'The Fast and The Furious' (2001) review – franchise starter still gets engines going

The Fast and The Furious main castYou are now about to witness the strength of street racing.

An opening line by Dr. Dre was about the only thing missing from ‘The Fast and The Furious,’ the kickoff to one of Hollywood’s most surprising and popular franchises ever. There’s not a lot of properties that reach seven films and the 2001 original was a spectacular start.

The Fast and The Furious - cars set to raceSimilar to N.W.A., ‘The Fast and The Furious’ proved a groundbreaking introduction to mainstream America of an zeitgeist moment that was ready to be exposed to the masses and spawn a slew of imitators.

Inspired by Ken Li’s article “Racing Master X,” Director Rob Cohen takes viewers on a comprehensive tour of this world catering to adrenaline junkies filled with mayhem, money, hot women and faster cars. Cohen was absolutely the right choice for the film as he got everything that made this realm so captivating for teens and thrill seekers.

The-Fast-and-the-Furious-2001- Vin Diesel and Paul WalkerBrian O’Connor (Paul Walker) wants to get into the street racing scene and thinks he’s found his ticket in with Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), the undisputed top dog of the circuit.

Dom runs a deli and mechanic shop staffed with his team — Letty (Michelle Rodriguez in her most perfectly cast role); the hothead Vince (Matt Schulze); the laid back Leon (Johnny Strong) and engineer Jessie (Chad Lindberg) — which he treats more like his family instead of a crew.

It’s easy to see why Diesel would go on to become one of the hottest rising stars after his performance here as he gives Dom a warmth that belies his brawny physical stature. And while some of the other cast members seem to very much acting, Diesel makes Dom’s lines such as “I live life a quarter mile at a time. For those 10 seconds I’m free” sound genuine.

The Fast and The Furious - Chad Lindberg and Vin DieselBrian is hiding his true agenda, which has more to do with learning who is behind a series of daring highway truck robberies than winning a race. But as Brian gets close with Dom’s crew and sparks a relationship with Dom’s sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster), he starts questioning his loyalties.

The Fast and The Furious - Mia and BrianAs with Diesel, Walker found his iconic role here and he was the perfect Luke Skywalker to Diesel’s Han Solo. The film boasted a refreshingly diverse cast with racing crews led by Rick Yune and Noel Gugliemi that had no need for outdated stereotypes and preconceived notions of what a young hip cast should look like in what would become another trademark of the franchise.

It’s easy to get drawn in by the attractive cast and cars and simply write the film off as a 2000 update to ‘Point Break,’ but the script is less an undercover cop movie and one that explores the racer lifestyle community.

The Fast and The Furious - Letty Michelle RodriguezScreenwriters Gary Scott Thompson, Erik Bergquist and David Ayer establish well-developed characters, but also weave a compelling mystery regarding the identity of the trucker thieves.

Although the film featured racing cars, Cohen stages scenes like westerns with the car caravans filing in like a posse and Dom as the sheriff taking down anyone attempting to take him down. Cohen keeps the racing scenes visually coherent while keeping the action realistic and grounded.

While the series initially stumbled in subsequent sequels, the foundation for what the franchise would find its biggest success — action, crazy racing stunts and the strength of the family bond — was already laid with the first installment.

Long before it became a staple of Marvel Studios productions, the film features a post-credit scene that establishes what would soon become an essential element to the series to tease the next installment.

The Fast and The Furious - Brian and Dom raceAs far as a franchise starter, you’d be hard pressed to find a better one. Despite sequels that benefit greatly from cast additions to fully flesh out Dom’s family, ‘The Fast and The Furious’ still holds up very well and will have viewers stoked to kick off a ‘Furious’ marathon.

Rating: 9 out of 10

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