Filmbalaya Ranks the “Fast & Furious” Movies

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It’s time for me to come out of the closet. I love the Fast & Furious movies. Why, you ask? I really don’t know.

Perhaps it’s the hovering continuity that allows all those disparate characters from different films to stroll back onto the scene whenever it pleases them. Or maybe it’s the sublimely idiotic shifts in subgenre, tone, and locale.

I guess what it really boils down to is the fact that in recent years, this once self-serious street racing melodrama has somehow morphed into a 21st century A-Team, featuring a likable multi-culti team of badasses engaging in intense (but light-hearted) car-centered adventures, all while wearing their big dumb hearts on their sleeves.

In honor of this Friday’s release of Furious 7, it’s time to rank the seven official entries of the Fast & Furious franchise, from worst to first.

7) FURIOUS 7 (2015, Dir: James Wan)

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Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) aims to avenge his little bro in FURIOUS 7, now in theaters.

 It grieves me to report that the latest entry in the 14-year-old franchise is the weakest of the bunch by a wide margin. To a degree, the movie was a victim of circumstance. Obviously, Paul Walker‘s tragic death during a break in filming back in late 2013 cast a grim shadow over the movie. The series took another major blow with the exit of veteran director Justin Lin, who is largely responsible for the once-stalled franchise’s rebirth as a worldwide critical and commercial success.

In his place is James Wan (Saw, Insidious), a capable director when it comes to low-key horror, but woefully ill-equipped to wrangle big-scale action. Wan compensates for his lack of blockbuster experience in the exact same way Marc Forster handled 2008’s notorious James Bond misfire Quantum of Solace: nonstop Bourne-style quick cuts, flashy camera moves, and slow shutter speed, leaving set-piece after set-piece feeling perfunctory and empty, squandering multi-million-dollar action sequences in a flurry of color and noise.

Making matters worse, key cast member Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is sidelined for most of the film, perhaps due to scheduling issues with the busy actor. Jason Statham as baddie Deckard Shaw is similarly squandered, with his real-life martial arts prowess lost in the breeze to Wan’s ever-whirling Saw-cam.

It’s not all bad news, however. Kurt Russell is fun in his small role as a secret agent with a passion for Belgian beer, Chris Morgan‘s screenplay offers plenty of banter for the ever-growing cast to chew on, and the film does right by Walker by giving him a fitting send-off in the closing minutes.

Returning character(s): Pretty much all the survivors of Fast & Furious 6, plus brief cameos from the original’s Hector and Tokyo Drift‘s Sean.
Best Scene: Setting aside the film’s long list of short-comings, you’d have to be made of stone not to appreciate the closing tribute to Paul Walker. It’s the one moment of the film that feels like it’s been touched by human hands.
Most Cringe-Inducing Dialogue: Whatever it is that Iggy Azalea growls in her mercifully brief cameo. Did I mention Iggy Azalea is in this movie?

6) THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT (2006, Dir: Justin Lin)

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Sung Kang steals the show in TOKYO DRIFT.

Ditching all ties to the previous two installments ala Halloween III: Season of the Witch, the third Fast picture finds a rowdy American teen Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) moving in with his Navy dad in Tokyo and pretty much instantly pissing off the Yakuza by getting wrapped up in the underground world of Japanese car racing. Unfortunately, unlike Season of the Witch, the film sticks to the series basics rather than having Sean trick the Yakuza into putting on stonehenge-powered Halloween masks that kill them and turn their bodies into worms.

The cast is all new, including soulful drifter Han (Sung Kang, great), frowny-faced Uncle Yakuza (Sonny Chiba, not the character’s actual name), and swag hustler Twinkie (a torturous attempt at acting by Bow Wow). With the sole exception of Han, whose laid-back Patrick Swayze swagger is so effortlessly cool that the following sequels would contort into a time-space pretzel to allow for his return, the new characters are completely forgettable.

