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Movie Review: New model, original parts

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Movie Review: New model, original parts
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Fast & Furious


** (out of 5)


Vin Diesel as Dominic Toretto

Paul Walker as Brian O'Conner


Jordana Brewster as Mia Toretto

Michelle Rodriguez as Letty

John Ortiz as Campos

Laz Alonso as Fenix Rise

Gal Gadot as Gisele Harabo

Studio: Universal

Directed by: Justin Lin

By some bizarre twist of fate, I had managed to never see any of the "Fast & Furious" films... not even the first one, which has been held up as the gold standard for this sort of film.

So, to do my due diligence as a film critic, I rented and watched the first two films before seeing this one. (I would have watched the third film, but the first two were about all I could take in such a short time span.)

This new "Fast & Furious" has been billed as the new model with original parts. That's a clever way of saying that Vin Diesel and Paul Walker have reunited as Dominic Toretto and Brian O'Conner, two street racers on opposite sides of the law.

This time around, Toretto is still on the lam while O'Conner has been reinstated to the FBI. After their friend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is murdered, the two join forces to bring down the drug trafficker who was behind the hit.

If you're a fan of the series, you will welcome this film with open arms. But if you're not a fan and are contemplating a "Fast & Furious" marathon like I did, I would warn against it. After all, there's only so much of Paul Walker's acting that anyone can take.

I can honestly say that you can see "Fast & Furious" without knowing the background from the previous films. After all, the selling point to this film is the whip-ass car chases, which I will admit are pretty cool on the big screen.

In fact, the film opens with a powerful semi-truck hijack that tops the finale of the first film and is better than anything you've seen in a "Road Warrior" movie. It's too bad you already saw most of this best scene when the teaser trailer dropped last year.

The problem with "Fast & Furious" is that when the stars step out from behind the wheel, everything falls apart. Vin Diesel plays his stock badass with no real depth. Jordana Brewster, while fetching, is saddled with the "nice and normal girl" part, boring us to tears. And Paul Walker... well, he's Paul Walker.

The plot is utterly incomprehensible, but the legions of street racing fans hopped up on NOS and Full Throttle energy drink aren't going to care. They're all about the high-octane car chases and the hot girls in skimpy outfits (who seem to show up in all the street races).

Still, some choices of sex objects in the film are suspect. Israeli model Gal Gadot plays the drug-runner's girlfriend, but she can't act better than Paris Hilton on a bad day, and she's so whisper thin that it looks like a mighty huff from one of the car's exhaust pipes would blow her away.

As an action spotlight, things are awesome. However, like a sub-par Michael Bay film, the movie crumbles when it tries to tell a story. In fact, the pacing and construction is so awkward that it is near impossible to follow. I suppose you can sit back and relax just to watch the action, but when you check your brain at the door of the theater, you might need an actual lobotomy to do so.

As an example of the film's wretched writing, the subplot of Letty's murder is breezed over and told only in flashback form. Yet, the flashbacks are experienced by people who weren't actually there, and things are never explained. It's as if this entire sequence took place in another film, even though Rodriguez hasn't stepped foot in this series since its debut in 2001.

I tried to get into "Fast & Furious." Heck, I tried to get into the series as a whole. And the film works while the engines are revving. It just doesn't know what to do with the other 45 minutes of screen time it has.

Kevin Carr is an independent writer, journalist and filmmaker who lives in Columbus, Ohio.