Fast and FuriousSince when did naming movies become so arduous a process that a big budget Hollywood sequel like Fast & Furious can get away with simply taking the original movie’s title, removing use of the word ‘the’ and substituting an ‘and’ for an ampersand? How lazy can the screenwriters get?

Fast & Furious is the third sequel to 2001’s shonky action hit The Fast and The Furious, in which director Justin Lin reunites the original duo of Paul Walker as a steely undercover police officer and Vin Diesel as a no-guff street racing fugitive. It’s a familiar cop-vs-criminal dynamic, the twist being that the two main characters are exceptionally good drivers, something the film flaunts with fetishistic zeal.

As the slimmed-down title suggests, things are a bit more direct this time around. There is a little less pussyfooting around with character establishment and a little more attention on what the target audience unashamedly crave: something very fast and very furious; something loud, quick and intellectually vapid; something that doesn’t waste precious brain-blasting minutes on extraneous filler like strongly developed characters, sensible storylines or superfluous use of the word ‘the.’

How disappointing, then, that after a couple of spectacular full throttle opening action scenes – including an on-the-road petrol heist scene more entertaining than anything in the first movie – Fast & Furious slows down and never gets its momentum back, puttering to gopher speed whenever Lin tries to navigate around the script’s dramatic moments. These are the bits that serve as padding for the set pieces and effects sequences, when characters grumble about regrets and lost loves and take time out to articulate their life philosophies – a painful exercise given we know by now they amount to little more than beer, long legs and (most pertinently) expensive cars.

Dominic Toretto (Diesel) is a wanted man with a noggin spottable miles away and a vague appreciation of justice. Brian O’Conner (Walker) is the worst kind of cop: one who clearly gets off on breaking the law. He doesn’t hide a fondness for driving like an amphetamine-powered madman a sniff or two away from full-blown psychosis. O’Connor’s chief says “being a criminal is only one bad judgment away’ but the warning comes two and a bit movies too late.

Toretto’s vague appreciation of justice kicks in when his girlfriend is murdered and his subsequent investigations invariably help the police bust a drug ring. A little storytelling ingenuity would have been nice, because the vengeance-for-slain-girlfriend plotline is so unoriginal it feels totally redundant – just dots that help plot the lines between action scenes. If you need me to elaborate on the plot in order to make an informed decision about whether to see Fast & Furious, this movie is not for you. Expect lots of furrowed brows, sweaty men, gun fire, tyre marks, narrowly avoided traffic and wide-angle shots that buckle under the strain of Diesel’s broad shoulders. In the tradition of great cinematic beefcakes, the smooth-scalped star’s bulky physique diverts the audience’s attention away from his acting abilities.

Lin stages the chase scenes with grungy panache, creating a few rousing ones and some that fall flat. Fast & Furious features not one but two chase-through-a-mountain scenes (that’s right – through a mountain) but they’re blurry, dark and difficult to follow. Unsurprisingly the movie is best when its characters are behind the wheel. During the inter-personal moments sandwiched in between speedometers and tumbling vehicles the script’s major foibles are laid out for all to see and scrutinise.

Seconds before hooning off for yet another high octane street race, Walker turns to his beefy co-star and says “a lot has changed.”

“You’re right,” comes Diesel’s reply, but anyone remotely familiar with the franchsie will know this is a long way from the truth.

Fast & Furious’ Australian theatrical release date: 16 April 2009