A Retrospective: Living Life A Quarter Mile At A Time

The Fast And The Furious

…“High Octane”, “Fast Paced”, “Adrenaline Thrill Ride”

Read any half-assed newspaper review on the opening weekend of the latest Fast And Furious release and I bet my pink slip you will bear witness to the buzz words above regurgitated time and time again. Band wagon reporting breeds lazy journalism when it comes to films of this genre with every reporter apparently ‘buckling up’ for their next fix but to pigeon-hole it alongside your Expendables, Needs for Speeds and pretty much any Michael Bay flick is to completely miss the point. I love everything Fast And Furious and although you may well have felt shamed into a similar confession, do not fear for you are not alone… For those of us who have lost ourselves in this high speed saga (couldn’t help myself) it runs deeper than truck jacking street racers and audacious heists. It’s mixed loyalties. It’s family. It’s triumph and tragedy. And sadly, it’s the passing of the great Paul Walker…

Like a Nos injected smack in the face, The Fast And The Furious hit our screens back in 2001 like no other. Gone In 60 Seconds had given us a motley crew and American muscle the year before but nobody had tapped the supped up sub-culture of street racing imports. Placing the viewer not only in the car but under the hood, the inventively shot nocturnal drag races stripped bear the crunching mechanics of double clutching and the burst of a turbo charge, strangely connecting the viewer with the car and drawing you into the bond between street racer and machine. And it is from these bonds forged in the streets and chop shops of L.A. that the franchise elevates itself above all contemporaries.

Fast & Furious Car

If faced with the prospect of hanging from the bonnet of a big rig whilst dodging the scatter of a shot gun or having no option but to run your car into a ravine before you’re wiped out by a flaming runaway locomotive, you or I may start to question ones life choices. Not these guys. Beneath the gloriously gratuitous veneer of these set pieces beats the heart and sole of the journey. La familia. But the road has been anything but smooth (*insert speed bump pun) for the tumultuous brotherhood of Dominic Toretto and Brian O’Connor.

Sitting here now, the kinship between Diesel’s leader of the crew and Walker’s undercover LAPD officer is cemented in our minds. A regular odd-couple for the Blu-ray generation. But it’s easy to forget they started life as cop vs. crim and their alliance was anything but easy until as late into the series as Fast Five. I want to reiterate that last point; three motion pictures are (in part) dedicated to the arc of a relationship between two alpha males. A beautiful union blossoms before our very eyes both on and off screen ultimately leading to Vin Diesel naming his baby daughter Pauline, a tribute to his fallen brother.

2Fast 2Furious Logo

Despite a current world gross of around the $207m mark, the turbo chargers had barely cooled when in 2003, Dominic Toretto was ominous in his absence from the sequel, 2 Fast 2 Furious. Unsure over his commitment to drive the series on, two scripts were conceived for this follow up. One included and one omitted the character but with Vin Diesel and director Rob Cohen placing their bets on xXx, 2F2F ploughed on with changes of personnel on both sides of the camera. John Singleton (Boyz N The Hood, Shaft, Four Brothers) took on directing duties, delivering a sun drenched Miami thriller with the focus shifted to buddies from back in the day, Brian O’Connor and Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) and a cameo from future crew member Tej (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Brown). But despite initial scepticism (mainly by me), this is many folks favourite entry in the Fast And Furious arsenal, riding out the bumpy start and currently outranking its predecessor by $30m at the box office.

Tokyo Drift One Sheet

And now, those of us well versed in the Fast And Furious time line know what came next. Three years on and with more than a slight whiff of the ‘straight to video’ about it, The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006) earned a cinematic release and eventually found its way into our hearts. With Paul Walker part exchanged, the series moves on with new lead Lucas Black and future fave Han, drifting their way into the bad books of the local no-goodniks. But in a weird flight of fancy, the storyline is based after the events of the as yet unmade Fast And Furious (2009), Fast Five (2011) and Fast And Furious 6 (2013)… Who knew?! Cleverly misjudged or insanely creative foresight (you discuss) but this time shift green lights all manner of paradigm altering flashbacks; Han was actually murdered by Deckard Shaw. Tej will own that garage of his dreams… Back to 2006 and salvation revs into view by way of a classic Plymouth Road Runner, Dom and that pre-MCU post credit sting. Relinquishing their rights to the Riddick Chronicles and future producing credits, Universal had reunited the band and plotted a road map for the future.

