Go on a journey with me. Not where, but when. Let’s hop in the way back machine and head back to 2001. I was one year removed from high school, trying to make it as some kind of computer guy (I was trying to get Microsoft certified in something… I don’t even remember what. Ah the .com years). It was a more innocent time. I hadn’t learned that the world hates you, and I naively expected good things to just happen to me. I know what you’re thinking – “why are you telling me this?” I just want you to know the type of person I was when I saw the movie The Fast And The Furious. I was the kind of person who didn’t think very hard about movies. I just kind of saw them. I didn’t know why something was good, or bad, or bad in a good way. Perhaps the best way I can say it is I saw The Royal Tenenbaums NOT because Wes Anderson is a genius director, but because it had Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson and I had just seen them in Meet The Parents and I thought it would be funny. I know, it’s embarrassing and I can’t believe I admitted it online for the world to see. In the early aughts, I was kind of a dork. Thankfully now I know what’s up, I LOVE Wes Anderson (seriously… Did you see Moonrise Kingdom?) and I’m still trying to make it in computers, only now I’ve switched to Apple. So now back to the movie at hand.
The Fast And The Furious is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. I know, I know, there are lots of bros out there who would like to back hand me, or worse, throw their jagerbombs on me. But it’s true. That movie was so mind numbingly bad, and featured the absolute WORST actor of our time Paul Walker. I remember watching it, and just being mad. I was mad that this guy was on the screen. “NOS, bro!” he may as well have said that the whole time. Also, I had recently seen a really awesome movie called Boiler Room, which, to this day, is still Vin Diesel’s best acting, and was bummed that he was sleeping his way through a movie of car chases. And oh yeah, bbq’s! I hated the movie, and was genuinely offended that some of my friends even kinda liked it. But with a budget of 38 million, and a total revenue of 207 million, The Fast And The Furious was a hit.
Hollywood is totally predictable. When it has a hit, you can bet that they will milk it for all it’s worth. So, unfortunately for me, a sequel to this craptatstic movie was made, with the clever title of 2 Fast 2 Furious. I think I saw it. I can’t really remember. I definitely did NOT see the third movie, titled The Fast And The Furious – Tokyo Drift. This, at the time, seemed like a crappy way to try and keep making money, even though the main stars were not attached to the project (Paul Walker was gone (BRILLIANT MOVE! Maybe I should have seen it?) and Vin Diesel made only a small cameo. I’m not sure if there were any bbq’s.). But a funny thing happened.
“Director Justin Lin takes an established franchise and makes it surprisingly fresh and intriguing. Tokyo Drift is more observant than we expect and the story [is] about something more than fast cars.” Roger Ebert
Justin Lin, a young director, took the reigns of the muscle car bound franchise. And sure, since this installment lacked star power, most probably thought the ride was over. The budget was 85 million and while the total revenue was 158 million (not a bomb, by any means, but considerably lower than the other movies) the US revenue was a mere 62 million. It seemed like a natural last movie in the series. But, the movie made enough money internationally, and director Justin Lin seemed to have found a voice, so it continued. He used the series fourth installment to continue honing his craft, and then, like a Dodge Charger modified with NOS, Fast Five happened.
In 2011, I was a different man. Actually, that’s the best way to say it – man. I had grown from the boy who hated The Fast And The Furious, who was confused by Wes ANderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums, to a burly man with a beard. And this bearded man totally understood, and loved, Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. But, more importantly (since this article is not, in fact, about Wes Anderson) I loved Fast Five. What happened? Well, a part of me growing up was seeing movies like – Road House, Battlefield Earth, Piranha 3d, Poolboy 2 – Drowning Out The Fury, DRIVE ANGRY, The Expendables, Season of the Witch, Demolition Man, Face Off (really, any Nic Cage movie) and Troll 2. This is a list of bad movies. Varying degrees of bad. Face Off had a huge, giant budget and was a hit. Troll 2 had a tiny budget and was very hated until it wasn’t. But the point is, sometimes there are other reasons to like a movie besides good character development, an intriguing plot, and people you want to root for. It’s ok to love a movie just because it has an insane car chase. Or a really weird actor who goes for it (not sure what I mean there? Watch this). Or to take joy at really poorly delivered dialogue. It’s ok to love a bad movie. Especially if said movie knows it’s bad. A lot of these movies will kind of offer a wink to the audience, because it’s in on the gag. And this is fun and feels right. If the movie is NOT in on it (see Troll 2) then it’s less fun. At first. Then, it’s way more fun. Eventually. Now, that leads us to Fast Five.
