There are many arbitrary ways to divide filmatists into two groups. Today I’m gonna separate out the ones who have an obvious vision/theme/style/obsession (good or bad) that can be seen throughout most of their works. For example you can look at your Alfred Hitchcock or your David Lynch or your Roger Vadim and you can usually tell who is responsible for this business. I mean even a Michael Bay or a Kevin Smithee, the lowest of the low, has a signature style. Or you can at least see what the dude was going for there.
Then in the other group we have the commercial or “hack” filmatist who goes from one project to the next just looking for something that might be successful, or that seems cinematic, or that might capture that fuckin zeitgeist thing the germans are always so interested in. Some of these guys might even be decent at the directation of films but they just don’t put that strong of a personal stamp on them. For example you got your John Badham (Saturday Night Fever, Dracula , Short Circuit, Point of No Return) or your Randal Kleiser (Boy in the Plastic Bubble, Grease, The Blue Lagoon, Big Top Pee-Wee, Honey I Blew Up the Kid). Occasionally they make a good picture like Saturday Night Fever but you still have no idea what these clowns are trying to do artistic-wise. They’re just doing a job, like plumbing or washing windows or passing out pizza coupons and gum samples on the street corner. They punch the clock and then they go home.
I like Rob Cohen better than I like those individuals but I think he’s in the same category. He even produced three of John Badham’s movies. His best movie was DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY. That one’s about Bruce Lee. But he followed it up with crap like DRAGONHEART and DAYLIGHT. The ONLY thing these three pictures have in common is that they have the letter A in them. And MAYBE the letter D but even that’s being generous.
Now this dude seems to have suddenly hit a stride making commercially successful PG-13 movies with up and coming actors that are widely considered to be surprisingly entertaining at least on an unintentional level. The first in this series was THE SKULLS, and he hopes to continue in that vein with the Vin Diesel bungee-jumping-James-Bond movie XXX and of course THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS PART 2: THE FASTER AND THE FURIOUSER.
I haven’t seen any of those but I have seen THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS PART A and this is my essay about it, one of the most important film Writing works of the 21st century so far, in my opinion. (If it turns out as planned anyway. I am only on the fifth paragraph here. Those of you who can count will back me up on this one).
THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS is a hollywood vehicle about “the underground culture of street racing”. Basically, in many urban and especially non-urban (i.e. boring) areas there are groups of rich kids who spend thousands of dollars jacking up their mom’s car and then they have drag races for money, which if they win they will spend on new engine parts. Somebody Wrote an article about it in Vibe or Cigar Afficianado or somewheres so Hollywood said “It is our duty to exploit this.”
They did it with breakdancing, they did it with skateboarding. They did it with BMX, lambada, pirate radio, cockfighting, snowboarding, “extreme sports”, rollerblading, hacking, low budget filmmaking, nintendo, rave, grunge, rap, “the cocktail nation”, karaoke, luge, solar car racing… Basically, if you’re young and you have a wacky hobby, it’s gonna be a movie some day, most likely about 3-6 months after everybody you know stops doing it. If Hollywood had been on their game, they woulda had Unicycle: The Movie and Pogo! and Hula Hoop Nation. They woulda had animated pet rocks and tamagotchis and one about “wilding” in New York or collecting star wars dolls and selling them on e-bay. I’m sure they came inches from making movies about Tai Boe and country line dancing and your momma jokes, or even made up fads like street yoga or freestyle bowling. If you do some stupid shit, Hollywood wants to know, so they can dress it up in neon colors and spiky hair and call it a phenomenon.
Cars. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this, but alot of men love their cars. Kids grow up with their hot wheels cars and model cars and go carts and posters of Ferraris and Corvettes. Some of them even watch race cars on tv or watch kids on tv with beds shaped like race cars. There is even a cartoon based on NASCAR racing. There are kids with subscriptions to Motor Trend magazine and Hot Rod. When they get older they still like pictures of cars, especially with women in bikinis next to the cars or, better yet, on top of the cars. Riding them. The cars are bigger than men but they know what to do. Cars will take good care of their women. Car commercials fill magazines and play on tv all day and sometimes equate the quality of a car to the size of a man’s dick.
