Go speed racers

“What in the hell makes you think we’d have any Grey Poupon?”

“What in the hell makes you think we’d have any Grey Poupon?”

Rated 3.0

For those of you still smarting after big car thrillers like Gone in 60 Seconds and Driven made your skin turn pallid and put you in a world of hurt, the antidote has arrived.

While it’s no marvel of modern cinema, The Fast and the Furious provides big, ball-shaking thrills. I’d put some of the car shenanigans in this story of Los Angeles car racers, especially a climatic scene involving a semi with a heavily armed driver, up against any I’ve seen in any film. Finally, a director other than John Frankenheimer (Ronin) has figured out that fast cars can be major fun.

The plot is a total rip-off of Point Break, a good action film in its own right that marked the last, and possibly only, time Patrick Swayze was cool. Take the plot of that film, replace the surfboards and parachutes with pistons and nitrous oxide, and you basically have The Fast and the Furious.

Oh, has drag racing changed since Danny Zuko beat that guy with the holes in his face at the end of Grease! Your standard hot rod has been replaced by souped-up Honda Accords and Volkswagens equipped with thousands of dollars worth of speed makers. Director Rob Cohen, to the best of my knowledge, is the first director to shoot nitrous oxide into a car’s guts and have his film take the point of view of the nitrous oxide, blasting you into the engine and out the tail pipe. Great stuff.

The story has some surprise twists, and I’m sure some of you would be mighty angry if I gave them up, so I’ll be vague. Paul Walker, an actor possessing eyes so blue it will piss you off, plays a stud boy looking to infiltrate an illegal L.A. racing circuit led by Dominic Toretto (an extremely cool Vin Diesel). After saving Toretto’s ass during a police raid, the two become friends, and Walker’s speed junkie enters the insane world of street racing.

Bland, predictable love stories and some moronic “why I’m a racer” dialogue slow things down from time to time, but this film knows what you’re plunking the eight bucks down for, and it delivers. Stellar editing, great stunt work and a soundman who knows his way around the studio combine for race scenes that drop the jaw.

While the movie builds you up for a desert showdown called Race Wars, which turns out to be next to nothing, it does deliver the aforementioned truck chase scene that will be hard to top for its stunt work this summer. I also enjoyed one particular drag race where a participant is promised a three-way from his girlfriend if he is the victor (you feel his pain when his car gets passed).

Diesel, so good in Pitch Black and Saving Private Ryan, takes another step toward mega-stardom, filling the action hero shoes with master efficiency. The actors surrounding him are somewhat dull, but Diesel keeps every scene he occupies moving forward, regardless of the lack of support and sometimes stupid screenplay.

Will this film inspire kids to race their Honda Accords and crash into brick walls? Probably. Some at the screening I attended bragged about their involvement in a Reno racing subculture. Do I consider the film dangerous? No more dangerous than a film about drug addiction or war. People will do stupid things regardless of what’s going on at the movies.

The Fast and the Furious will make you forget Tomb Raider, and it turns out to be a big surprise. I was sure this one would suck, and thankfully, it does not. It speeds miles away from suckage, and passes for some good, solid summer entertainment.