If someone offered you the chance to go back to your sophomore year of high school for 2 hours, for $16, would you take it?
That’s what ArcLight Cinemas at the Sherman Oaks Galleria were charging for their one and only special screening of the original street racing hit, The Fast and the Furious (15th Anniversary), yesterday, Wednesday June 22 at 7:00pm. Cognizant of the fact that as of yet, man has not invented the time machine, and if he did, would not charge $16 for its services, I took the local theater up on what I deemed to be a bargain. As a special “fan service” intro from Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez ran preceding the film, I began to marvel at how Universal’s most successful franchise managed to start from these relatively unknown beginnings.
$3.9 billion dollars, six sequels (soon to be seven with the upcoming release of Furious 8 in April 2017), and 15 years later, it’s easy to analyze the movie that started it all and retrospectively make observations about why it surpassed initial expectations, both with fans and at the box office. But as someone who watched it twice during its opening week back in 2001, on the same day no less, I give myself permission to play the role of film critic here.
It certainly wasn’t great acting that launched the F&F empire. The only major cast member to show me that they had considerable acting chops was Vin Diesel as Dominic Toretto. As Mia Toretto, Dominic’s sister in the film says regarding her brother’s captivating personality: “Dom… he’s like gravity. Everything just gets pulled to him.” Agreed, it was difficult not to be sucked into the gravitational pull created by a young Vin Diesel, whose imposing physique, expressive eyes and distinctive baritone voice made him that guy that every other guy wants to hang out and be seen with.
But what was lacking in skill was made up for by brilliant casting. Dominic’s “team” members filled their supporting roles well, and in particular Chad Lindberg delivered a memorable performance as Jesse, the quirky geek of the bunch.
As I fear I’ve worn out my welcome playing the role of Hollywood highbrow critic, let’s get to the real stars of the first installment and subsequent franchise, the cars. Craig Lieberman, who served as a technical advisor for The Fast and the Furious and its immediate sequel, 2 Fast 2 Furious, is the man credited with creating the picture cars for these two films, and in particular the orange Supra that every one of us lusted after. Apparently, accordingly to Lieberman, he was actually opposed to the decals and the orange paint job, but the studio overruled him and the rest is history.
The tuning style employed on many of the cars in the film is what I would consider to be “rice,” a term used in the aftermarket community to describe an import car, usually a Honda, modified in poor taste, with a heavy emphasis on aesthetics rather than performance. But it worked well for the movie. I feel Lieberman and Universal’s over-exaggerated portrayal of import cars and import culture played beautifully on the big screen, and also helped show the general public just how expressive, fanatical and dedicated real car enthusiasts can be.
And granted, the movie is very cheesy when scrutinized closely. The portrayal of nitrous oxide as a modification capable of increasing a vehicle’s speed to the point where it makes your vision warp, like on the Star Tours ride at Disneyland, is comical, as are the hundreds of gear shifts that each driver seems to make in every race, despite the fact their vehicle only has five or six speeds.
But these faults are easily forgiven when we consider what The Fast and Furious franchise has done for car lovers everywhere, something that would have been impossible had the original The Fast and the Furious never reached its cult-level of following:
It put in front of audiences the idea that these hunks of metal and plastic were more than just toys, they were something that we could come together to appreciate and bond over, taking heart in knowing that we related over that which we cherished most in our lives — our rides.
This article is dedicated to my most avid reader, fan and friend, Mr. James Suk.