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MOVIE REVIEW

Fast & Furious

Ramped up, amped up, but going nowhere

By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / April 3, 2009
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By the fourth installment of the franchise, "Fast & Furious" has shed two articles from its title, regained the four original lead actors (the previous film, "Tokyo Drift," had none), and turned shamelessly into a monotonous unofficial edition of the Grand Theft Auto gaming series. It is not wisdom we seek here: We want dust in our faces, vroom in our ears, and better enunciation from Vin Diesel. But there is wisdom all the same.

Coursing through the new film - in which FBI agent Paul Walker infiltrates a massive heroin cartel alongside Diesel, his estranged car-thief buddy - is an evolutionary revelation. Before we become our cars, we first must turn into their GPS devices. Listen to the command-oriented dialogue, and you'll hear it:

"Let's make some money!" says the fierce Michelle Rodriguez as she commandeers a speeding oil truck in the Dominican Republic in the opening scene.

"Just do it!" someone says as the heist goes wrong.

"Satellite linkup engaged."

"The window's closing fast!"

"15 seconds!"

"Into the tunnel! Use the tunnel!"

The women, especially, speak in such instructional or imperative bursts. One even positions herself as an actual directional guide: "There can be no margin for error," "You must follow my every decision," etc. For good measure, a real GPS dictates a drag race: "Proceed straight ahead," "Rerouting. Rerouting."

What was fun about "The Fast & the Furious," when it arrived at the start of this decade, was the vibrant multiracial subculture it presented. Young lower-middle-class men and women orbiting tricked-out Maximas, Chevelles, and GT-Rs. The 1950s beach movie had been reconfigured for the street. By 2009, the franchise has nothing new to offer. The culture, through video games and reality television, has caught up to the series and surpassed it.

Now everything seems derivative. When Diesel's character, Dom, stares at skid marks on a road and is able to solve a murder through visions, you wonder: When did he become Patricia Arquette on "Medium"? The zooming but matter-of-fact integration feels - well, pedestrian, amid the cockfights, drug world cliches, and girl-on-girl-on-girl tongue baths. Worse, in too many of the action sequences, it's hard to tell where the true physical stunt work ends and the digital fakery begins.

Through it all Diesel, Walker, and Jordana Brewster, who's back as Diesel's sister and Walker's ex, continue to fuel suspicion that they're part machine. Their expressions never fully download from the server. These are not faces that say "I'm happy" or "I'm mad." They say, "Rerouting. Rerouting."

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com. For more on movies, go to www.boston.com/movienation.

FAST & FURIOUS Directed by: Justin Lin

Written by: Chris Morgan

Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, and Michelle Rodriguez

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 107 minutes

Rated: PG-13 (intense sequences of violence and action, some sexual content, language, and drug references)