While this black sheep of the franchise has its supporters, I’m not one of them. From the high school setting to the uninvolving “Karate Kid with cars” storyline, the stakes just seem way too low and un-involving compared to the rest of the series.

The silver lining comes in the form of Sung Kang and new guy Justin Lin in the director’s seat. Lin has a clear knack for shooting action and would go on to work miracles by not only resurrecting this dead horse of a franchise, but also managing to retroactively make Tokyo Drift relevant to the other films through some insane ret-conning.

Returning character(s): One major actor from the original film returns in a surprise cameo.
Best Scene: Aforementioned cameo.
Most Cringe-Inducing Dialogue: “Winner gets… me!” – An American high school girl whores herself out as a street race trophy in an awkward moment of self-inflicted misogyny.

5) FAST & FURIOUS (2009, Dir: Justin Lin)

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Dom (Vin Diesel) and Brian (Paul Walker) take a break from sulking in FAST & FURIOUS.

After the ill-advised Tokyo Drift flopped, it seemed that we’d be left with one trilogy of diminishing returns. Three years later, the Fast & Furious trailer screamed, “Vin Diesel! Paul Walker! Michelle Rodriguez! Jordana Brewster!” The entire original cast had been lured back and the marketing heavily banked on how much fans wanted this to happen. Not only that, the two good elements of Tokyo Drift (badass Sung Kang and director Justin Lin) were back in action. In other words, it was hard for me not to be excited about this movie when it dropped in 2009, despite wishing it had been titled “4 the Fast 4 the Furious”, or “Still Fast Still Furious”, or anything more clever than simply dropping the definite article from the original title.

Unfortunately, this gloomy outing kind of forgets to have any fun. It mostly concerns fugitive street racer Dominic “Dom” Toretto (Diesel) and his efforts to avenge the brutal death of a loved one at the hands of a drug cartel led by John Ortiz. The movie gives fans the bare minimum of what they want as Dom is finally reunited with his old cop buddy Brian O’Conner (Walker), but the grim storyline means they remain stone-faced for most of the film and aren’t allowed to riff on each other with one-liners like the old days. A major plot twist in a later film renders Dom’s revenge spree irrelevant, while some murky car races set in a dark CGI tunnel system certainly do not help matters.

Although this entry deserves credit for reuniting the original cast and setting up the superior Fast Five, it mainly just makes one pine for the days when these guys seemed to be enjoying this whole car-racing thing.

Returning character(s): The four leads from the original film (Brian, Dom, Letty, Mia), Han from Tokyo Drift.
Best Scene: Brian tracks down his old buddy Dom, only to find him doing what he does best: dangling a Korean dude out of a window by his pant leg.
Most Cringe-Inducing Dialogue: “Pussy.” – Dom’s super clever one-liner after severing a bad guy’s spine with his car.

4) THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS (2001, Dir: Rob Cohen)

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Say cheese! All those crazy kids from THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS.

I know exactly what you’re thinking, my fellow Furious fan.

“Why hasn’t 2 Fast 2 Furious shown up on this list yet? Isn’t that by far the worst one? Does he actually think 2 Fast is an improvement over the original? Is this guy insane? My brain hurts. Help. Help me. I’m dying.”

Stop. Breathe. It’s going to be OK. Let me explain.

The Fast and The Furious came out the summer before I was to be in the seventh grade. The film was a surprise hit, mostly because of the crucial “males aged 12-15” demographic. Later on, everyone in my foul-smelling P.E. locker room could not stop talking about how SICK it was.

I know it’s a personal bias, but whenever I watch this movie, I kind of feel like I’m back in that odorous middle school locker room.

