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Shifting Fast

3 September, 2013 (11:33) | Film

Fast & Furious

Ok.

Deep breath.

Embarrassing moment of the… um… moment: I unabashedly love the Fast & Furious series.

Yes, you heard me. I love Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Paul Walker, Medium-size Bow-Wow (if he was Lil’ Bow Wow before, and he’s not fully grown-up, shouldn’t he be Medium-size Bow-Wow until he becomes Big Bow-Wow?) and even the more recent addition of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. It’s awful. It’s processed-Hollywood-movie-product. It’s unforgivable. And yet I still have seen every one.

Which isn’t to say that I’ve liked or enjoyed every one. After all, I disavowed 2 Fast 2 Furious from canon in the same way that Fast & Furious (the fourth movie in the series) essentially ignored the second and third (though, if you break down the series chronologically, the third is the sixth and the fourth through the sixth are the third through the fifth… damn, that’s confusing).

As series go, what’s been fascinating is to watch the evolution, the missteps, and the way in which the series constantly reinvents itself. The first movie may seem schlocky and a poor excuse for action, but the performances weren’t bad and the writing was above par, especially for processed-Hollywood-movie-product. The second one can’t boast any of those things, and so it flopped. The third (Tokyo Drift) was simply fun and added the drifting component, something showing up in the Need For Speed games of the era. The fourth brought the cast of the first back together, making their stories coherent.

But then Fast Five came out. Instead of the usual dark, aggressive, excessive machismo, they gave us Ocean’s Eleven with cars. Characters from five previous films (plus a few new additions) were brought together to pull a crazy job with The Rock as the antagonist. It was light, fun, and completely unexpected.

The Tomatometer (pronounced toh-MAH-tom-meh-ter to those in the know) aggregates scores from many critics, each one being rated as Fresh or Rotten. Added together and averaged, gives a percentage score where 60% or over is certified Fresh, but under is Rotten. Notable examples are The Last Airbender (6%), The Dark Knight (94%), Pan’s Labyrinth (96%), The Godfather (100%), and Scary Movie 5 (4%). Because of the perverse love of terrible movies, only the most mediocre, bland, despicable crap rates superbly low. One of the awesome benefits to Rottentomatoes is the audience rating made by members. It often contrasts the critics or at least reflects enjoyability a little more. The audience rating is generally higher and will reflect popularity. My friends and I often play the Guess-the-Tomatometer-Rating game before or after watching a movie.

The Fast and Furious series is pretty underwhelming when it comes to its scores on Rotten Tomatoes. The original scores a respectably Rotten 53% (and a Fresh audience rating of 79%) . 2 Fast 2 Furious, which I abhor, drops to 36% (57%). Tokyo Drift, which lacked star power, featured a lighter and more playful tone, sinks further to 35% (but rises to 77% for audience). Fast & Furious (that’s number 4, despite the name redux) dropped even lower to 27% (disparate from its 73% audience rating).

You can see a trend here. Even if the films increased in quality, critics seemed to be hating on the formula. The audience, however, still dug it when done well enough. I can’t think of anyone who would argue they aren’t formulaic.

Fast Five, however, bucked the trend and actually received a Fresh rating at 77% (and a surprisingly close 82% from the audience). Admittedly, people love their caper movies, especially light, fun ones, and that’s exactly what Fast Five is. It’s a strange playful excuse for a movie, complete with a hotly anticipated fight scene between The Rock and Vin Diesel. In fact, it was so popular and well-received that they immediately tabbed Fast & Furious Six, which released this year, and Fast & Furious Seven, due next year.

Given my love of the series, and their sudden ability to make not simply another fun movie, but a well-regarded one meant that I was psyched the other night to watch Fast & Furious Six.

Instead of joy, though, I now have another movie to disavow its existence. Fast Six, like Ocean’s Twelve, tries to turn things on their head and make the anti-heroes join forces with the good guys from the last movie. The amount of expository dialog is painful, the action sequences are so viciously over the top, complete with armored Formula One cars that offensively turn themselves into ramps, and the plot so inane and silly that the movie literally left me wide-eyed and on the verge of tears.

After watching it, I expected to find that the Tomatometer agreed with the obvious: this was the saddest, sorriest, lamest excuse for a film I had seen in… oh, fifteen minutes (I had just watched Oblivion, the utterly mediocre Tom Cruise sci-fi flick, before it as part of my double feature; Fast Six made it look like an art house gem). The Tomatometer, however, showed a more than respectable 69%.

