They say that if you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you. But what if you stare at every single one of the eight Fast & Furious films in a row? Does anything stare back at you then? And if so, does it have beautiful blue eyes like Paul Walker?
Somebody had to find out. OK, technically nobody had to find out. But somebody was about to find out, because I had been signed up to do just that – crank up the original, The Fast and the Furious, then put my pedal to the metal and not stop watching until the credits ran on the eighth film in the franchise. Ride or die, as they say – or at least ride or have a nervous breakdown.
This month sees the release of F9, the latest instalment of the street-racing and heist saga that has grossed $6bn worldwide. And yet, thanks to my radar for avoiding anything involving explosions and the biceps of shaven-headed men, it has completely passed me by. I assumed they’re just not for me. My life was fast and furious once, but these days I’m a knackered dad who wouldn’t dream of doing more than 20mph in a 20mph zone after a run-in with a speed awareness course. The only high-speed crash I’ve had recently is denting my Skoda Yeti when I tried to manoeuvre it into the Guardian lifts. I’m hoping these films might revive my youthful spirit so I can at least start doing stunts outside my daughter’s schoolgates.
It’s 9am, the kids have been dropped off and I’m ready to start my engine. The Fast and the Furious starts with a heist on a lorry containing, er, DVD players (it’s 2001) and then moves swiftly on to a homoerotic cafe scene in which Walker gets into a brawl for ordering a tuna sandwich. “No one likes the tuna in here!” is a line that sets the tone for the following 16 hours.
Walker plays an undercover cop called Brian O’Conner, who infiltrates an illegal street-race gang, despite looking and acting exactly like an undercover cop. Vin Diesel plays Dominic Toretto, the head of the hijacking team who befriends O’Conner despite the fact that he catches him doing what looks suspiciously like undercover cop stuff. But in the same way it’s not an “acting” or a “dialogue” movie, it’s not really a “plot” movie, either: instead, there are parties where meathead men show off their guitar riffs to women wearing leather bras. There are multiple crashes involving innocent members of the public whose pending insurance claims will, I imagine, be dealt with in the sequels. And there is a race at the end where Dom and Brian compete to smash into a train for, as far as I can tell, no reason whatsoever.
It’s a terrible movie on almost every front and I have no idea how the entire cast and crew weren’t served with an injunction preventing them from ever working in Hollywood ever again. That small quibble aside, I love it. It’s so dumb and silly and simple, I want to watch another. Which is good news because, after making a quick coffee in my topless Paul Walker mug, it’s time to cue up 2 Fast 2 Furious.
2 Fast 2 Furious is the same as The Fast and the Furious. By that, I mean, it’s virtually identical. I have to check I’ve not replayed the first one by mistake. We are in Miami this time, and Vin Diesel has been replaced by Tyrese Gibson, but in essence it’s a replica: cars gleam, abs gleam, lots of ladies’ bottoms gleam and stay right in the centre of the camera for quite some time. This time our heroes are enlisted to take down a criminal mastermind using nothing but prolonged eye contact and the ability to drive sports cars through the air on to boats (if you’re considering re-enacting this stunt at home, please ensure you do it as correctly demonstrated in the film: press the accelerator down really hard and scream).
It ends and, in keeping with the breakneck lifestyle of the characters, I realise it will be a tight squeeze to finish The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift before I have to pick my daughter up from school – so off we go! Tokyo Drift has an entirely new cast, but who needs the stars of a franchise when you’ve got a high-school race between new antihero Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) and some jock whose girlfriend is the prize for the winner – there are some badass female characters in these movies, often ones who can win street races in crotch-high boots not entirely conducive to clutch control. I’m not sure Andrea Dworkin was ever the target audience, though, really.
Boswell drives so recklessly in the US that he has to move to Tokyo and drive recklessly over there instead. He pisses off the Yakuza and befriends a man called Han Lue (Sung-Ho Kang), whose personality is either “quietly charismatic” or “eats lots of crisps”, depending on your point of view. Han teaches him how to “drift”, which is kind of a metaphor for living in the moment. Just living in the moment explains a lot about these films – like, for instance, why each film has a scene where two hot women that have nothing to do with the story snog for a bit.
Was this film good? I suspect it was totally rubbish, but because my brain is starting to liquefy by this point I didn’t really mind it. I leg it to school to grab my daughter just in time and hurry her home at breakneck pace. Am I starting to absorb the films’ speed-demon ethos? Or have I just got six more of these bloody films to get through and a deadline to meet?
Fast & Furious from 2009 is up next, a film so fast and furious it doesn’t even have time for definite articles. My children are home, and even though my wife refuses to refer to this as “work”, she reluctantly sorts out their tea and bathtime while I shamefully shut the living-room door and tell them they can’t come in to watch their cartoons. The old cast are back and confusingly, so is the man who eats crisps who died in the last film. A lot of effort is made playing around with timelines here to make it all make sense, which seems rather silly given that nothing else about these films makes any sense.
Dom’s wife, Letty, has perished in a car crash, and so he visits the site and hallucinates her final moments. Like Dom, I am beginning to wonder where reality starts and ends. The crashes and explosions are entering my eyes and ears, for sure, but what my brain is doing with that information is unclear.
