Blood-lust on wheels

Movie: The Fast and The Furious

Our Rating: 3.50

If you suffer from America's secret longing, you're going to have fun at "The Fast and the Furious." That is, if you ever get the urge to just floor the accelerator, to rip up the city streets with your muscle machine, to goose the throttle and leave everyone else in your dust. It's that splotch of automobile blood-lust that this flick attacks. And sometimes, it even works: that's when the cars race and crash and chase and spit flames. If you don't body English along with the turns in these chase scenes, you're not paying attention.

As for the rest, well, it's just another episode of "Starsky and Hutch." We have surfer-clipped Brian (Paul Walker) bonding with shaved-pate street king Dominic (Vin Diesel) in an apparent duel over who's got the fastest tool. At stake, it seems, is body-shaping rights to Dom's sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster). Ah, but there's more depth here! Turns out Brian's an undercover cop and he's conflicted over whether he ought to turn in Dom for running a hijacking gang, because he's fallen in love with Mia. That's the sort of emotional and dramatic depth with which this movie slaps you upside the quarter-panel.

If you can bear up under that avalanche of "the furious," then lean back and take in a load of "the fast." Driving Japanese-made compacts tricked out with nitrous-oxide fuel injectors, these babies rev up past 140 mph. They spew flames, growl angrily and skid skiddingly. Rob Cohen, a producer turned teen-oriented director (The Skulls), sets a hyperkinetic pace that pauses only for cryptic moments of character explanation -- Dom talks about his dead Dad; Paul wrestles with his cop-shop superiors; Mia recounts family issues to her brother.

Quickly, the action boils down to speed and greed, as in the turf wars with a rival Asian group of motorcyclists led by Johnny Tran (Rick Yune). (As a nod to pre-'90s car freaks, the climax sees a souped-up Dodge very much like General Lee from "The Dukes of Hazzard.") Cohen tries hard to update car racing to a state-of-the-art level, and no doubt afficionados will spot telling details. (The story was based on an article by Ken Li.) But despite the hard-edged street-level cinematography, it's a bit disconcerting to note that the bad guys in this flick are hijacking 18-wheelers with synchronously driven Honda Civics.

For names alone, it's enough to make you long for the days of Barracuda, Challenger and Sting Ray.

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