The tagline caught my attention, promising a brand new movie with the original cast of Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster. With the relative box office success of the first film, the sequel 2 Fast 2 Furious saw only Walker returning, with Tyrese trying very hard to step into the big frame of Diesel's without much success. Tokyo Drift picked up the adrenaline from the East's Initial D, injecting the franchise with some Asian flavour, though the only good thing out of that was the introduction of Sung Kang's character Han. So the 4th movie tries to bring together all the best characters to appease fans, and the timeline of this installment sits snugly in between the first and second movies where we learn that Han and Toretto do go all the way back together. Perfect.
Vin Diesel had The Fast and the Furious back in 2001 to thank for in making him a household name, where every fan boy out there left the theatres chanting his name and wishing they could emulate his road stunts if given a car as powerful as that in the film. However we know how he turned his back on a franchise, and how his film career had turned out recently, with stinkers such as Babylon A.D. crowding out his filmography. If he's sorely in need of a return to form, then I guess it doesn't take much rocket science to figure out that he would be tempted to return to his Dominic Toretto roots after his cameo in Tokyo Drift.
It was smart of Justin Lin to have featured Torretto in his film then just to whet the appetites of fans everywhere, and to helm this installment by trying to top the first film by getting the first cast all back. However, some parts do get rusty after so long, and in wanting to stamp his authority over the original, had made some drastic decisions in order to keep the engine fine tuned and purring. Since it's before the second movie, Toretto is still an outlaw, and Paul Waker's Brian O'Conner is now working for the FBI, before his unexplained turn to crime in 2 Fast 2 Furious, which gets explained here, if you wish of course.
The plot doesn't drift away from the standard cop-robber formula, with a cat and mouse game brewing involving a drug run from Mexico and the USA making use of expert drivers to be couriers between the two countries. And when murder is in the name of the game, Toretto gets involved for vengeance, and O'Conner, well, just doing his job. It's just an excuse to see the Diesel-Walker team up, and the franchise's formula dictates plenty of random scantily clad girls gyrating in front of the camera, while hot cars with modified engines gleam seductively under dim garages, and the screeching of tyres when tearing up the roads.
If a race movie is not your cup of tea (after so many copycats have come out to milk fans of the genre), then this franchise offers nothing new. Granted that Hollywood doesn't do car chases like it used to, relying a lot now on plenty of computer animation and graphics to spice up the sequences and entertain. Those itching to see a lot of action will have to contend with only 4 major set action pieces, with 2 of which happen in the same tunnel, one bringing back memories from the first film in a heist that doesn't go exactly right, and one being the nod back to Tokyo Drift in having a downtown city area night time race.
Fans of the franchise will still find this a worthy addition, but everyone else would wonder why the effort. If this film continues to make money, I won't be surprised if the next film picks up from where Tokyo Drift left off, maybe with the return of Lucas Black's Sean Boswell joining the new crew in a new adventure, with new cars to smash, new babes to romance, and more nitro to burn up the tracks.