Thursday, April 9, 2009

Dead man driving: 9 notes on the imponderable profundities of Fast & Furious

1) I do not pretend to understand the subtleties of Fast & Furious, the fourth installment of the muscle car series that began back in 2001 with The Fast and the Furious. I do get the feeling that after Babylon AD (2008) (a clunky Children of Men ripoff that I found endearing), Vin Diesel decided it was time to reboot his career by returning to the source. Meanwhile, Paul Walker must have decided that going straight to DVD in such films as The Death and Life of Bobby Z (2007) was not his idea of a good time either. So, even though both Vin and Paul were too superior to star in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006), now they are happy to embrace their long lost franchise to save their careers.

2) Still, I found the newest Fast & Furious difficult to follow, so I will turn to the ever-reliable April 6 edition of The New Yorker to summarize it for me: "Vin Diesel and Paul Walker star in this action sequel, as a fugitive and a police officer who unite to fight a common enemy."

3) What's the deal with Mr. Diesel anyway? Writing for The Cooler, Jason Bellamy points out "I got a good laugh this week from a piece on Yahoo reporting that `Vin Diesel' isn’t Vin Diesel’s real name. As if it wasn’t obvious. From the first time I saw Diesel a little over 10 years ago in a Dateline special that showcased his efforts (and also Darren Aronofsky’s with Pi) to break out from obscurity at Sundance, he’s annoyed me with his oversized ego. You know, the kind of ego that would lead a guy named Mark Vincent to tell his friends to start calling him Vin Diesel." So, his real name is Mark Sinclair Vincent. Vincent comes from "Vincentius," meaning "conquering," which makes perfect sense. I was beginning to wonder if the name Vin Diesel was supposed to suggest some gaseous flavor of wine.

4) At any rate, Vin Diesel's acting reminds me of Sylvester Stallone's. Both men look most convincing when they steadfastly face down adversity with a blank but determined expression. In the beginning of F&F, Diesel faces a flaming gas tanker detached from a semi and rolling towards him and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) as they wait in a muscle car on the edge of a cliff (why the flaming tank of gas hasn't already exploded I wouldn't hazard to know). They are trapped, facing certain doom, and yet I couldn't help but wonder at Diesel's bored, heavy-lidded expression. He's not fazed. Representing as he does the ultimate in construction-boot-and-wife-beater-wearing-working-class-hero version of masculinity, he's not worried at all, because he can time his muscle car to race underneath the tank just when it bounces just high enough for them to slide underneath, and so all is saved.

5) Another sign of Diesel's (or I should say Dominic Toretto's) mythical machismo: he can road whisper. Whereas a few talented men can horse whisper, somehow communicating with horses and healing them, etc., Dominic can walk out on to a road at night and feel the accident (with several dramatic flashbacks) that killed off Letty early on in the film. Just by looking at the streaks of rubber and by dipping his finger in some green gunk, Dom can figure out the exact garage in LA that carries the nitromethane of the evil drug-dealer henchman who killed his fair Letty. The man can not only race and crash his muscle car into villains, he can summon semblances of car crashes past.

6) And when others attend Letty's funeral, how does Dom appear? He stands in front of an oil pump in the distance, so (I guess) the audience can associate him with powerful pumping action, and so Brian O'Connor can feel his presence. When Brian looks up, Dom has vanished in his mythical fashion.

7) Diesel also has lots of great lines. At one point, he brags about how, if apprehended by the US police, he will do lots of time in prison: "I do real time. I don't stop." I'm not sure what he means here, but his best line came when the attractive Gisele Harabo (Gal Gadot) of the evil Braga druglord asked him if he was as interested in women as he clearly was in cars. Dom replies, "I'm one of those boys who appreciate a fine body regardless of the make." That's good. Given all of the car-fetishizing going on, I was beginning to wonder. Also, in one affecting scene when Dom is about to leave LA and face almost certain death, Dom's sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) asks "How do you say goodbye to your only brother?" Dom replies succinctly with "You don't." Lastly, when Dom looks upon the evil druglord-owned Mexican village in the distance, someone says "Going there is suicide," whereupon Dom answers with "I have no choice."

8) And what about Paul Walker as FBI agent Brian O'Conner? He defines rogue cop intensity. In his first scene, Brian chases some goon across the rooftops of LA in proper Vertigo fashion. Then, once the gangbanger steps out of an apartment window onto a small rooftop about three stories up, Brian jumps through a window on top of the guy, thereby plummeting both of them to land on a roof of a car down below. When Brian returns to FBI headquarters, the Chief points out that "Complaints have been rolling in" due to Brian's mad chase tactics, but nevermind. Brian is the sort of cop who smashes a co-worker's face against a brick wall when they get into an argument. Dom's sister sums up O'Conner's complexities by asking him if he ever feels like he's "the bad guy pretending to be the good guy?" O'Conner replies, "Every day."

9) At any rate, there's much skullduggery as O'Connor and Dom race cars back and forth under a batcave-esque tunnel under a mountain range along the US-Mexican border. At one point about five muscle cars race inside that tunnel, and all I could think was--shouldn't they not tailgate each other so much, especially at night, in a tiny little tunnel, as they drive at speeds over 150 miles per hour? That kind of fast & furious driving can be dangerous.

No comments: