Having never seen any of the Fast and Furious movies, one man watches them all in attempt to understand why the series is so popular. Spoilers ahead (no pun intended).
By Jeffery X Martin
It would be easy to dismiss The Fast and the Furious as being just another movie where pretty people drive fast cars. After all, that’s a sure-fire, high-concept formula to bring tons of Wal-Mart shoppers to the multiplexes. Horny teens, gear-heads and action hounds practically salivate when they hear the siren call of a revving engine and the melodious tones of Paul Walker’s voice.
There’s more to the movie than that, though, right? Isn’t there? I mean, surely. There must be.
The Fast and the Furious stars Vin Diesel as Dom Torreto, a legendary street racer who moonlights as the leader of a fearless gang of thieves. They hijack semis and steal the valuable cargo they hold, focusing mostly on home electronics. The stolen goods are fenced and used to purchase more car things for their racing cars. I would tell you more specifically about these car parts, but I know fuck-all about automobiles. I’m guessing they buy oil. Maybe a piston here and there. Is that what they’re called? Pistons?
Torreto’s group is infiltrated by Brian Spilman (Paul Walker), a life-size anatomically correct automaton, who has found work as an undercover police officer. He has been investigating the truck-jackings and needs some hard evidence that Toretto is behind the crimes.
There’s a street race going on in LA! All the fast car drivers are there, except Tracy Chapman. It is during this sequence that The Fast and the Furious transcends your average car movie and becomes something… else.
What better way to examine racism in America than through racing? The African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Mexican-Americans and the Ragtag Motley Crew of Americans all show up for this drag race, challenging each other for supremacy. When you see the African-American racers and their crew, Ja Rule comes on the soundtrack. Hell, Ja Rule is even in the movie. At the time this movie was made, some people would have recognized Ja Rule.
In the context of the film, this is how the audience is led to understand differing ethnicities. Mexican rap plays when Hector, the bald, heavily tattooed Hispanic shows up on screen. The Asian-Americans, of course, get music with plucked koto strings and panflutes. What kind of music do Toretto and his crew get? FUCK YEAH LIMP BIZKIT.
Brian ends up racing Dom in a fierce display of over-compensation. Brian pushes his car so hard, the passenger side floorboard falls out and skids across the road, sending sparks flying everywhere. Both drivers use some enchanted liquid called NOS to make them go faster; I suppose it’s the car equivalent of Floo Powder in the Harry Potter series. Soon, the cops come, and Brian saves Dom from imminent arrest by picking him up… in the same car which, three minutes before, had an engine explode and a floorboard involuntarily eject. There’s no other explanation for this kind of vehicular behavior but magic.
With that act of kindness, Brian is accepted into the gang. He has charmed Fagin and is now allowed into the grimy sewers of the Toretto Gang, a bleach-blonde Oliver Twist adrift in a frightening world of tough people, all of whom come close to passing for Caucasian. That’s how you know Brian is in never in any real danger. He’s just another plug-in, another Warrior in a silly vest, running from the Gramercy Riffs.
The racial lines are clearly drawn, but The Fast and the Furious is a movie with a difference. Black people and white people work together in this movie with barely a hint of tension. The Mexican-Americans are shown as friendly and hard-working. That’s because the filmmakers have realized that, in the Race Wars, our true enemies are the Asians.
There’s even a giant sequence in the film that takes place in the desert at a massive competition called… that’s right… Race Wars. D.W. Griffith would have been proud.
Sure, Toretto and his lovable group of rakes are responsible for incredible acts of thievery and recklessly endangering the lives of hundreds of pedestrians in the Greater Los Angeles area, but that’s forgivable. It’s the Asians you have to worry about, with their crotch-rocket motorcycles and their Tommy guns and their secret stone monuments to Confucius. They threaten the white people, even going so far as to mow one down in a hail of bullets. My gods, how can we stop them and their proclivity for complicated mathematical problems?
The Fast and the Furious provides no easy answers. In fact, there are no heroes in this movie. We are not provided with any good guy to root for. Pick a car you like. Choose an actor you think is cute. Let them be your touchstone for the entire film experience. If your favorite automobile wrecks, or the floorboard falls out, then go ahead and turn off what’s left of your mind. Just let the sound of the engines and the non-stop soundtrack of rap and buttrock lull you into a binaural trance. When the movie is over, buy some Corona. Pick up a gas treatment on the way home. Check out some sweet spinning rims.
Don’t go to a Japanese buffet, though. You know.
Jeffery X Martin is a Knoxville-based writer. He covers popular culture for Popshifter, horror and science-fiction for The GASP Factor, and is the author of Tarotscope and The Elders Keep Projekt. Visit his Amazon page and follow him on Twitter for good times and bad jokes.