DVD reviews

The Fast And The Furious

106 minutes, USA (2001), 15

Vin Diesel breaks through as an action hero. There's top stunt driving in this lean, frenetic B-movie about a cop infiltrating a wild group of street racers in Los Angeles

With action films now the size of Siberia, it's easy to overlook modest affairs like The Fast And The Furious. Costing just $38m (a lot to Ken Loach but lunch money to Joel Silver), it's short on stars, CGI and Hiroshima-scale explosions. But while the talent involved is decidedly modest (director Cohen's most notable film to date being the so-so biopic Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story), the film largely succeeds thanks to a straightforward approach and some of the best stunt driving this side of Bullitt.

With its troubled teens, undercover cops and street-racing scenario, The Fast And The Furious superficially resembles the crowd-pleasing pap that clogged up US drive-ins in the 50s. Such a comparison could be taken to suggest low standards. But like those films, The Fast And The Furious is well aware of what the score is - it doesn't exist to cure cancer or raise awareness. It was made to entertain, and it doesn't disappoint.

Indeed, if there is one thing to gripe about, it is that Vin Diesel, although quite excellent as gang leader Dominic, ought to be making great movies rather than merely good ones. The best thing about Boiler Room and impressive in both Saving Private Ryan and Pitch Black, you'd hope he could now find a place on the A-list. While The Fast And The Furious represents a step-down for Diesel, the film is a step in the right direction as far as low-rent action cinema is concerned.

Verdict
It's not big or particularly clever, but The Fast And The Furious is an exciting second-tier action flick.

2 Fast 2 Furious Review
108 minutes, USA (2003), 12A

High-speed cops and robbers action on the streets of Miami in John Singleton's sequel to The Fast And The Furious. Paul Walker and rapper-turned-actor Tyrese are the men in the motors
When the director and star of the original sped off into the sunset before the sequel even started shooting, fans were entitled to feel a little nervous about the sequel to The Fast And The Furious. And saddling it with a text-message-friendly faux hip title like 2 Fast 2 Furious only increased concern that we were heading for a hack job cash-in to the 2000 sleeper hit.

We can calm down now though. While 2 Fast 2 Furious never quite pushes the needle as far as the first flick, it still generates excitement revs aplenty.

Rob Cohen may be gone, but Boyz 'N The Hood helmer John Singleton is more than a match for him. Disgraced cop Brian O'Conner (Walker) - he let a criminal escape at the end of the first film - is cajoled into helping undercover operative Monica Clemente (Mendes) bring down evil Miami master crook Carter Verone (Hauser). Here Singleton is shaping a much more traditional buddy action movie, with O'Conner recruiting old driving mate Roman Pearce (Tyrese) to help him out.

Tyrese is no Vin Diesel, but the rapper/actor brings a chirpy, lippy attitude to things that lightens Paul Walker's whitebread dullness - they're no Mel Gibson/Danny Glover, but there's enough buddy chemistry between the two. Throw in Hauser's nasty villain and supermodel Devon Aoki's impressively under-clad turn as sultry female racer Suki and the time between big, flashy action sequences doesn't drag too much.

And big flashy action sequences there are a-plenty. From an opening night-time hurtle round Miami's streets through an inspired tag-team race to a more-cars-than-you-can-count finale that seems to last for half the movie, 2 Fast 2 Furious doesn't skimp on the motorised mayhem. And with Singleton's confident cutting keeping it all fresh, it's all quality, sweaty-palmed stuff. It'd be a cold, cold person who didn't leave the movie itching to slip behind the wheel of a fast car.

Verdict
2 Fast 2 Furious delivers exactly what it advertises - fast cars, beautiful women, pounding music - and does it with verve and style. The only worry is what they're going to call the now-inevitable third installment.

The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift
104 minutes, USA (2006), 12A

The third instalment in the fast-driving, slow-thinking franchise sees the men and motors burning around the streets and car parks of Tokyo
 There are two types of people in the world: those who think cars are cool and who find watching them tear around corners entertaining, and those who don't and who could do without all the noise.

