I'll admit it: I'm an unabashed fan of the 'Fast and Furious' franchise.
Since its junky, inauspicious beginnings as a mildly entertaining 'Point Break' ripoff in 2001 titled simply 'The Fast and the Furious' (even the name was stolen from a drive-in classic, a forgotten 1955 American International Pictures movie), I've been hooked. Part of the movie's appeal came from the inside peek it offered into the world of underground street racing; another part was the fierce intensity of Vin Diesel who, depending on how you looked at him, resembled either a hit man or a cuddly teddy bear; but most of the draw came from the sheer, 100-miles-an-hour fun of watching cars driving really, really fast and smacking into each other.
John Singleton's sequel, the silly '2 Fast 2 Furious' (2003) lost Vin Diesel and instead stuck with the first film's Paul Walker. They transposed the action from L.A. to Miami, which made for even more garish colors, but while it was still a lot of fun to watch, much of the freshness was gone (and Tyrese didn't make for quite the same tough guy foil). Thankfully, by the third film, new blood had been transfused in the form of director Justin Lin, who took the action to Tokyo and gave us the most entertaining entry in the franchise, 'Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.'
That third film lost the 'Point Break' shtick and instead told the coming-of-age story of a rebellious American teen (Lucas Black) sent to live with his father in the faraway land of Tokyo. It was energetic, stylish, and just what the franchise needed. And in the closing moments, a familiar face returned to kick it into overdrive (This is the first of many car puns. You've been warned) - Vin Diesel. The man was back.
And so, 'Fast & Furious' was born, with 'Tokyo Drift' director Justin Lin back in the driver's seat, and original cast members Vin Diesel and Paul Walker (along with Michelle Rodriguez and the lovely Jordana Brewster). The tagline said it all - "New Model. Original Parts." The storyline this time shifted gears yet again to become a kind of muscle car noir. After a wonderful prologue set in the Dominican Republic, with the old gang stealing gas from a land train, Vin Diesel is thrust back into the United States following the murder of an old flame. So there's a revenge plot, with Vin searching for justice, a return to the first film's bromantic rivalry (Walker is looking for the killer too, since he is of course an international drug dealer with ties to underground street racing), and lots and lots of car racing.
While 'Fast & Furious' (the ampersand tells you it's the fourth movie, or something) lacks that neon-tinted kick that 'Tokyo Drift' had, it's still a whole lot of fun. The entire movie hinges on familiarity, since that was supposed to be the big draw, and yes, it is a total blast to see the old crew back together. But there's enough new here to keep things fresh and exciting. For one, it's a more international movie. Besides the South American-set prologue, there are a couple of cross country rallies, with a team of racers making an illegal run to Mexico (and back) through a series of secret bootleggers' tunnels. There's also a neat road race through the streets of Los Angeles that's inter-cut with GPS directions that feels somewhat fresh.
I mean, come on, this is the fourth film in a franchise that has never been prized for its originality. What works, works marvelously (the noir-y setup, the returning cast members, and the races); what doesn't work doesn't seem like a spectacular failure, either. (There's a little too much brooding and pontificating on Vin Diesel's part, and the bad guy is about as threatening as a mattress manufacturer's warning.) Still, this is a solid entry, and just what the franchise needed - the return of the original cast members who made the first film so special with just the right amount of freshness behind the camera (thank you, Mr. Lin). While this may not be the best film in the series (I still love 'Tokyo Drift' something fierce), it is an undeniably enjoyable bit of slick, trashy, fuel-injected B-movie fun. There are way worse ways to spend a Saturday night.
Under the hood, 'Fast & Furious' comes equipped with a wonderful VC-1 1080p transfer (aspect ratio: 2.40:1). This is, technically speaking, a hot rod.
The 'Fast & the Furious' series has always been known for its color - both in the brightness of its cars and the ethnicities of its cast members (one of my favorite things about the series is the presence of its multi-cultural mix of gear heads, without ever explicitly mentioning it). And, both look gorgeous here.
Skin tones - no matter the shade - are dead on, while the colors of the cars really pop. The movie looks just as good during the night sequences as it does during the daytime scenes, with deep black levels and no washout or bleeding. Everything looks great. There aren't any technical issues to speak of, either. While there isn't a whole lot of CGI work in the film (director Justin Lin prides himself on this), there appear to be some computer generated backgrounds, particularly in the tunnel that connects our fuel-injected drug runners from Mexico to America. These backgrounds look so ridiculously phony in high definition… but that's not the transfer's fault.
Overall, this is a pretty peerless transfer and one that will certainly give you quite a bang for your buck.
On the audio side, things are just as turbo charged. This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is the stuff that neighborhood protests are made of.
Literally from the opening sequence, in which a land train of gas tankers rumbles across the screen, the mix is given a constant workout, with wonderful surround support. This is a movie called 'Fast & Furious' and people buying this Blu-ray will want to not only see but also hear the most kick-ass stunt racing imaginable. And those coming to this disc for that will not leave disappointed. The handful of action sequences really roar to life, with loudness and intensity that makes you feel like you're in the passenger's seat.
Engines growl, cars smash together, gunfire pops, explosions engulf and everything is clear and well prioritized. Even though this aggressively mastered mix favors sequences of extreme calamity, it doesn't leave out the simpler scenes. Dialogue is clean and mostly front-centered, while everything is given a nice amount of atmosphere.
One of the coolest scenes is one in which Vin Diesel sort of "relives" the crash and murder of his old love, with a ghostly car flipping over him as he surveys the murder site. It's really cool and is a nice and subtle mix of elements.
Music also sounds nice - both the score by Brian Tyler and the soundtrack, composed of a mix of urban sounds (and overseen by The Neptunes' genius Pharrell Williams).
While some might complain that this mix is a bit too bombastic, really, it's what people want. And I'm fairly certain that some of the quieter, more meditative moments in the movie will weigh down all the sound and fury. It's hard to think of a more surround sound demonstration-worthy disc than this.
Also included on this disc are audio tracks in French DTS 5.1 and Spanish: DTS 5.1, as well as subtitles in English SDH, French, and Spanish. Race on!
Universal has lined up an impressive array of special features for this deluxe edition of 'Fast & Furious.' In addition, it should be noted that there is a bonus disc with a digital download copy. I'm always dubious of "2-disc special editions" where the second disc is just the download disc. I mean, is that really all that special? That being said, Universal loaded this disc to the gills, with almost everything in HD, and even threw in some super sweet Blu-ray exclusives! If there's one complaint, it's that a lot of these features are very, very similar, and one wonders if they could have been blended into a larger, cohesive documentary (which you could then select the scene/topic of interest that most intrigues you). Still, this is a minor quibble.
It's hard not to bestow a highly recommended stamp on this baby. While the movie itself isn't a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, it is a whole lot of fun. The AV is superb and the collection of extras is truly impressive. Race to the store for this one!