Fast & Furious (2009) Revisited – Vin Diesel and Paul Walker reunited!

This episode of Revisited was Written by Cody Hamman, Narrated by Travis Hopson, Edited by Juan Jimenez, Produced by Adam Walton and Chris Bumbray, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.

After two sequels apart, the Fast and Furious family is reunited in the fourth film. Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez, the gang’s all here. And yes, they’re racing cars once again… but this time the stakes are life or death. We’re going back to 2009 to talk about Fast & Furious (watch it HERE) for this episode of Revisited.

Universal tried something different with the third film in the Fast and Furious franchise. Rather than make it a direct follow-up to the previous films, they brought in new characters. Teenagers they thought would be more appealing to the youth market. They got a decent movie out of it, but not a lot of pay-off. Tokyo Drift made substantially less than its predecessors at the box office. And the moment that had viewers buzzing was the last minute cameo from Vin Diesel. After opting out of 2 Fast 2 Furious, the Fast and the Furious star graced Tokyo Drift with his presence for a few seconds. And opened the door to the sequel fans really wanted to see, which would reunite Diesel with Fast One and 2 Fast star Paul Walker.

Universal was going back to the series’ roots with the fourth film, but they also brought back the Tokyo Drift creative team. Justin Lin would return to direct the fourth movie from a script by Chris Morgan. Morgan’s original idea for Tokyo Drift had centered on Diesel’s character Dominic Toretto. He would have been the one learning to drift in Tokyo – and would have been investigating a murder at the same time. The idea of Dom solving a murder case carries over to the script Morgan wrote for Part 4. And he decided to make it a very personal case.

At the end of The Fast and the Furious, LAPD officer Brian O’Conner, played by Walker, helped criminal street racer Dom get away from the police. They had bonded during Brian’s time undercover in the street racing world. Brian had even gotten romantically involved with Dom’s sister Mia, played by Jordana Brewster. A post-credits scene showed that Dom had made it to Mexico. The fourth film, which drops the definite articles from the title and is simply called Fast & Furious – continuing the trend of crazy titles that started with 2 Fast 2 Furious – catches up with Dom eight years later. He and his girlfriend Letty, played by Michelle Rodriguez, have made their way to the Dominican Republic. There, they have teamed up with locals Leo and Santos, played by Tego Calderón and Don Omar, to pull off a gasoline heist. And Dom has called in his pal Han to help.

Played by Sung Kang, Han was the breakout character in Tokyo Drift. Test audiences always scored him as their favorite character. And Lin had an affinity for him because Kang was basically reprising a role he had played in Lin’s indie movie Better Luck Tomorrow. So the decision was made to bring Han back for a quick appearance in Fast & Furious. Even though he had died in Tokyo Drift. During his cameo in that film, Dom had mentioned that he and Han used to ride together. That they considered each other to be family. So Fast & Furious became a prequel that gives us a glimpse of their time together. Since audiences kept responding so well to Han… and Lin kept coming back to direct sequels… the character would return for more movies after this. Pushing Tokyo Drift further and further down the timeline.

But Han exits Fast & Furious right after the gasoline heist. Dom knows the authorities are closing in on him, so he parts ways with Letty. He goes off to Panama. And soon he’s informed that Letty returned to Los Angeles… and was murdered. So he risks his own safety and freedom to go to L.A. and find out what happened.

The filmmakers had originally planned to re-introduce Brian O’Conner with a scene set in a prison. Presumably this would have been a fake-out. Brian was an outlaw himself in 2 Fast 2 Furious, facing jail time for letting Dom go. So if Fast & Furious started by showing him in prison, viewers would have thought he had finally been locked up. Even though the events of 2 Fast 2 Furious were meant to clear his record. But in this film we learn that Brian has been recruited by the FBI. And therefore would have just been undercover in prison to get information. Lin planned for the very first shot of Paul Walker in this movie to be of him behind bars, shirtless. Then he realized that things probably wouldn’t go so well for someone who looked like Walker if they were in lock-up. The week before they were going to shoot that scene, Lin decided to completely rework Brian’s re-introduction. Instead of being in prison, he’s chasing down a suspect in a frenetic foot chase. A bummer for anyone who was hoping to see Walker shirtless. But a more exciting choice for an action movie.

