Fast and spurious: the many failed attempts to cash in on the hit car franchise

As the high-octane action series returns with its ninth instalment, F9, how many rip-offs stalled after just one outing?

Like Dom Toretto’s aggressively tuned Dodge Charger, the Fast and Furious series has made a habit out of over-performing. Even when the original film was a breakout summer hit in 2001 no one really expected it to become a brand that would be around for the long haul (not even its star – Vin Diesel bailed out of the first sequel). Two decades, 10 films and $6bn of box office takings later, the road-tested franchise about illegal street racers turned globe-hopping secret agents has earned the right to market itself as a “saga”. But there is another reliable metric of Hollywood success: the amount of copycats you inspire. Here are some of the movies that attempted to recreate the Fast formula but never got off the starting line.

Torque (2004)

What could be more exciting than fast cars? Fast motorbikes? This hectic chase flick takes some of the visual tics of the earliest Fast films – jittery camerawork, frantic editing and fetishistic close-ups of pedals, mirrors and exhausts – and cranks things up even further. After a meth deal goes sideways, two-wheeled bandit Ford (Martin Henderson) finds himself pursued by both the law and Ice Cube’s vengeful biker gang. Though Henderson is convincing as the hunk lead, he lacks Diesel’s gravelly gravitas and the constant visual cartwheels from music video specialist Joseph Kahn soon become exhausting. On the plus side, Torque does feature an early sighting of Adam Scott from Parks and Recreation as a needlessly hostile FBI agent.

Redline (2007)

Despite its appreciation of luxury rides, the Fast universe is built on a blue-collar bedrock where family is more important than wealth and all the money in the world cannot buy you racing instincts or loyalty. On paper, Redline certainly chimes with those values, pitting a hard-working female mechanic and a salt-of-the-earth returning soldier against a motley band of self-obsessed millionaires – including Eddie Griffin as a motormouth music mogul and Angus Macfadyen as a louche counterfeiter – who bet big on races featuring their own exotic supercars. But this one-off vanity project was dreamt up and funded by a subprime mortgage specialist. Rather prophetically, it crashed and burned.

Vehicle 19 (2013)

The late Paul Walker played cop turned outlaw Brian in six Fast instalments and was a notable petrolhead in real life so putting him behind the wheel of a car – even in a totally different movie – sets up certain audience expectations. The low-budget Vehicle 19 veers off in an unexpected direction from the outset, as Walker’s anxious American parolee mistakenly picks up a rental minivan full of incriminating material after landing in Johannesburg to try and salvage a relationship. Shot almost entirely from inside the rental car, Vehicle 19 was never going to be a high-octane franchise-starter and runs out of gas long before the end. But it makes for a pulpy companion piece to Locke, the other 2013 movie that trapped the viewer in a car with a spiralling star.

Need for Speed (2014)

If there was ever going to be a serious challenger to the Fast series it looked like being this heftily-budgeted Dreamworks adaptation of a popular and long-running video game series. Aaron Paul – scorching hot off the back of Breaking Bad – put some heavy smouldering into his role as a wronged race driver out to avenge the death of his brother by winning an endurance race along the Pacific Coast Highway. Despite the amped-up emotional stakes, car-smashing stunts and gonzo performance from Michael Keaton commentating on the action from his lighthouse lair, it all ended up feeling rather mechanical. Released just as the Fast films were entering their imperial phase, this would-be franchise stalled hard.

Superfast! (2015)

Perhaps Hollywood’s greatest backhanded compliment is when spoof specialists Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer – the unashamedly lowbrow writing/directing duo behind Date Movie, Meet the Spartans, The Starving Games and more – think they can take a cheap but potentially lucrative shot at your franchise. The dismal Superfast! offers a scattergun send-up of the first Fast movie (instead of NOS gas, one character turbo-charges his ride from a canister labelled “Lance Armstrong’s Urine”) with nods to Fast 5 in the form of a hard-ass cop named “Rock Johnson” and a half-baked heist that involves dragging a taco restaurant through the streets. To date it is the last produced film from the previously prolific Friedberg/Seltzer partnership, so could be cited as another example of Dom and Brian foiling wrongdoers.

Overdrive (2017)

This breezy thriller was written by the team responsible for 2 Fast 2 Furious and had the good fortune to cast Scott Eastwood the same year he was appearing as a CIA sidekick in The Fate of the Furious. Set in Marseille, it features Eastwood and Freddie Thorp as half-brothers who specialise in stealing exotic cars. Targeting a rare Bugatti gets them on the wrong side of a major drug dealer and puts a complex continental heist in motion. Despite the thrifty budget, the emphasis on found family – the brothers have a week to recruit their ragtag squad – and a climate-controlled garage full of covetable Ferraris help make it a decent substitute for the real thing. The homage even extends to a climactic bridge stunt augmented by another Fast trademark: slightly dodgy CGI.

The Hurricane Heist (2018)

An even breezier thriller: a robbery and escape during high tornado season is the suitably daft premise for this B-movie that, on release, seemed hell-bent on associating itself with the planet’s pre-eminent modern action franchise. A getaway in hefty trucks roaring down weather-threatened highways certainly feels like something Dom and the gang might plausibly get involved in, and if you missed the trailers flagging up the participation of Rob Cohen – original director of The Fast and the Furious back in 2001 – the posters were even more direct, splashing the title in a brash sans-serif font that looked extremely familiar after two decades of Fast marketing. A bold heist indeed.


Graeme Virtue

The GuardianTramp

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