WHAT THE FUCK!?

Even the audience seemed to like it with an 84% rating, the highest audience rating ever.

I watch plenty of bad movies. I firmly believe that to know what good is, I need to know what bad is; otherwise, I’m just spoiled and won’t ever appreciate what I have. That doesn’t mean I need to watch every bad movie, but I need to see a few and really judge for myself. No amount of reviews will replace forming my own opinion, and while I appreciate guidance from sources I trust, there isn’t a person on this planet with whom I see completely eye to eye.

I watched The Last Airbender, whose 6% rating made it one of the lowest of all time, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as it was panned. I argue that when it came out, people still had high expectations of M. Night Shyamalan and high hopes for a big-screen rendition of a beloved and very well done cartoon.

The only logical explanation for Fast Six’s high rating is that people have stopped caring or even believing these movies can be anything other than shlock. If you expect crap and get crap-plus, you can’t help but be happy. In that regard, the high polish, action-oriented, processed-Hollywood-movie-product they produced can only exceed expectations.

Perhaps I’m jaded by the steadily increasing quality of good movies and good TV that I had at least hoped for another awesome caper movie. Instead Fast Six tried to return to its dark, gritty tone while keeping the over-the-top craziness of Fast Five. Simply put, it doesn’t work for me.

I’ve felt for years that I would watch every Fast & Furious movie no matter how bad because even the bad ones are fun.

After watching Fast Six, I may have been convinced otherwise.

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  • Mitch

    But…tanks…and Under Armour t-shirts…

  • Jess Newman

    You’re exactly right. Expectations have sunk very low, and that’s how this series became one of, if not THE, premier action film franchises.
    Shit blows up real good.
    And every time you enjoy a Diesel or Rock performance in one of these films, ask yourself what they would be in if it weren’t for this- probably some decent, watchable films. F&F is second only to Transformers in its complicity in the progressive ruination of summer movies.

  • Riddick and F&F are Vin Diesel’s pet projects. He resurrected F&F, even directing and producing Los Bandoleros, a shockingly good 20-minute short detailing the relationship between his character and Letti (Michelle Rodriguez) in between 1-3 and Fast & Furious (4). Now, he’s financed and starred in Riddick, the third Chronicles of Riddick movie. If nothing else, Vin has proven that he’s a passionate geek when it comes to the series he loves.

    As for the Rock, between G.I. Joe and the Fast & Furious series, I’m not sure he’s capable of doing good movies anymore. Of course, I would tell you to go watch Pain & Gain, which I really enjoyed, but it is a Michael Bay movie featuring Mark Wahlberg and the Rock, all people you adore. It also has Tony Shaloub, Ed Harris, and Rob Corrdry, with a smaller role by Ken Jeong, but I’m not sure that’s enough for you.

  • Mediocre films featuring Vin Diesel: The Fast & Furious (1), Fast Five, Fast & Furious (4), Chronicles of Riddick, Knockaround Guys, xXx

    Mediocre films featuring The Rock: Get Smart, The Game Plan, The Scorpion King, Planet 51, Fast Five

    Good films featuring Vin Diesel: Pitch Black, Boiler Room, Find Me Guilty

    Good films featuring The Rock: The Mummy Returns, Southland Tales, The Rundown

    Great films featuring either Vin Diesel or The Rock: Saving Private Ryan, Iron Giant,

    Huh, by my count, Vin Diesel is featured in two truly great movies, but the Rock is featured in none. The Rock, in addition to simply showing up in more movies, has way more bad movies…

  • Jess Newman

    There’s a problem there: The Rock has a very likable presence and that translates to every one of his films, regardless of their goodness or badness (except for Doom and Mummy Returns, where he was just there)
    Vin Diesel happens to be just there in every single one, aside from xXx, in my opinion. Many people might rather watch a Diesel movie than a Rock movie, but I think they’d rather watch the Rock than Diesel, if that makes any sense.

    On Diesel appearing in great movies: he did just that. Appear. He is of little importance to anything in Saving Private Ryan, with maybe 6 lines total. In The Iron Giant he is muttering in his normal borderline emotionless tone through a heavy audio processor. Nearly anyone could have played either part.

  • You’re absolutely right on all counts. I do like the Rock more than Diesel, but at the same time, the Rock’s recent movies have almost erased the likability factor. He was simply there in Fast Five, and G.I. Joe was atrocious.