Justin Lin has perfected his “Fast Voice”. Fast Five was a movie that knew what it was. It had truly insane and unbelievable moments. The acting was over the top in a great way. I even started to hate Paul Walker slightly less. And, a new character was introduced who would embody the franchise. That’s right, a cartoonishly large Samoan ex wrestler named The Rock. Honestly, he is on his way to being, at the very least, the next Schwarzenegger, and possibly, the next Stallone, or some kind of hybrid. But, for now, he chews up scenery in the Fast series and is just what the doctor ordered. See, being a former wrestler, he’s used to playing in a space where the fans know they are watching a fantasy, and the actors (read: wrestlers) know they are too. This is a powerful thing that can cause a bond between the two. Often times movies are taken so seriously (and rightfully so) that some of the fun is taken out of it. Well with The Rock on board, Fast Five was free to soar. Me and my friends watched it in our favorite theater, late at night, mostly by ourselves. We laughed, yelled, told jokes about the on screen action, and probably threw some popcorn at the screen. It’s my favorite way to watch a movie. And America did the same thing as us. Except they PACKED OUT theaters and drove a figurative truck of money to the producers door step. The movies budget was 125 million (three times the original film) and had a total revenue of SIX HUNDRED AND TWENTY SIX MILLION DOLLARS!!!!!! That’s a whole lotta wampum. I loved the movie, because of how over the top and dumb it was. And because the movie KNEW it was over the top and dumb. And I loved that America agreed with me. Or at least, that’s what I thought.
This past Memorial Day weekend, my friends and I decided to go see the recently released Fast & Furious 6. This was not our style. Usually we wait to see a movie once it’s been out a bit. And we go on nights where it won’t be crowded. Because, well, we’re annoying. But we all were desperately looking forward to this spectacle. With a budget of 160 million dollars, this was sure to deliver star power and a great show. We were not disappointed. It was great – (I keep using these words) over the top action and hilarious acting (and bbq’s!). So far, the movie has earned about 320 million bucks. So once again, America has shown it’s approval with it’s wallet. But my movie watching experience was different. Surrounded by people (and, surprisingly, a TON of women) I was keenly aware of something. The crowd was like, really into it. I mean, like, REALLY into it. There was an explosion, and when Vin Diesel strides out of it miraculously unharmed (of course) the room erupted in applause…… What!? Applause? At a Fast movie? No! That’s not how it’s supposed to be. At other points I heard gasps. I think a few bros next to me even shed a tear when a particular character died. People… were… taking this… seriously? I don’t understand? And that’s when I began to feel dirty.
I don’t think the people realized what was happening. All that wink and a nudge stuff, I don’t think the audience knew that was taking place. And then I had an even WORSE thought. What about the actors and the director? Did they know? Oh man… my whole theory behind this movie may need to be re-examined. Maybe it says something really terrible about us. I can’t endorse the public going to watch a movie this bad, and this empty, non-ironically. But, it looks like that’s what is happening.
And now, the punch line. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, and you don’t want to be spoiled, look away now. Did you do it? Ok good. In one of the best ever bonus scenes, we see the tail end of a scene from the Tokyo Drift movie. In it, a character crashes and dies in a pretty simple way. At the time, we just accepted it as a death, which sometimes happens during a street race (NOS, bro!). But this bonus scene reframed it as something more sinister. There was foul play! Han was killed while driving, but it was… MURDER! A man murdered Han, and that man was revealed to be… Jason Effing Statham! At that point, I rose to my feet and clapped my hands, totally non-ironically. And I was ashamed, and extremely excited for Fast & Furious 7 (which, of course, is already in production. Word on the street is it includes a bbq. And NOS, bro!)