That being said, the original film is solid, despite being a near scene-for-scene ripoff of Kathryn Bigelow‘s immortal 1991 cult classic Point Break. As in that film, The Fast and The Furious is about a cop (Brian in TFATF/Johnny Utah in Point Break) infiltrating a gang of extreme thieves (street racers/surfers) led by a charismatic folk hero (Dom/Bodhi), only to fall for a girl tangled up with the other side of the law (Mia/Tyler). After falsely accusing a rival gang (Asian gangsters/Warchild’s drug ring), Brian discovers the truth and must choose between following his duty and following his heart.

The film hasn’t aged particularly well, but director Rob Cohen has a solid hand at directing action and the original cast remains appealing.

Returning character(s): “This is the first movie, cuz! Ain’t nobody returning from nothin’, bruh!” – Either a street racer from this movie or literally any kid from my 7th-grade P.E. class.
Best Scene: Climactic race between Dom and Brian.
Most Cringe-Inducing Dialogue: Everything Ja Rule says. Did I mention Ja Rule is in this movie?

3) 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS (2003, Dir: John Singelton)

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Roman and Brian just, like, cruising in 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS, y’know?

Arriving in a depressing but colorful summer of limp-dick blockbusters that included The Matrix Reloaded, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, and Bad Boys II, John Singelton‘s pseudo-sequel swaggered into theaters looking like the idiot cousin of The Fast and The Furious, wearing baggy shorts and a neon Hawaiian shirt while yelling things like “Chill, bruh, it’s just a movie!” 12 years later, most series fans regard it as just another shitty sequel, but personally? I love every moronic minute of it.

Disgraced cop Brian O’Conner is laying low in Miami, participating in real-life games of Mario Kart 64 in his flashy Skyline. Then the fuzz comes calling and says they will, like, totally lock his punk-ass up in jail unless he does some gnarly car tricks to put a drug lord (Cole Hauser) behind bars. They try to send Brian in undercover with some goober cop who knows nothing about tricked-out rides, but Brian says, “No way, bruh,” and hooks up his childhood friend Roman (Tyrese Gibson, perfect) with the job as they descend into what is essentially a 75-million-dollar episode of Miami Vice, only without any of that show’s rudimentary understanding of how a police investigation works.

It’s only appropriate that the Octopussy of the F&F franchise decided to ditch the gritty tone of its predecessor and pluck Brian out of the gritty surroundings of the original film and plop him into a candy-colored fever dream populated by clowns, maniacs, and idiots in fast cars. While Vin Diesel (wisely) decided to sit this one out, Paul Walker has always been the heart of these movies, and truth be told, Walker has better chemistry with newcomer Tyrese than he ever did with Diesel. Not to mention that most films of this era benefitted enormously from the inclusion of rapper/thespian Ludacris.

I say ignore the haters. Watch 2 Fast 2 Furious with someone you love. And also a lot of beer.

Returning character(s): Just Brian.
Best Scene: Brian drives a car onto a boat, much to Roman’s displeasure.
Most Cringe-Inducing Dialogue: “Pockets ain’t empty, cuz! And we ain’t hungry no more!” – Brian and Roman to each other in the finale, as they pull money out of their pockets and we fade to black. This is seriously the last line of the movie before the end credits roll. This movie is so fucking stupid and I love it.

2) FAST & FURIOUS 6 (2013, Dir: Justin Lin)

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It’s OK, he’s done this before.

In 2011, the Fast & Furious franchise got a jolt of electricity with Fast Five when the filmmakers decided they were going to transform into an Ocean’s Eleven type heist series, complete with overly-complicated schemes and an enormous cast of series veterans. Everyone went ape shit over this glorious transition, including myself.

So. How do you top a movie as big, dumb, crazy, and over-the-top as Fast Five? Apparently you attempt to make it bigger, dumber, crazier, and over-the-over-the-top.