If you're the first kind of viewer, The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift is undoubtedly the film for you. It's easy to mock the absurd fetishisation of the (essentially ridiculous) cars, and none of the characters are quite as cool as they'd like to be. But there's no denying that when it comes to fierce driving and mad stunts, this film delivers the goods. If, however, you have less than a passing interest in pimped up rides and hope for a modicum of intelligence or decent-plotting in the films you see, avoid this like the plague.

The story manages to be both hackneyed and ridiculous. The suspiciously old-looking juvenile Sean Boswell (Black) moves to Japan to stay with his military father and avoid going to jail, gets taken to a street race meet by a friend Twinkie (Bow Wow) on his first day of school, smashes up a car owned by another ex-pat and a gangster called Han, falls for a beautiful girl (Kelley) and falls out with her boyfriend, DK (Tee), a drift-racer, well-connected with the local Yakuza mob, who spends the rest of the film clenching his muscles and scowling at Sean.

The acting at least is generally of an acceptable standard. Lucas Black doesn't have the tough charisma of Vin Diesel (star of The Fast And The Furious), but does a good job of portraying his dim but likeable outsider character. Bow Wow is mildly amusing, Nathalie Kelley smoulders effectively, Sung Kang is suitably enigmatic and Brian Tee pulls off a passable cartoon villain. The trouble is that they're battling against the odds, dealing with some appalling dialogue, and clumsily used as dumb ciphers to drag the story from race to chase.

Fortunately, every one of these action sequences is spectacular (particularly a fantastic seat-of-the-pants ride through crowded Tokyo streets) and the tried and tested formula of the first two films works once again - with the interesting twist added by 'drift' racing. This is essentially the art of driving round tight corners very fast without bumping into things, and it gives the filmmakers plenty of scope for exciting new race scenarios round multi-storey car parks and hair-pin mountain bends. It's technically very impressive, if nothing else.

Verdict
A film dumb enough to make you doubt the future viability of the human species, but with enough high quality stunts to ensure it's still fun - for petrol heads at least.

The Italian Job
100 minutes, United Kingdom (1969), PG

Michael Caine blows the bloody doors off in this iconic, quintessentially British comedy crime caper. Noel Coward, Benny Hill and John Le Mesurier also appear but the car's the star
Caine brings his trademark Cockney charm to this landmark in Euro-sceptic entertainment. Loaded with gags, girls, cars and gold its depiction of plucky Brits making off with Italian loot is fast, funny and always worth revisiting.

Assembling a motley gang of low rent losers Charlie Croker (Caine) heads out to Turin where, through an audacious piece of traffic management, the lads rob an armoured car and get away with £4 million in bullion - or do they?

It's a film that evokes a sort of fantasy England where amateur heroes succeed against Johnny Foreigner, but it's not afraid to send itself up. Noël Coward's Mr Bridger, the operation's prison-bound backer is obsessed with the Queen and his bowels. ("You've interrupted my rhythm," he tells Caine when he's disturbed at stool.) Benny Hill's Professor Peach is a schoolboy lech, forever pressing himself up against fat lady's bottoms, while Caine himself is a comedy entrepreneur buoyed up by sixties optimism.

Director Collinson drives the film on by cutting swiftly to the chase and the stunt scenes are still spectacular. An icon of British design when the film was made, the Minis are presented as characters in their own right and the driving is as carefully choreographed as ballet. The famous cliff hanger conclusion was left deliberately open to allow for the possibility of a sequel but it makes for an agreeably odd close. This would be Collinson's only real hit and he died eleven years later at 41. He's as much traffic warden as director here, but that a film so of its time should have aged so well is a tribute to that famous last line: "Hang on lads. I've got a great idea."

Verdict
Fast, funny and featuring a welter of great one-liners, this is highly entertaining stuff. Cast play second fiddle to the motors but you'd be hard pushed to find stunts executed with such sustained wit and style.

