Recession has hit the world of B movies: There’s no longer a budget for definite articles in titles. Fast & Furious, about dirtied-up car racing and badass drivers, arrives eight years after The Fast and the Furious revealed the unlikely charms of the sewer-throated, shovel-headed Vin Diesel. Back then, as Diesel’s Dominic Toretto burned through L.A. streets, we gasped, Who is that walking Popeye, and why does he sound like he’s in a Sylvester Stallone tribute band? Back then we also met Dom’s nemesis, Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), an equally feisty driver (and, as it happened, an undercover cop) as blond and blue-eyed as Toretto was bald and swarthy. We met Dom’s cute sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster), who loved Brian, and the tough-babe driver Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), who loved Dom. Mostly we met hot rods driven by hot dogs — and although the movie was no Point Break, it was great to rocket along for the nitrous-injected ride. The Fast and the Furious celebrated great music, cars, and minimally clothed chicks cast as extras.
Later on, Dom became a fugitive in Mexico, Brian went to Miami (in 2003’s 2 Fast 2 Furious), and the F&F franchise took an invigorating global detour to Japan (2006’s The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift), where Diesel’s Dom showed up for a cameo. Now the original gang is reunited in L.A. for a victory lap, and they’re looking pretty fly for old-timers. The music, strong on reggaeton, still pulses. The chick ?extras still favor bikini tops. The stars’ jawlines are slightly softened, and the lived-in look suits them. (The plot, for what it’s worth, is about chasing down a nefarious drug lord — who happens to be hiring guys who can drive real fast.)
Fast & Furious is still no Point Break. But it’s perfectly aware of its limited dramatic mission, and sturdily directed by Tokyo Drift’s Justin Lin with space for a global audience to talk back to the screen. And in the jammed landscape of mass-market new releases, it offers an attractive getaway route from self-importance, snark, and chatty comedies about male bonding. Here, stick shifts do the talking. B+