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. "Fast & Furious"

It's been eight years since the introduction of this storyline for the hot car wrecking fans ("The Fast and the Furious") and, as a fourth installment, it continues the storyline as though the middle two didn't exist ("2 Fast 2 Furious," "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift"). Well, they were done to capitalize on the tough guys in fast metal fans and didn't even include the star of the franchise in a lead role. Turns out that this one, "Fast & Furious," is the only true sequel, and I think back to the original with some fondness.

Expecting chases, crashes, speed and destruction choreography, it made me shift mental gears when an actual story emerged and the strongman of the piece, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) showed some sensitivity and depth beneath all the muscle. The idea of the FBI infiltrator into the drug and car gang Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) falling in love with Dom's sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) clicked. But, of course, this mix was explosive, and the octane of the brew didn't see such a happy ending.

We pick up the story with Dom and gang as nervy as ever in a super-action intro sequence that works almost as well as the intro sequences for the James Bond series in capturing your immediate attention. It comes as a harrowing bit of cleverness in detaching trailer cars from a big rig hauling a fortune in oil while at speed on a curvy and narrowing Dominican Republic road. It calls for clever mechanical hook ups and hot acrobatics by athletic Letty (Michelle Rodriguez, "Battle in Seattle"), a tough chick in combat boots, and the rest of Dom's crew. Things spin out of control, massive machinery ends up spinning in the air and, when it ends on the main title--the words are fully validated. Fast and Furious. An opening worthy of the applause it generated. And, now, we're into a high test revenge race against a drug cartel run by the infamous Braga on whom the FBI has no intel.

Knowing that he's become a primary target of the FBI, Dom decides to take off so to avoid his loyal gang going down with him. His hardest decision is to leave Letty behind, but he does it to protect her, leaving behind a nice pile of currency. When he later learns that she was killed in a staged accident and a bullet, the fury of the man is unleashed.

All roads now lead to Braga and gang, which puts Dom's track of revenge in parallel with Brian's efforts, which start out as official but strays way off the books. Which also gets Brian back into his orbit around Mia.

In this world, every problem and solution is expressed through the drive trains of vehicles and director Justin Lin's ("The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift") signature device of the speeding car escaping under a whirling big rig that comes within inches of flattening it, making for a couple of exhilarating moments. He's trying for more kinetic illusion to propel wingless iron and steel into the air than anyone has previously done. Tall order.

The Vin Diesel filmography seems revealing of what to do with a strongman with sensitivity. I theorize that he wanted no part of the in-between fast and furiouses because he saw himself in standalone starring roles without the ensemble cast, like the successful "XXX" and testing his acting creds on more character-based outings like "The Pacifier" and the awkwardly overambitious "Find Me Guilty," which proved that he should stick to what he was born (and trained) to do. Still, you can't blame a decent guy from trying.

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With plenty of action footage for these sequences, shot by cinematographer Amir Mokri ("Vantage Point") and airtight editing by Fred Raskin and Christian Wagner, it will satisfy the thirsts of the original's fan base with a constancy of car chases, pounding metal, crashing body frames, speeding airframes and revenge by auto. An inventive, strong-beat score by composer Brian Tyler ("Eagle Eye") contributes equally to the tension and the mayhem. It's got to make for a peppy CD.

Though production values are as high as the octane and the cast is all it should be, adults who aren't that much into race choreography will find little to hang onto here, not even with the minimally-clad babes that are lavishly teased into the formula like an additive. Unfortunately for the wider potentials of the series, the human inter-relationships gain little traction, taking second place to the ripping rubber and screaming pistons.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Stuntbabe Michelle Rodriguez and strongman Vin Diesel behind the wheel
in an opening sequence out of James Bond.

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