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With Careers Stalled, Restarting a Franchise's Engine

MOVIE REVIEW
Fast & Furious (2009)

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Jaimie Trueblood/Universal Pictures

“Fast & Furious,” the fourth picture in the car-fetishizing quadrilogy begun with 2001's “The Fast and the Furious,” inspires some interesting questions. For example: What changes in the audience’s response to a movie, and what does it signify, when all that separates a film from its predecessor is the absence of “the” in the title? What are we to make of the implication that Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), reunited at last, are now simply fast and furious instead of “the fast” and “the furious?”

There’s plenty of time to consider such things during the movie, which treads joylessly through the same basic territory of the three previous films. Fancy, slick speedsters fill the frame, Mr. Diesel broods and poses, Mr. Walker brings forth his characteristic cold-eyed-dude stare, too-thin women vamp around in tight clothing, and director Justin Lin films one kinetic car chase after another. The story – which finds Dominic and Brian gone undercover to investigate the murder of Dom’s girl Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) – throws in drug pushers, high powered kingpins and scenes set south of the border.

The first three movies in the series are not artistic triumphs, to be sure, but they each possess a sense of fun that’s missing from this humorless exercise. The absence of that carefree spirit is all the more mystifying given the presence of Mr. Lin behind the camera. Responsible for “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift,” the best of the four films and the one most willing to self-effacingly run with its many latent absurdities, the filmmaker goes the opposite route here. In so doing, he’s produced a mechanical revenge drama that treads through cumbersome, poorly-acted territory on the way to a slam-bang action-packed finale.

It’s pretty clear that “The Fast and the Furious” series didn’t get to a fourth film with sincere portraits of unremitting obsession. It did so by showing off fast cars and beautiful people, paying tribute to a long and illustrious line of automotive centric B movies. Enough with the brooding and the emoting; what “Fast & Furious” needs more than anything is some hint that the people involved know how ridiculous it is.

FAST & FURIOUS

Opens on April 3 in the United States and on April 10 in Britain.

Directed by Justin Lin; written by Chris Morgan, based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson; director of photography, Amir Mokri; edited by Christian Wagner and Fred Raskin; music by Brian Tyler; production designer, Ida Random; produced by Neal H. Moritz, Michael Fottrell and Vin Diesel; released by Universal Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes. This film is rated PG-13 by M.P.A.A. and 12A by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Vin Diesel (Dominic Toretto), Paul Walker (Brian O’Conner), Michelle Rodriguez (Letty), Jordana Brewster (Mia Toretto), John Ortiz (Campos) and Laz Alonso (Fenix).

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