On TV, it’s all about owning expensive cars. Rappers want their Lexuses or their lowriders with hydraulics. They mention them in their lyrics and they rent them and show them in their videos and pretend that they own them. This goes back a long ways. You can read in Iceberg Slim why Cadillacs were an important status symbol to people who couldn’t afford to buy a house. But the bar has been raised and now you can’t have just one solitary car as a status symbol. I don’t care if it’s a gold plated Knight Rider, you need a fuckin armada to be really impressive. Many actors and music stars collect armies of expensive cars, or give them away, or ask for them as payment for doing movies. You know, like we used to use cigarettes inside, or marbles or sandwiches on the playground. The heroes on TV shows and movies always drive expensive sports cars no matter what. Even the cops drive sports cars instead of cop cars, like cops drive. The only time their cars don’t work is if they are being chased by a maniac. Otherwise their cars are perfect and they don’t have to wait five minutes for them to warm up or for the windows to defrost and they don’t have that problem that they can’t drive on the freeway because the old piece of shit can barely make it above 40.
I have not driven in a while due to lack of car type difficulties. What I mean by that is, I don’t have a car. I don’t even ride anymore. And I want to say right now that I have decided to abandon cars altogether. This will not decrease the size of the penis and I encourage all men and women with penises and breasts of all sizes to do the same.
Fuck cars. All you do in cars is take years off your life. I live in Seattle and we have some of the worst traffic in the country. Alot of people spend half as much time in the car to and from work as they do actually at work. If they don’t give themselves high blood pressure they might get that road rage shit. It’s like mad cow disease but on wheels. One time a guy took somebody’s poodle and threw it across a couple lanes of traffic. Another guy crashed his car through the side of a Jack in the Box, got himself one hamburger and took off. Another guy in a car chased the hamburglar but got his car rammed. Even if you’re a good car guy like the guy trying to catch the hamburglar, it’s too much trouble.
And that’s the thing, people feel like because they have a car they are entitled to something. Entitled to not get cut off in traffic. Entitled to not stop for somebody to cross the street, even at a crosswalk. Entitled to just be a big fuckin asshole, just because they’re wearing what amounts to giant mechanical pants.
If they almost run over you on a crosswalk they don’t apologize or even look embarassed after they slam on the breaks. They won’t even make eye contact. One time a guy actually hit me on a crosswalk while talking on his cell phone, and his first reaction was not to gasp or apologize, but to honk at me! If you step out into the road before your light turns green, then decide not to cross and get back on the sidewalk, they still honk at you, because you gave them an opening. If the cars are way down the street, so you jaywalk, thirty seconds later they pass you on the sidewalk, and they honk (I’ve seen this happen especially to young black men). They live 2 blocks from the grocery store, they still drive there, even if it takes longer when they have to find parking, because why the fuck would you walk? There are young people that use a car like an old dude uses a Rascal.
Riding the bus to work in Seattle is expensive because of this fucker from Bellevue named Tim Eyman. He’s some Lexus driving asshole who got rich selling engraved watches to fraternities on the internet. Then he started a company that creates initiatives to lower the taxes on expensive cars, taking money away from transit. So there are less routes than there used to be and the buses come less often and the schedules at the bus stops are not up to date, if there are schedules there at all. After this year’s initiative the city announced that they’d have to close the Seattle Public Library down 2 months out of the year. Which is more important to you – low taxes on expensive cars, or reading? Washington had to make that choice, and they chose cars.
That was before the recession. Yesterday I read that they’re closing down alot of the parks too. So I guess these nice little parks will become overgrown weed patches piled up with garbage, fenced off and occasionally combed with flashlights at night to make sure people aren’t buttfucking in the bushes. Pretty soon I think they’ll shut down the animal control department and we’ll have wild dobermans roaming the streets like in Suburbia, getting into Westlake Mall and eating people on the escalator. If an elephant escapes from the zoo and starts hunting for elephant trainers, we’ll have to wait for a team to come up from Portland. And they better take the bus if they want to make it through traffic.
(In a happier note, Tim Eyman will be shutting down too now that the newspapers found out he had taken more than $150,000 of donated money and put it in his own account. On the list of things his supporters paid for: car repairs, a donation to the Republicans, and “stuff”.)
Despite all this, the bus is still better than driving. You almost never get stuck in traffic. You don’t need insurance. You don’t buy gas. You don’t even have to drive. So you don’t risk damaging your car or somebody else’s car or getting a speeding ticket or a parking ticket. You don’t have to find a parking space. You don’t have to pay exorbitant parking fees to some asshole entrepreneur that bought a square and put cement on it, some lines and numbers and a metal box (what a fuckin scam!)