Brian is working to bring down a drug cartel run by a mysterious man named Braga. Braga has been smuggling heroin into the United States from Mexico for a decade. The FBI knows that street racers are recruited to do the smuggling. But they don’t know exactly how the operation works. Dom’s investigation of Letty’s murder is also leading him toward Braga. So he crosses paths with Brian in the process. They end up having to work together again. And late in the running time, Dom learns that Brian has been keeping secrets again. Letty was involved with Braga’s heroin smuggling because of Brian. She made a deal with the FBI: they would clear Dom’s record if she helped bring Braga to justice. As the film nears its conclusion, Brian tries to set up the same deal for Dom himself.

Vin Diesel wasn’t involved with 2 Fast 2 Furious because he didn’t like the idea of The Fast and the Furious getting a sequel. He has also said that the script he saw that would have featured Dom wasn’t good. A couple years later, he also chose not to return for the xXx sequel. So getting him to come back for Fast & Furious was an accomplishment – and Universal sweetened the deal by letting him produce the film with franchise producer Neal H. Moritz. They also let him direct a twenty minute short called Los Bandoleros. Which shows Dom and his cohorts preparing for the gasoline heist. And he got to take one of the cars home as a souvenir. While developing the film, Lin worked hard to make sure all of the returning stars were satisfied. Which wasn’t always easy, as he has said that it was like “building a road while the car is still driving on it”. On his audio commentary, he talked about the conversation that really sealed the deal with Diesel. They were discussing the script when Diesel asked him what the film was really about. The theme of it. Lin said, “It’s been very interesting, because for these kind of fast cars and hot chicks films, the theme that’s been driving these films is family. The exploration of what it means to have this non-traditional family. I thought the theme for this film should be sacrifice and what that means for Dom. As soon as I mentioned sacrifice to Vin, it clicked. I guess it wasn’t a hard sell because basically you’re saying, ‘Vin, you get to be Jesus Christ,’ and I think he took that well.”

Lin inherited the main stars of Fast & Furious from the original film. He then built a supporting cast around them. John Ortiz was cast as Ramon Campos, who is presented as being the right hand man to Braga. But there’s more going on with him than meets the eye. Laz Alonso plays Fenix, who leads the drivers hired to smuggle Braga’s drugs. Then executes them after they reach the states. Which is why he killed Letty. Jack Conley plays Penning, Brian’s boss at the FBI. Shea Whigham is Stasiak, a colleague Brian doesn’t get along with. Liza Lapira plays FBI agent Sophie Trinh, a more helpful colleague. In the mix at Braga’s organization is Gal Gadot as Gisele Yashar. Who is strongly attracted to Dom – but he doesn’t hook up with her because he’s mourning Letty.

Fast & Furious was Gadot’s first film, and acting wasn’t something she had intended to do. The Israel native had done modeling work and served the mandatory two years in the Israel Defense Forces. Then she was attending law school when the casting director for the James Bond film Quantum of Solace saw her modeling card. Gadot took the Bond meeting, but was straightforward with the casting director. She told them she wasn’t an actress and didn’t want to waste their time. So she wasn’t cast in the Bond movie. It wasn’t until after that brush with the film world that she started taking acting classes and auditioning for projects. The same casting person she had met for Quantum of Solace was also working on Fast & Furious. That’s how she was cast as Gisele – and started down the path to becoming Wonder Woman.

Some involved with Fast & Furious considered this film to be the “real sequel”. Coming after two entries where the franchise got sidetracked. It brings the original stars back together and cements the idea that the series is about family. So it sounds like this should be a fun party. But the film is surprisingly downbeat; easily the most dour entry in the entire franchise. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to make the reunion movie a revenge tale. Everyone’s serious, angry, sad. Characters are too busy mourning Letty and feeling betrayed by Brian to have a good time. And that makes the movie less entertaining than the preceding three.

