The Continuing (and Relevant) Legacy of “The Fast and the Furious”

Fate of the FuriousAll images courtesy of Universal Pictures

Confession time: I have seen exactly one of the Fast and the Furious movies. It was the first one, on a brutally hot day in New York City, in August of 2001. The movie had been out for over a month at that point, and I had exactly zero interest in it, but I was broke, and my air conditioner was busted, and so it was a good way to get out of the heat for a couple hours.

Upon leaving the theater where I was the only audience member, and after suffering through absurd characters, stilted dialogue, lame story twists and questionable visual effects, I lamented the time lost to something more productive, like sweating uncomfortably and uncontrollably on my couch. Or having my skin ritually pierced with porcupine quills.

Other than that, though, I enjoyed the film very much and couldn’t wait to miss the inevitable sequel, something I haven’t failed to do in the ensuing decade and a half.

Clearly, I am in something of a minority here, which is fine, because it wouldn’t be the first time. Some franchises just aren’t my type of martini, really, and if fast cars are involved, quite frankly I’d rather be driving them than watching them careen against each other in increasingly outlandish stunts.

Adding more and more celebrity faces to the bombast doesn’t help, because I don’t care how big a name you are, when you’re joining a franchise like this one, whatever star power you have is secondary to the latest model of whatever automaker has signed on for enough product placement to singlehandedly revitalize the city of Detroit.

But, again, that’s just me. I’m a unique flower.

Paul Walker Fast and the Furious

Having said that, I do give the Quick and the Angry folks a fair amount of credit in one area, that being the decided precedent it has sent in the introduction of more and more actors of color to a major franchise. What started out as a star vehicle for the late Paul Walker — and featured an odd-looking villain played by someone named Mark Vincent, but who carried the laughable screen name of Vin Diesel — turned into something else entirely, as it became a priority to put non-white faces front and center.

The fact that it made Diesel a star and Universal a titanic amount of money ($144 million domestic, which would be $198 million today, and an additional $63 million foreign, about one-twentieth of the total earned by Furious 7) only hammered home the importance of such an idea, that a franchise didn’t need to be fronted by white people to be successful.

In the years since, as the Brisk and the Annoyed have become a true global sensation, the multicultural cast has to be given at least some of the credit for that. I mean, sure, fast cars are fun to watch, for some, but it’s also nice to have pretty people driving them, especially when said pretty people represent a wider swath of the global viewing public than just those descended from the Caucasus.

Or do you need to be reminded that two years ago, Furious 7 helped Universal to establish a brand new — though admittedly short-lived — record for global grosses with $353 million in domestic ticket sales and over $1.1 billion in the rest of the world, for a total of over a billion and a half smackeroos?

Because, like it or not, in this business, money certainly does talk, and with great volume and authority. So, thanks to this, more actors of color find themselves cast in big budget movies, even if only in supporting roles, because it occurs to the people making said movies that audiences actually enjoy such things.

Regardless of what caused it, there is nothing about this trend that isn’t completely and totally positive. So score one for the Rapid and the Enraged.

Dwayne Johnson Vin Diesel Fast and Furious

Of course, with a franchise that runs as long as this one has — my understanding is that all the stars are signed for at least two more sequels, which would give us at least 10 of these suckers by the time we get to 2021 — there is always the danger of diminishing returns, which is why I tend to think this “feud” between Dwayne Johnson and his co-star (and series producer) Diesel is something of a marketing gimmick. For those not aware, Johnson referred to some unnamed fellow actor as a “candy ass” during filming last year, it soon became clear the unnamed was Diesel, and the pair have been kept apart during the ensuing and obligatory press tour. But, see, it all feels more than a bit staged to my jaded eyes.

I mean, these are two real, hard core professionals, two of the planet’s biggest stars with over $13 billion in worldwide grosses between them, and they can’t find a way to play nice for a couple weeks to help sell the movie that will only make them both even wealthier? Poppycock. To me it reeks of a set up, an effort to gin up extra news stories and gossip, even though it can’t possibly be necessary, considering that it’s going to open with close to $400 million worldwide this weekend and is already setting pre-sales records in China.

Then again, maybe that intrigue is part of why some of those people are buying tickets, so perhaps it’s not such a bad idea, after all. At this point, I’m just cynical enough to believe anything.

Paul Walker Vin Diesel Fast and Furious

What does interest me a little is where the series goes now that Walker is no longer part of it. The actor died tragically in a car accident in November of 2014 and I remember exactly where I was sitting when I heard the news, sitting in a bar and shooting the breeze with a buddy whose disinterest in the series runs equal to mine. Speaking of cynical, our first thought was that it was a hoax, with the second being a genuine question about what would happen with the only franchise that counted on him as a core member.

People seemed to really like the tribute the last movie gave Walker, and from what folks are saying, the new movie carries on reasonably well without him (even naming a character after him, which is a nice touch), but still, there’s something melancholy about a tent pole that loses one of its anchors, much less in such an ironic way. It almost made me want to watch Furious 7, just to see what they would do. Almost.

Now, with Walker gone and the trailers telling me that this new film moves from the heist sort of thing of the last few movies to a “family betrayal” theme of this one, I wonder how it’s going to reinvent itself yet again with installments nine and 10. Maybe cars under water. Or on the moon.

Which would really be something, even for the Accelerated and the Irritated.

Neil Turitz 2 is a filmmaker and journalist who has spent close to two decades working in and writing about Hollywood. Feel free to send him a tweet at @neilturitz. He’ll more than likely respond.

Share ThisShare on Facebook0Tweet about this on Twitter0Share on Google+0Share on TumblrPin on Pinterest0Share on Reddit0Print this pageEmail this to someone

Still quiet

Leave a Response