The Italian Job
111 minutes, USA (2003), 12A

A group of crooks plan to steal a gold shipment from the middle of an LA traffic jam. Action movie remake of the much-loved British film, with Mark Wahlberg in the Mini's driving seat
 Everyone expected this to be rubbish. After all, Hollywood's track record in remakes of Michael Caine classics isn't exactly glowing (anyone fancy watching the Sylvester Stallone Get Carter?). But, for once, 'everyone' was wrong - the The Italian Job remake may be different, but in its own way it's almost as much fun as the 1969 original.

Let's look at the differences first. The original version saw a group of cockernee crims heading off to Turin to nick a gold shipment out from under the noses of the Italian authorities. This one sets its gold robbery in LA, but justifies the title by holding an earlier heist in the middle of Venice (cue a boat chase down the canals to supplement the Mini action later on in the film). There, old master crook John Bridger (Sutherland) comes a cropper when his team - led by Mark Wahlberg's Charlie Croker - are betrayed by one of their own, namely Edward Norton's shifty Steve. The film then hinges on their search for revenge against him and their plans to steal back the stolen cash that he stole from them. Or something like that.

To be honest, there are moments when logic and reason take a holiday here. If Steve can transport the gold halfway around the world with no apparent problems why is he now selling it off a bar at a time to an LA pawnbroker, for instance? But it doesn't really matter. The movie's real strength is in its action sequences and its characters.

When it comes, the Mini chase is everything you'd expect it to be, with the recently relaunched, restyled cars hurtling along Hollywood Boulevard, rattling down steps and playing chicken with trains on the LA Metro. Throw in the aforementioned hijinks on the Venice canals and a few sweaty-palmed robbery moments and you've got more than enough excitement to keep the adrenalin flowing.

The gang of crooks is smaller than that of Caine's Croker but much more neatly defined, in an Ocean's Eleven style. Wahlberg is solid rather than inspired as Charlie, but Statham, Def and Green make up for that nicely, ad-libbing and joking their way through events with wit and charm. Oh, and don't think Theron is there just to provide eye-candy either - her Stella Bridges carries her fair share of the gags and more than her fair share of the driving.

Verdict
Sweet, slick and sunny, the remake isn't much like the original - the mini chase and a few character names are all that survives - but the new-look Italian Job stands on its own four tyres as a fast and furious caper movie.

 

Ferris Bueller's Day Off
102 minutes, USA (1986), 15

Matthew Broderick stars in John Hughes' portrayal of one wily teenager's epic day off high school during which he sweet talks and swindles his way around Chicago
Back in 1986 Mathew Broderick was still dizzy from the success of the medieval fantasy Ladyhawke. Here he pursues an equally timeless fantasy - trashing the work ethic.

Ferris (Broderick) his girlfriend Sloane (Sara) and their mate Cameron (Ruck) bunk off school and hit downtown Chicago for a day of full-on fun. They commandeer Cameron's Dad's Ferrari, climb the Sears Tower, crash a restaurant and, in one of the most memorable sequences in any Hughes film, Ferris leads a German marching band through a version of 'Twist 'N' Shout', pursued by the villain of the piece, the high school dean (Jones).

With the advantage of hindsight, parts of the film look like epic advertisements to 1980s consumerism. But as the kids skive for their right to party it emerges that Ferris's plan is to help Cameron achieve a sense of perspective on his fraught relationship with his father, and that rather than advocating fun without responsibility, Hughes is decrying responsibility without fun. Spoilsport!

Verdict
There are some great comic set pieces with a seize-the-day vibe for teens. Broderick is amiably charismatic and high school dean Jones almost matches him in comic skill.