Following the events of Fast Five, Dom and his extended family of hooligans are living it up big in South America, despite kind of just wanting to go back to Dom’s shitty house in East L.A. All of a sudden, super cop Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, the perfect addition to these movies) drops in and reveals that a key team member, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), isn’t as dead as she appeared to be two movies ago. In fact, she’s working for an international terrorist group led by Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) which happens to be the mirror image of Dom’s team of rough riders. Before you can say “Ride or die, bruh“, this train of idiots is headed out of the station and we get rolling with the crazy stunts, non-jokes, and timeline-shifting that we’ve come to expect from this franchise.

If this movie suffers from anything, it’s that Fast Five is a tough act to follow and it can’t help but feel like a retread with a few extra spices added.

Returning character(s): Pretty much everyone from Fast Five, plus Letty and two key players from Fast & Furious.
Best Scene: The filmmakers saw the tank chase in GoldenEye and decided to make a better one. Also that mid-credits scene.
Most Cringe-Inducing Dialogue: “This is who we are.” – Gisele (Gal Gadot), as she fires a harpoon into an airplane.

1) FAST FIVE (2011, Dir: Justin Lin)

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Hobbs doesn’t like the smell of what Dom is cooking.

Quick. Name one movie franchise that finally achieved its full potential in the FIFTH entry.

You Only Live Twice? Nope. Not even the best Bond film of the Sean Connery era.

The Empire Strikes Back? Doesn’t count. That movie is Star Wars 2 with a fancy name and you know it.

Leprechaun in the Hood? There’s an argument to be made here, but I’m going to say no.

The only answer I’ll accept is the Fast & Furious series, which finally got its mojo working in explosive style with 2011’s instant cheese classic Fast FiveHow did this happen? For starters, Justin Lin and screenwriter Chris Morgan got to have two test runs with Tokyo Drift and Fast & Furious to figure out a winning formula. They clearly learned that bringing back fan favorite characters is a must, but only if you can let them cut loose and have some fun. Also, adding Dwyane “The Rock” Johnson to an action movie never hurts.

Picking up the moment Fast & Furious left off, Dom is broken free from a prison transport bus by Brian and the gang. The whole team escapes to Rio de Janeiro, only to run afoul of local crime boss Hernan Reyes (Joaquin de Almeida) and the Hulk-like DSS agent Hobbs (Johnson). From there, characters from previous entries (particularly 2 Fast, to my delight) begin to trickle into the action while the film’s ghost of a plot serves up insane stunt sequence after insane stunt sequence. Hell, they even find time to do some street racing, because that’s what these movies used to be about.

If you watch just one of these batshit blockbusters, watch Fast Five. The actors and filmmakers are so comfortable with the material by this point that it all gels together perfectly. Justin Lin, please direct my life story and take as many dramatic liberties as you like, starting with the casting of Tyrese in the lead role.

Returning character(s): A shit load. Dom, Brian, Vince, and Mia from the original. Roman, Tej, and Monica from 2 Fast 2 Furious. Han from Tokyo Drift. Gisele and the Puerto Rican smash brothers from Fast & Furious.
Best Scene: The climactic heist/chase/battle of the film is the kind of pure spectacle usually reserved for Pixar movies.
Most Cringe-Inducing Dialogue: “This shit just went from Mission: Impossible to Mission: In-freaking-sanity!” – Who else but Roman.

Furious 7 is now playing in San Francisco at the AMC Metreon, AMC Van Ness 14, CinéArts in West Portal, and the Century 20 in Daly City. 

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Categories: Features, Reviews

One Comment on “Filmbalaya Ranks the “Fast & Furious” Movies”

  1. Adam Cuttler
    April 4, 2015 at 10:37 am #

    Amazing feature, Sean. You actually inspired someone (me) who could care less about this series to want to watch this franchise. Just the prospect of seeing Ja Rule ruin a movie is intriguing enough. Check out this podcast where they discuss the entire series. I’ve been listening to them for years. They’re fun guys to listen to and their podcast is almost as good as filmbalaya’s. http://filmjunk.com/2015/04/01/film-junk-premium-podcast-38-the-fast-furious-franchise/

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