You can doze off on the bus. You can read Iceberg Slim books. Sometimes you can meet real pimps on the bus, or crack dealers, or punk kids straight out of Larry Clark movies, holding skateboards, talking about crystal meth and blowjobs. You can stay in touch with youth culture or see a man suddenly pull a stack of quarters out of his mouth.
You meet interesting people on the bus. Like the young man from Alaska who, high on life, told me I was “sucking Bill Gates’s dick”. Or the gentlemen the other day who suddenly announced, “Okay – trivia time!” and quizzed no one in particular about the history of professional boxing.
When a cop gets on the bus he’s not there for you, unless you’re on the nod or knifing somebody or something. It’s not like when you get pulled over – then you know it’s you they want.
When you’re riding the bus, you’re not contributing to traffic congestion. Unless your bus drives off a bridge, but that’s not regular. One time a guy shot the bus driver and the bus drove off a bridge into a small artist’s community. But most of the passengers survived.
Then there’s the whole moral thing. I’m not some “tree hugger” or “flower child” or “cocksucker” but I think every one of us has to admit we’re really fuckin pushin it as a species. There were only so many dinosaurs and there is only so much oil. We are polluting our air. If you have air conditioning (not that I ever did, you luxury car owning fucks) you’re eating away the ozone layer. I know it’s easy to forget about but I read that thing is 3 times the size of europe now. And you europeans can testify, that’s pretty, you know, that’s pretty big in my opinion.
If a climate that’ll fry us like beer battered onion rings doesn’t do it for you, what about the political climate? George Bush (both of em in fact) came from oil. They would not be in office if they didn’t make money off of all you fuckers buying oil. Cheney comes from oil. Most of Bush’s regime comes from oil. The troubles in Venezuala recently are about oil. The short-lived military coup that the White House praised as a victory for democracy, that seems to have been at least partly about oil. Bush part I’s war in Iraq was mainly about oil. The FBI was pressured not investigate bin Laden or the Saudi royalty for terrorism because of oil. Cheney threatened to go to invade Afghanistan if they didn’t let us build an oil pipeline through their land, next thing you know we got planes crashing into buildings.
I mean, fuck oil. I know we can’t escape it yet but as much as we can, shouldn’t we? I’m not saying that just because it’s morally reprehensible to drive if you don’t have to, that you HAVE to stop. I’m just saying that you SHOULD. Remember when black people stopped buying gold because it was funding apartheid in south africa? How about everybody cuts down on oil because it’s fucking up the whole world?
Anyway, this movie doesn’t explore those issues, really, at least not on a literal or metaphorical level. It just explores racing cars. Sort of. I don’t know if the filmatists would admit it, but racing is not inherently cinematic. They try hard but the racing scenes in here are not that exciting. You got two cars driving in straight lines, trying to go the fastest. That’s not exciting. Why do you think in the olympics, they ski somewhere and then they pull out a gun and start shooting targets and shit? Because racing is boring. I mean think about it. If regular racing wasn’t boring, why would they have invented Wacky Racing? If racing was worth watching then the Wacky Racers would be out of a job. People would just think, I like the way they race, but they are too wacky. There would be no need to spice things up with hot air balloons and contraptions and tying ladies to train tracks and teaching dogs to drive. That would be seen as a distraction.
I mean how many examples do you need here? Nothing that goes in a straight line is exciting. In skiing, you got slalom. In rollercoasters you got loopty loop. Water skiing only makes it on tv if it’s a squirrel. What would you rather watch? A toad race or a chicken fight? And even toads hop. They could hop high or low, long or short. They could hop crooked and go off the track. Who knows how they’ll hop? Nobody. But there’s no room for this type of variation in this straight-line style of racing because the cars don’t hop. They just go fast and the two people try to go faster than each other. It’s all about who has the most money and knowledge to build the most powerful engine and maintain it. And the only thing more boring that a movie about driving a car really fast in a straight line is a movie about people preparing their cars to be able to drive really fast in a straight line.
But anyway this is not about actual driving skill. So there’s not much to depict here. The race itself is so boring they have to have buttons on the wheel that make the car go faster. Uh oh, the other guy is in the lead. I know! Push the button that makes it go faster!