Days Of Thunder
107 minutes, USA (1990), 12

Tom Cruise reunites with Top Gun director Tony Scott and producers Simpson and Bruckheimer for this car-racing action movie that decidedly gets stuck in the pits
 If Top Gun proved that Tom Cruise and Tony Scott were indeed "up there with the best of the best," this ponderous motorsports retread established that they were just as capable of skidding off the track as well.

Cruise is Cole Trickle, a would-be stock car racer who has to regain his confidence after a major prang (how hard can that be with Kidman ministering to your every medical need?).

It says something about the movie that even the racing sequences are boring. Still, it was the film that introduced Cruise to his future wife, so it wasn't a complete waste of time for him.

Verdict
A film in desperate need of a pit stop.

Le Mans
108 minutes, United States (1971), U

McQueen gets to drive a nice racing car in this dull and repetitious film of the famous 24-hour race. McQueen gets to drive a nice racing car in this dull and repetitious film of the famous 24-hour race. McQueen gets to drive a nice racing car in this dull and repetitious film of the famous 24-hour race.

Driven
117 minutes, USA (2001), PG

A new low in Sly Stallone's career slump. Here he is a beaten-down racing driver who is brought in to help a fellow driver get his season back on track
There ought to be something pleasurable about macho legends Sylvester Stallone and Burt Reynolds teaming up for the first time. Sure they don't carry the clout they used to but there should be some kitsch appeal about the double act of Rocky and The Bandit.

Alas, Driven is as much a relic as its stars; something which belongs to another era and really should have stayed there. This is clichéd, assembly-kit cinema at its worst. The underachieving athlete, the mid-career tragedy, the early retirement, the cocky young buck, the grizzled seen-it-all coach - it steals wholesale from Rocky (a film which, incidentally, was originally to star Burt Reynolds) but comes off more like Over The Top, Stallone's attempt to turn the world on to professional arm wrestling.

The level of under-achievement here is actually quite distressing. Of course, Stallone hasn't made a good film since 1997's Cop Land, but having clawed back so much ground with Boogie Nights, it's sad to see Reynolds appearing in a movie which makes Smokey And The Bandit look like Battleship Potemkin. Likewise, Renny Harlin erased memories of The Long Kiss Goodnight with Deep Blue Sea but this brings his stock back down to post-Cutthroat Island levels. And while Gina Gershon has quite a way with trash (Showgirls, One Tough Cop), it's sad to see Robert Sean Leonard (Dead Poets Society) lowering his game.

Verdict
Stupid, flashy and surprisingly cheap-looking, Driven might purport to be a film about motor racing but it's really about careers on the skids.

 

Risky Business
98 minutes, USA (1983), 18

Tom Cruise is impressive as the sexed-up teenager who hires a call girl with his pals - and then, of course, lives to regret it. His first starring role, and sure evidence of his actorly talent
 The teenager's dream: the parents are on holiday, so why not take daddy's Porsche, pick up a call girl and get your mates over for some fun? Because there will be hell to pay when the car ends up in the river and the prostitute has a violent pimp, that's why not. The Cruiser's first starring role appears initially to be fairly ordinary, glossy, coming-of-age fodder, but it is a lot darker and more inventive than other generic retreads. De Mornay does sterling work as the helpful hooker, but this is Cruise's big chance, and he relishes it, putting in a believable and likeable performance.

Gumball 3000 - 6 Days in May
69 mins (2004), 15

The "more money than sense" brigade are here again! This time the annual 3000 mile raucous jaunt takes some of the worlds most expensive supercars from Paris, through Madrid, Marbella, Morocco, Barcelona and finally Cannes. Its extreme driving all the way! A constant battle with the cops! Also look out for what happens when speed turns bad - a Dodge Viper totalled, but fortunately both driver and passenger survive and finish the rally in hospital!

Gumball 3000 - The Movie

Another wild road trip! This time the guys and girls with large wallets hit America - 150 supercars, 3000 miles, 14 arrests and over $50,000 Dollars in fines! The route takes them from San Francisco to Miami. Look out for the super fast but also super un-reliable Koenigsegg!

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