“It was crappy yesterday, it was crappy the day before, and guess what? It hasn’t changed.”
You could say those words about a lot of movies that came out at the turn of the century, but not The Fast and the Furious. The only way those words apply to the 2001 Paul Walker and Vin Diesel vehicle is if you’re discussing the crustless tunafish sandwiches that brought undercover cop Brian O’Connor to Toretto’s Market & Cafe every single day for three weeks straight — and even then, probably not. I don’t even like tunafish, but if it’s Toretto brand, then I’m sure it was awesome.
But I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear such a harsh judgment of The Fast and the Furious as recently as two hours ago — because as of two hours ago, I had not seen The Fast and the Furious. Nor had I, or have I, seen any of the other six Furious movies that have earned Universal a combined $2.3 billion worldwide. Somehow, this franchise moved so fast that it whipped right past me entirely. It’s only now that I’m realizing how much I’ve missed out on.
It’s an interesting experience, sitting down to watch the first film in a world-renown mega-franchise that’s been going on for a decade and change. For one, it’s kind of awkward showing up fifteen years late to the party. I feel like I’ve missed out on so much. I could have spent years fantasizing about punching stupid Vince in his stupid face, or stupid Johnny Tran and his stupid cousin Lance. I could have spent so much time wishing I was part of this extended family of beautiful, badass men and women. At the very least, I could have known that the best Cuban joint in Los Angeles is Cha Cha Cha, or that Dom Toretto’s phone number is 323-555-6439.
Young, high-school-sophomore me would have loved The Fast and the Furious. The good news is, 30-year-old me loves it, too. Big time. I’ve been told repeatedly how much I would love the Fast and Furious franchise, given my affinity toward big, loud movies that are dumber than a man with a gas tank for a brain. (Pretty harsh assessment of Dom by the way, Sergeant Tanner, but I’ll let it slide because I know you are secretly Buffalo Bill and you have a pit in your basement where you make people put the lotion on the skin or else they get the hose again, and that’s not even mentioning your mangina. I digress.) I’m good with stupid, as long as there’s heart and soul to back it up. The Fast and the Furious has both qualities in spades, right from the jump. It’s no wonder so many people latched onto this world. I would have, too, and I’m only sorry that I’m just latching on now.
But it’s never too late to find a new family. That’s a key takeaway in this first lap around the Fast and Furious franchise, and, from what I understand, a key theme permeating the rest of the series. From the jump, the idea of forged family is front and center, with diesel-fueled Dom standing as the alpha member of a fiercely loyal wolf pack. Infiltrating such a tightly-knit team is no easy task, as Brian Spilner comes to learn when he attempts to get into Dom’s good graces. At first, it appears he’s authentically interested in becoming part of this family. On closer inspection, it’s revealed that he’s a cop, and Spilner isn’t even his last name; infiltrating Team Toretto is literally Officer O’Connor’s job. But the deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole he goes, the less he wants to come out. He wants to cozy up with Mia, and even if becoming close with her brother is only a perk, it’s a pretty awesome perk.
I peered deep into the fresh-faced, youthful eyes of Paul Walker and Vin Diesel and discovered why the world fell so fast and furiously for these men.
I can relate to Brian’s assignment. Despite endorsements of this franchise from friends and colleagues over the years, despite knowing that it’s a huge part of pop culture and an unstoppable force of moneymaking nature, I refused to hop into the franchise’s backseat and let it drive me away toward Pleasure Town — or at least up the Pacific Coast Highway to Neptune’s Net; love those crab rolls. Instead, I’ve waited until the very last minute to finally get involved, now that I have an actual assignment and deadlines to hit. Furious 7 is mere days away, and I have to review it. And in order to review it properly, I have to get closer to the heart of the series. I have to watch ’em all. I must know everything. I have a job to do, just like Brian.
But something changed while watching The Fast and the Furious. I peered deep into the fresh-faced, youthful eyes of Paul Walker and Vin Diesel and discovered from a 15-year distance why the world fell so fast and furiously for these men. I felt myself growing fond of Jordana Brewster as Mia, torn between her family loyalty and her burning passion for Brian. I even learned to appreciate Michelle Rodriguez, who I never cared for much, even (and maybe especially) as an enormous Lost fan — but I get it with Letty. She’s tough, she’s fearless, and she slows down for no one. I’m into it.
Beyond the core four, I began to fear for the other members of the Toretto family, not knowing whether they would make it out alive and survive for another Furious ride. Whatever with Leon, but Jesse? He didn’t deserve to die like that. Stupid Johnny Tran. I even worried over Vince, scumbag that he is, as he dangled from the side of a truck, the driver blasting shotgun rounds through his own damn door just to blow the thief to smithereens. OK, “worried” isn’t the right word, but I was on the edge of my seat wondering if this was how Brian and Vince’s vendetta would end, without real closure. Luckily, Brian was there to save the day.But that’s one thing I do have the advantage of knowing — and again, “advantage” isn’t the right word. It’s more like “weight.” I don’t know what’s going to happen to Brian O’Connor, but I do know that the seven movies that exist will be the only ones he cruises through. The tragic death of Paul Walker in the fall of 2014 loomed large over my viewing of The Fast and the Furious, and I’m sure the shadow will only grow with each passing film. Every smile he flashes, every punch he throws, every time he gets behind the wheel — I see it all through the lens of a man facing down a ticking clock. It makes you wince in the big moments, during the high-octane heists and street races and face-pounding fistfights — but also during the quieter, throwaway moments, like when car shop owner Harry warns Brian not to apply two tanks of NOS to his ride.
“I’ve seen you drive,” he says. “You have a heavy foot. You’ll blow yourself to pieces!”
I will never have the experience of watching Walker whip through Furious film after Furious film, heist after heist, without the knowledge that he’s no longer with us. But for now, I do have six more street races with the man. (Well, five, actually. Thanks for that, Tokyo Drift.) I’m looking forward to watching both O’Connor and Walker’s transformations from promising newcomer to seasoned veteran by the time this ride screeches to a halt, even if that means the official end of the line.
Will I ever become a full-blown member of the Fast and Furious family? Will I go native, like Brian? Maybe, maybe not. For now, I’m taking it one 10-second ride at a time.
Next: To Florida! To Fast! To Furious!
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