Because of this, they had no choice but to make this car racing movie not really about car racing. So the exciting scenes are the police chases, where you actually get to turn corners and crash through stuff and maybe even jump. Throw some motorcycles in there and they can really jump, and do little sideways kicky things. A few machine guns can pepper things up too. Also you gotta throw in a whole plotline about an undercover cop and some robberies. This bothered some people but I mean, at least they’re not driving in straight lines the whole movie is all I’m saying.
I think I’ve established that theory but you can e-mail me for more information on why racing in straight lines is boring. At least let’s see some side wheelies!
Mr. Cohen depicts this racing world as a multi-cultural underground dressed up by Urban Outfitters, painted neon green and orange with purple stripes. It is inhabited by a charismatic cast who we will call the chassis, because they are the only thing holding this shit together. Most notable is the promising new Badass Vin Diesel, from the robot cartoon and Pitch Black.
There are many reasons why Vin Diesel is popular and why that will only grow. First of all, he’s a deep-voiced muscleman who broke into the industry by directing short films. (Please refer to my THEORY OF BADASS JUXTAPOSITION, which has never ceased to be relevant.) And then there’s this whole multi-racial thing. In Pitch Black I thought he was black. He sounds like it and he looks like it at a glance. On closer inspection he could just be some italian guy, who knows. He could play a number of races believably and he refuses to reveal his true origins.
He’s also got a machismo that you don’t get much these days. I’m not saying I want everybody in Hollywood to be some fuckin self obsessed oaf but let me relay to you this anecdote about his work on John Frankenheimer’s REINDEER GAMES, where he was cast as some kind of supporting thug. Mr. Frankenheimer asked Vin Diesel to take his shirt off to show his muscles in a scene. Vin Diesel refused, saying, “I only take my shirt off in a Vin Diesel film.”
So Frankenheimer fired him. I don’t know if Vin was saying that he’d be headlining movies soon (which was true) or if he was saying he would only take his shirt off in a movie he directed. Either way, good story.
Another good story, which I think is probaly phony, is about how he got started acting. Supposedly he and his friends were caught vandalizing a theater as teens, and the owner agreed to drop charges if they would come in and study acting.
Also, remember, we’re talking about a guy who named himself VIN DIESEL. I mean that pretty much explains him.
Diesel’s character here is typical of his roles so far. He is basically a cult leader – an egomaniacal asshole who has some kind of charm that makes everyone gravitate to him, and always want to please him. And it’s convincing. He is the best racer, the best mechanic, and the ringleader of illegal enterprises. And he’s Vin Diesel. In one scene, Vin zooms along the highway right next to a truck that his friend happens to be clinging to the front of, in mortal danger. Things haven’t gone as planned and the buddy really needs to get into Vin’s car somehow. So Vin, one hand on the wheel, flying down the road at maybe 100 mph, pokes his head out the window like a dog, holds out one muscular arm and yells, “JUMP!” And you look at the guy, and you look at Vin, and you look at Vin’s arm, and you really believe that he thinks this will work. That the buddy can jump, and maybe Vin will hug him against the side of the car and be able to pull him in, and Vin’s arm won’t break off or anything.
Luckily, Vin’s friend doesn’t do it. But you gotta admire Vin for offering.
But Mr. Diesel is actually not the main character here. Neither is Outlaw Award Winner Michelle Rodriguez, who still acts tough, and fights to belong in a male dominated world, but mostly is just the girlfriend character except in one scene where she gets to punch a dude in the face.
The star is actually Paul Walker who worked with Rob Cohen in THE SKULLS PART 1 and who was surprisingly good in JOY RIDE. He’s racking up a big collection of roles as whitebread hunks wearing tight shirts. He has that quality of the football player who is so nice you can’t hate him as much as you hate the other football players. He sounds kinda slow and stiff but has some kind of weird hidden charisma that makes you like him anyway.
Like all the fad movies alluded to above, this one pretends to show the gritty reality of the underground street racing culture. Mr. Cohen did manage to get real street racers and their cars as extras in the big tournament at the end. But somehow I can’t imagine the real people who do this are much like the people in the movie, wearing the same designer tank tops every day, exchanging Freudian stories about the first time they drove, making little speeches about the gasoline that runs in their veins.
On the other hand maybe I can imagine it, because this is a hobby that only the richest of the rich could ever get involved in. I mean there is some major equipment involved in this one. Like for example, CARS. In the movie, Paul Walker bets away an $80,000 car the first time he meets the other racers, and nobody thinks it’s suspicious.
You stupid rich fucks.
At least they’re out there on the streets, though, instead of in the board rooms and the white house.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.