Jordana Brewster was upset that she was left out of 2 Fast 2 Furious. Yet the movie that brought her back to the franchise is her least favorite of the ones she’s in. Speaking with Collider, she said Fast & Furious is “very grey. It’s set in L.A., Paul’s in a suit. I’m in this red dress and I have bangs and I’m just very sad and pissed off at him. I just feel like I don’t remember that one super fondly.” She also questions her performance as Mia in the film, saying, “I was kind of prissy in 4 and then back to really knowing what I want in 5. … It’s really important to me that Mia’s very centered and grounded, and I lost sight of that in 4. But also, it was a reintroduction to everyone.”

Although the movie is melancholy, it does have plenty of action in the mix. And in these action sequences, you can see the first signs of how over-the-top the franchise would get. The opening gasoline heist is the biggest action scene these movies have had yet. And ends with Dom driving a car under a burning tanker that’s rolling and bouncing down the road. Timing it perfectly so he can drive through unscathed. With plenty of digital enhancement helping him out. The smugglers get Braga’s heroin into the states by driving through tunnels. Sequences set in these tunnels aren’t visually appealing. And require a lot more digital enhancement. But that’s where the climactic chase happens. It’s one of the least engaging sequences in the early films.

At this point in the franchise, people can still get injured when their cars smash into something. Letty is in a bad spot when Fenix makes her crash her car. Brian is very banged up at the end. But we also get a preview of Dom’s superhuman abilities when he gets shot in the shoulder. And doesn’t seem to mind very much.

There are plenty of problems with Fast & Furious. But as far as car-based action movies go, it’s not bad. Just underwhelming. There are some good character moments. It’s nice to see Brian, Dom, and Mia interacting again. And it’s very satisfying when we see Brian and Dom work together to dispatch Fenix. The man who killed Letty. Even though later sequels would tell us that Letty wasn’t really killed.

Universal had been planning to give Fast & Furious a June release. The same as they had done for the previous three movies. But late in the process, they decided to pull the release forward two months. It moved from June 12th to April 3rd. Due to this change in plans, composer Brian Tyler had to speed up his process. He went from having a couple months to record the orchestral score to having just three days to do it. The one hundred and seven minute movie required seventy-two minutes of music. So Tyler gathered his orchestra and recorded twenty-five minutes of music each day for three days. The musical time crunch isn’t evident in the finished film.

The release date shift didn’t hurt the film at the box office, either. You’d think a summer release would have been better. The teens these movies were aimed at were out of school with plenty of free time in the summer. But even though they were still in school in April, they obviously found the time to go see Fast & Furious. So did the older audience who had been there when the franchise started eight years earlier. And viewers who skipped Tokyo Drift came back to see this one. Fast & Furious became the most successful film in the franchise up to this point. It drew in over one hundred and fifty-five million at the domestic box office. Passing the record of one-forty-four-point-five that was held by the first film. The international box office added more than two hundred and four million. Leaving 2 Fast 2 Furious’s international haul of one hundred and nine million in the dust. At the end of its theatrical run, the film had earned more than three hundred and fifty-nine million on a budget of eighty-five. Guaranteeing that there would be another sequel.

Paul Walker was instantly on board to come back for Part 5. Interviewed by The New York Times in the build-up to the release of Fast & Furious, he said Universal was “already talking that we’re going to make a fifth one in Europe.” But there was a bit of déjà vu here. Walker had experience being in a successful film with Diesel, then having his co-star refuse to return for a sequel. He told the New York Times, “I’m sure Vin’s going to be busy.” When they asked Diesel about it, he wouldn’t promise that he’d come back for Part 5. He simply said, “You know my process is script first.”

Of course, Diesel did end up coming back for Part 5. And every sequel since then. But 5 didn’t take Brian and Dom to Europe like Walker heard it would. They would get there eventually. But first they had to go on a detour to South America. Fast Five, the most popular of all the sequels, is set in Brazil. And we’re going to talk about that one in the next episode of Revisited