Yet More Life in the Fast Lane
There’s a scene in “Fast & Furious,” the newest entry in the car-racing movie series, in which rivals played by Vin Diesel and Paul Walker get ready for their first high-velocity showdown since 2001.
“You sure you still want to do this?” asks Diesel’s character, an outlaw named Dominic Toretto.
“A lot has changed,” replies Walker’s character, an undercover officer named Brian O’Conner.
Well, yes and no. Eight years after “The Fast and the Furious,” the original film that propelled Diesel and Walker to semi-stardom, “Fast & Furious” is still about modified sports cars, the men who covet them and the women who covet those men.
But in that time the franchise has seen a lot of tinkering underneath its hood. Of the four lead actors from the original film, which co-starred Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster, only Walker returned for a 2003 sequel, “2 Fast 2 Furious.” And none had roles in a third movie, “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift,” in 2006, beyond a cameo for Diesel.
So for movie No. 4, the team behind “Fast & Furious” tried an unexpected stunt and reunited the first movie’s principal cast.
Even the actors themselves seemed surprised by this latest twist. “It’s kind of tricky to revisit a character so long after the fact,” Diesel said. “But it’s very cool on a lot of levels to be able to go back to high school and do it all over again.”
Of course it’s unlikely that this particular band would be getting back together if the first “Fast and the Furious” were not still the most identifiable movie on their CVs.
That film was a formative experience for nearly everyone involved. Starting with a story adapted from a Vibe magazine article about underground street races, the producer Neal H. Moritz enlisted Walker from his 2000 college thriller “The Skulls” and cast Diesel (in a role originally conceived for Timothy Olyphant) from the 2000 sci-fi film “Pitch Black.”
The $30 million film was, Moritz said, “one of those movies where really nobody expected that much.” But in a summer dominated by sequels like “Jurassic Park III” and “The Mummy Returns,” “The Fast and the Furious” was an unforeseen blockbuster, opening at No. 1 and taking in nearly $145 million at the domestic box office and $207 million worldwide.
The night the movie opened, Walker said, he received a call from Rob Cohen, the film’s director. “He’s like, ‘I’m so proud of you, son,’” Walker recalled. “I always refer to him as my movie dad. He said, ‘I hope you’re ready for another one.’”
But those feelings of camaraderie were short lived. Offered a co-starring role in “2 Fast 2 Furious,” Diesel turned the project down. “I guess I’m of the old mind-set that sequels should be more a continuation of a story than a rehash of a story,” he said.
Walker had a different recollection of Diesel’s departure. “They just couldn’t make the deal with Vin,” he said. “It was my understanding he wanted to come back but wanted half the studio.”
Either way, Diesel and Cohen instead went on to make the 2002 spy film “XXX,” which performed even better than “The Fast and the Furious” around the world. In Diesel’s absence the sequel had no need for Brewster, who played his sister, or Rodriguez, who played his girlfriend.
Yet “2 Fast 2 Furious,” which starred Walker, Tyrese Gibson and Eva Mendes and was directed by John Singleton, was a bigger hit than its predecessor, grossing $237 million worldwide.
The third film, “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift,” directed by Justin Lin (“Better Luck Tomorrow”), featured no bankable actors and earned less than its predecessors. But it opened the door for Diesel’s return to the series, allowing him to reprise his Dominic Toretto character briefly at the end of the film. Also, Diesel said, “when they asked me to do the cameo, they sweetened the deal by saying you can produce the next one.”
The new movie offers the additional benefit, for Diesel as well as his co-stars, of connecting them to a likely box-office smash, something their lagging careers could use. Though Diesel’s attempt at family friendliness in Disney’s “Pacifier” (2005) did well, his “Chronicles of Riddick,” a 2004 sequel to “Pitch Black,” was a disappointment, as was his 2008 sci-fi adventure “Babylon A.D.” Outside of “The Fast and the Furious,” Walker’s biggest success was Disney’s 2006 dog-sled adventure “Eight Below,” and Brewster and Rodriguez are known for television roles.
Once on board, each of the “Fast & Furious” stars found something to appreciate about the film. Walker got to participate in a nimble foot race in addition to the traditional complement of car chases and crashes. And Diesel was allowed to direct a short film, called “Los Bandoleros,” that sets up the story of “Fast & Furious” and may be included on its DVD release.
There is now some good will going around the franchise, and the conclusion of “Fast & Furious” strongly implies that a fifth movie is planned. But true to form, Walker and Diesel could not quite come to a consensus about teaming up on a new film.
“They’re already talking that we’re going to make a fifth one in Europe,” Walker said. He added, “I’m sure Vin’s going to be busy.”
Diesel did not disappoint. “You know my process is script first,” he said.
The New York Times