There’s a lot of stuff to tie up in this film because, clearly, nobody thought they would be making one sequel to the original, let alone eight: why did Brian abandon Mia (Dom’s sister, played by Jordana Brewster)? Why did he let Dom walk off with the keys to his car rather than arrest him? When these questions are put to Brian directly, he stares into the camera and says: “I don’t know.”
Fair enough! Two hot women snog for a bit. The racers are using satnav. It’s actually all quite boring and ends with Dom going to prison for 25 years without parole, which means quite literally nothing, because, as I soon learn, he spends the entire franchise having his atrocious criminal record repeatedly wiped.
I convince my wife to join me for Fast 5. She asks what she has missed and the avalanche of facts pouring from my mouth startles me: I start talking about how it’s not about cops and criminals, but instead people with or without a moral code; how it hammers home valuing loyalty to your family above all (er, sorry about the cartoons earlier), even if it’s your adopted family. I realise I know what “racing for pink slips” means and I have an in-depth knowledge of how to achieve complicated stunts (eg the way to escape from a moving train in a car is to accelerate really fast while screaming). Not only can I explain what’s happened, I realise I can also explain what is about to happen – “they’ll pull into a warehouse in a minute and the police will mysteriously just give up on the chase”. I could probably go on Mastermind with this as my specialist subject, and I really hope nobody makes me do that for another Guardian feature.
By its fifth instalment, the franchise has ditched the dumb-but-charming street racing theme for flashy, all-star heist action. The Rock is here to make Vin Diesel look about as hard as Matt Hancock, and there’s a car chase with a bank vault swinging around on the streets of Rio. “This is just car noises,” says my wife, before admitting she’s quite enjoying it. I’m pleased for her critical input because I can no longer tell if it’s any good beyond knowing that the optimum time to watch Fast 5 is not immediately after watching Fast & Furious 1, 2, 3 and 4.
The film ends, as they all seem to do, with a barbecue where they drink Corona and say grace. Mia refuses a beer because she’s pregnant with Brian’s child – admirable health consciousness from someone who has recently staged a heist on a police station.
It is now pushing midnight and I fall asleep. Five hours later, I hear my son wailing to get up,but I ignore him and put on Fast & Furious 6. Dom and Brian are racing each other. Again. Is this all just a weird dream? Are there really going to be nine movies about this? Brian is a dad now, but that criminal record won’t wipe itself, so he heads to London to fight criminals – this time on the same side as the Rock. Letty is back from the dead. Rita Ora appears to say “This is London baby!” and somehow manages to turn just that into a terrible performance. Han’s girlfriend, Gisele (played by a pre-Wonder Woman Gal Gadot) dies and, despite the constant reminders of the importance of family, the crew get over it extremely quickly and never mention it again. They’re fighting a tank with cars and I’m very, very tired.
I sense that I don’t really want Fast & Furious 6 to end. But then I realise that’s just because I don’t want to watch Furious 7 and F8. To be fair, this one almost doesn’t end. Its running length feels like 724 minutes. I’m also no longer watching. I’m enduring. Waiting for all the bullets in all the guns to run out and all the glass to smash so I can find some peace. I realise that I’ve not kept up with any news for over 24 hours. Then I realise that I’ve also forgotten to take my daily medication to stop my blood clotting and killing me with a stroke. Without even realising, I’ve been living fast and furiously, dicing with death like Toretto himself.
Despite all this, Furious 7 might just be my favourite one. Brian’s got a toddler. Jason Statham blows up a hospital. And the world might end thanks to a rogue facial recognition device that can only be controlled by a girl who used to be in Hollyoaks (Nathalie Emmanuel). A car jumps through a skyscraper – twice (you’ve got to accelerate and scream, etc).
Then something truly strange happens. At the end, Dom walks off without saying bye and Ramsey asks him why. Dom says: “It’s never goodbye” – but is it Dom or Vin Diesel? Because Paul Walker died – in a car crash – before finishing this movie, and they were great buddies IRL, too. We next see Dom at traffic lights. A CGI version of Walker is driving down the uncanny valley and pulls up at the lights next to him. A montage of their time together plays while Diesel delivers a moving sermon about his buddy (“You’ll always be my brother”). I feel extremely wobbly. Oh God, I’m not going to start crying to a Fast and Furious movie, am I? “It sounds like you might,” says my wife. I pull myself together and load up F8.
This is the final slog, the Gladiators’ travelator. “You said you’d make the kids’ tea tonight,” says my wife. “But I have to watch more Fast and Furious,” I snap back, like the monster I’ve become. It’s hard to imagine, but this film is stupider than the previous seven put together. Dom is now fighting his own team because bad girl Cipher (Charlize Theron) is holding hostage the secret son he never knew he had with the girlfriend he had back in the fourth film until she magnanimously said he should go back to his dead wife who was no longer dead. The mother of this child is executed in front of the poor screaming baby (genuinely dark and inappropriate). The next minute, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), the most evil man on Earth only one movie ago, is completing a highly technical gun battle while holding said baby in an infant childseat … I think because his mum, who is Helen Mirren, told him to.
It’s probably amazing, or terrible, or something else, but I’m just relieved that it’s over. Watching the entire franchise hasn’t made my life any more fast or furious. If anything, I feel more knackered than before. But I’ve never been happier to turn off the telly, make my wife a cup of tea and do a long shift of childcare and I think, really, that’s what the message of the film is all about. As my brother Dom Torretto might say, raising a cold Corona to the sky: salute mi familia!