiences begin to identify with Dom and his plight, but it marks a radical shift in our cultural conscience. As a movie critic, I’m not capable of writing the last word on its philosophical and sociological implications, but at the very least, shouldn’t we think about what it all means before just lapping it up at the cineplex?
conclusion: Written warnings are all the rage now, with violent TV shows and movies making headlines for inspiring viewers to duplicate stupid and dangerous stunts. The Fast and the Furious was no exception in its own half-hearted quest for absolution. "The car and motorcycle action sequences depicted in this film are dangerous," read the fine print. "All stunts were performed in controlled environments with professionally trained stunt crews on closed roads. No attempts should be made to duplicate any action, driving or car play scenes herein portrayed." And it wasn’t just relegated to fine print; it was stuck after the credits. Naturally, everyone had already left the theater by the time it appeared.
Even if it had been front and center, I’m sure such text wouldn’t do much to mollify the fears of Ontario, Calif., police detective Mike Macias, who’s worried kids will see Furious and then go out and get themselves killed. "We don’t want kids coming out and trying to be like the stars. We already have a hot-rod problem, and I’m afraid the movie is just going to make it worse. Kids do what they see, no matter how stupid it is. ... I’ve been amazed at what teenagers are willing to try. And I’ve had to call the coroner too many times to say they’re getting any smarter."
In the theater I was in, only two teenage boys sitting behind me waited out the credits to see if there would be any more action. Out of a crowded theater, they were the only ones who even had the opportunity to see the small-print warning, and I can’t even say with conviction that they noticed. What they did notice was how much language and violence they’d just witnessed. When the lights came on, one guy said to the other, "Man, that should have been rated R." I couldn’t agree more.