Roman's Leap Of Faith

And so it was written. Three movies became seven, the title streamlined to Fast And Furious and a shift in focus from street racing to heist thrills has seen the franchise successfully grow and evolve with its audience. Increasing its fellowship along the way, each new entry has topped its predecessor at the box office; $363m, $626m, $788m and $1.15b. That’s billion! Boasting stunts and locales pulled from the pages of the crassest Bond stories (I’m talking latter Brosnan), the crew has expanded, allegiances switched and time lines are something to reference, not to be tied down by. We’ve had cars landed on boats in the Sunshine State, cliff edge drifting on Tokyo hillsides, dubious leaps between Abu Dhabi penthouses, sky diving convoys, one too many leaps of faith and a flying head butt. Who can resist discovering how they are going to top themselves next time out?

Closing his eyes and gripping tight to the reigns for no less than four entries, Taiwanese born director Justin Lin has recently stepped down having overseen the phoenix like rise from the ashes of Tokyo Drift to the current format we love today. In Lin’s steady hands we have travelled the globe and expanded the family. The action has taken us from Japan to London through Mexico, Brazil, Spain and back again. Brian’s a father twice over and they’ve even welcomed another law enforcer hell bent on bringing them down into their fold in Dwayne Johnson’s hench Hobbs. Everyone is welcome at Dominic’s table…

Jumping into the driving seat for the next exciting chapter for The Fast And The Furious is a personal fave of mine, exciting horror auteur James Wan (Saw, Insidious, The Conjuring). The first film to chronologically follow Tokyo Drift, Fast 7 (2015) was initially conceived as a two part storyline with Fast And Furious 6 but due to problematic weather conditions and an over optimistic dead line potentially compromising the quality of the finished picture, filming finally began on a stand alone seventh instalment in Sept. 2013, two short months before that fateful afternoon in Santa Clarita…

“If one day the speed kills me do not cry because I was smiling”

…November 30th, 15:30 Pacific Standard Time…

Having attended a function for charity organisation Reach Out Worldwide, Paul Walker and business associate Roger Rodas head down the Kelly Johnson Parkway in the latter’s Porsche Carrera GT. What was to follow shook fans of the popular actor and the Fast franchise to its very core when Rodas appears to lose control of the vehicle at high speed (possibly combined with unsuitable tyres) and slams it into a lamp post. Before the emergency services attend the scene, both Paul Walker and Rodas are the victims of fatal traumatic injuries.

Paul Walker Crash Site

This tragic event left the future of the movie hanging in the balance as Universal put production on hold indefinitely to allow the Fast family (and the world) to grieve. With rumours abounding as to how the film would continue if at all, shooting started anew on April 1st 2014 with the blessing of Walker’s family. Rewriting the script in homage to Brian O’Conner, Universal combined pioneering face recognition CGI provided by WETA with Walkers brothers Caleb and Cody to retire the popular character and give him the send off the man deserved. I have nothing but praise and admiration for the beautiful handling of this heart wrenching situation and fought back the tears when witnessing the departure of Brian O’Conner as he veers off alone down a road less travelled. The car of choice, an angelic white Toyota Supra…

I feel this is a fitting note to conclude the first Ramblin’ Entertainment blog, with imagery of our fallen brother as he would want to be remembered. Recent news of a New York based sequel have recently surfaced with interest in the juggernaught that is The Fast And The Furious at its highest level. But for those who remember the excitement of their first encounter (“Dude, I almost had you”) and wished they could say grace at a Toretto cook out, The Fast And The Furious can never be the same now Dom and Brian no longer ride together…

If We Ride Together, We Die Together

Dude I Almost Had You #ForPaul

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