Back in 2001, Vin Diesel and Paul Walker skyrocketed to potential stardom with the tremendously successful The Fast and the Furious. When it came to the bad acting bonanza of a sequel, 2 Fast 2 Furious, Walker said yes, while Diesel went on to another potential franchise xXx. For the second sequel, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Walker opted out while Diesel said yes, if only for an unbilled cameo. In the time since either Walker or Diesel appeared in a Fast and Furious movie, their individual careers have been less than stellar, with Walker's only hit being Disney's Eight Below, while Diesel, still developing another Riddick movie for a character that succeeds only as a video game, scoring with family comedy The Pacifier. However, the beauty of a successful movie franchise is that it can create new movie stars, continue their careers, or, in the case of Fast & Furious, attempt to restart them.
"A lot has changed," Walker tells Diesel at one point in the movie, and he's right. Not about the intense story arc of their characters that he's referencing, but the Furious movies themselves. The last time a Fast and the Furious movie hit theaters it was set in Tokyo with a brand new lead character (Lucas Black). So how does Fast & Furious fit in? As a prequel to Tokyo Drift, taking place sequentially in the Furious canon after 2 Fast 2 Furious, but before Tokyo Drift even when Fast & Furious was made fourth. Confused? You won't be. Fast & Furious's plot is a familiar tale of revenge filled with unnecessary reasons for car chases, bad writing and simplistic acting. You know, all the things people loved about the Furious movies to begin with.
For those wondering where Diesel's character Dominic Toretto has been all these years, the answer is the Dominican Republic, where he and girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez, also looking for career rejuvenation) and a rag tag team of car driving thrill seekers (including Sung Kang as Han, the "Vin Diesel" character in Tokyo Drift) who steal gas in the movie's table-setting opening sequence. When Diesel breaks up the gang, Han heads to Tokyo. See? It all makes sense now!
Meanwhile, Walker is still hard at work with the law, and is found on a typical rooftop chase with a suspect that ends with Walker tackling his suspect for a two story drop into a car's roof that hurts neither of them. Medical improbabilities aside, a chase scene on foot? Isn't this Fast & Furious? But this is the newer, edgier Paul Walker, one with a brand new deeper voice, one that's a serious departure from his usual Southern California cadence. If you're an actor who wants to sound tough but typically sounds like a typical surfer dude, then it's best to sound like a typical surfer dude talking in a deeper voice.
When Rodriguez is killed, Diesel finds himself back in Los Angeles seeking revenge (and Coronas!) against the same man Walker is hunting down for the FBI. Reluctantly, and with only Rodriguez's death to unite them, they team up to go undercover against a drug runner.
Having directed both Fast & Furious and Tokyo Drift, director Justin Lin clearly holds the keys to the franchise (Get it? More puns on their way!), and, with the return of the original cast, has set things up reasonably well for fans. Lin follows the formula of the Furious movies pretty strictly, babes+car chases=success, pushing character development and dramatic scenes into the trunk. The babes involved this time are Jordana Brewster, back as Diesel's sister and Walker's former love interest (but maybe could be again? Fingers crossed!), and bad girl Gal Gadot, to whom Diesel gets to deliver the trailer-spoiling, best line of the movie: "I appreciate a good body regardless of the make." Still, even girls take a back seat to revenge, and the movie focuses more on the racing such as Diesel and Walker proving their worth to drug dealer Braga through a L.A. street race (which includes Lin's nod to himself when a few cars "drift" into L.A. traffic). The chase scenes are the real meat of a Furious movie, and, while it's hard to say they provide a brand new take on the car chase, do provide enough adrenaline for fans of the franchise to enjoy.
It's hard to see Fast & Furious as anything other than a chance to revitalize Diesel and Walker's careers while capitalizing on a known franchise. Fans of the original will get their money's worth, but it will hardly win over anyone who never bothered with the franchise in the first place. For those who were disappointed with 2 Fast 2 Furious and disenfranchised with Tokyo Drift, Fast & Furious is a successful return to the Furious formula, but even with the original actors in place, it's still a rather hollow movie of car chases and a few scenes of dialogue. Still, for the Furious crowd, that might just be what the mechanic ordered.