The remarkable evolution of the Fast and Furious movie franchise

The best action movie franchise of all-time. (Universal Pictures)
The best action movie franchise of all-time. (Universal Pictures)

The Fast and Furious franchise has had quite the evolution over the past 14 years. As the seventh movie in the series hits theaters this weekend, it's worth diving into how this went from being mostly an ironic classic in the first couple of movies with the Fast and Furious name attached to it into becoming the greatest action movie franchise of all-time.

Most action series (Die Hard, Terminator, Rambo, Star Wars, etc.) get significantly worse as more and more installments get released to their fans. The Fast and Furious went the opposite direction. They've gone from a solid first movie to two very forgettable sequels to the relaunch of the franchise and eventually finding its sweet spot in the action genre.

I take a deep look into what happened in each movie, what worked, what didn't work, and where each installment took us next. Some language in the clips embedded below may not be suitable for work, but for the most part this post is clean.

Ride or die.

THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS (2001, directed by Rob Cohen)

SYNOPSIS: Welcome to the world of street racing and semi-truck boosting, as told through the eyes of Brian O’Conner. O’Conner is an aspiring street racer, trying to get in with a legendary figure named Dominic Toretto. Dominic’s sister Mia is also part of the draw of entering this world for O’Conner, almost as an incidental target from his mission of becoming accepted by Los Angeles’ top street racer. Brian works for a high performance auto parts store called The Racer’s Edge, owned and operated by a man named Harry.

The reason O’Conner is so desperate for acceptance by Toretto is Brian’s side career as an undercover LA police officer working with the FBI to infiltrate and stop a spree of semi-trucks being hijacked for their cargo. By getting in with Toretto, O’Conner has access to his group of friends and family, the group of friends of a racer named Hector, and the gang of Johnny Tran. He just has to figure out which team of racers is responsible for the robberies and bust them.

By the way, this is the type of haul that is accounting for over $6 million in property over the course of about four hijackings. Those TV/VCR combos were basically worth $20,000 each back in 2001.

Those 19-inch TV/VCR combos are worth millions.  (Universal Pictures)
Those 19-inch TV/VCR combos are worth millions. (Universal Pictures)

That's where the tricky part of Brian's immersion into this world unfolds.

In order to get accepted, O'Conner has to race. He gets his shot against Toretto, a man named Edwin (played by Ja Rule wearing denim clothes three sizes too big), and someone playing a racing video game in his car before they race. The cars are souped up and fueled by revamped engines, incredible computer technology regulating the pressure on the engine and the rest of the cars, nitrous oxide racing systems, and Ja Rule randomly yelling "Menagé" as he shifts.

It's (the) murda (of denim)! (Universal Pictures)
It's (the) murda (of denim)! (Universal Pictures)

The first race shows the inexperience and the recklessness of Brian as he ignores warnings and overextends his car's capabilities. He loses out to Toretto while frying his car, but now is indebted to Dominic because he owes him a "10-second car." Cops crash the street racing and everybody flees. As cops close in on Toretto, Brian drives up, rescues Dom, and escapes the cops. But they're not safe. Johnny Tran's gang swarms them, takes them far away from their destination, and then shoots up the car, causing it to explode.

From here, Brian is injected into the group while Vince is consistently untrusting of O'Conner's involvement. He suspects him to be a cop at several points in the story, but Dom is convinced he's on the up and up... you know... as up and up as someone can be when trying to wedge his way into hijacking semi-trucks. It leads to them investigating Johnny Tran, which results in Brian telling the FBI to go ahead with raiding Tran's home, warehouse, and other property. The problem is that Tran was mostly clean aside from some gun charges, and Brian has to come to grips with the fact that Toretto is the real target.

Brian has fallen for Mia and she's fallen for him. He's becoming close friends with Dom, and the rest of the crew of Letty, Jesse, and Leon have accepted him while Vince is still against him. This leads us to Race Wars, the big event everybody has been talking about in the street racing community all movie long. Race Wars is where the top drivers compete in drag/street racing, as they offer up thousands of dollars or even the title to their car. 

It's here that we get the big turn in the tension between Tran and Toretto. Jesse, Dom's mad scientist when it comes to designing the inner workings of racing cars, decides to race Tran title for title. The problem is Jesse's car is his dad's car and his dad is in prison. Jesse's idea is to win a car so he and his dad can cruise around town together. It's all about family and bonding in this movie.

Jesse loses the car and just drives away, not offering up the prize of the race. Tran confront Dom and demands he go get his new car before accusing Toretto of diming him out to the feds. There is one thing you don't do to Dom and that's accuse him of being a narc. Toretto and Chan fight, escalating an already present and festering tension to a full-on war. As Toretto begins to deal with the fallout of what will happen to Jesse, he also has to look out for one final big score in a hijacking plan.

He heads off into the desert while Jesse is AWOL, working with a truncated crew. This troubles Brian deeply because he's been given word that truckers are taking matters into their own trigger fingers and it's unsafe for the criminals trying to pull off these heists. He doesn't want to see Dom get hurt but he doesn't know where the heist is going to be either. He confesses to Mia that he's a cop and has to get to Dom and the crime before they get hurt.

Mia helps Brian figure out how to get to the heist, but Brian has to triangulate the cell phone of Dom in order to find the exact location. Whilst this is going on, the trucker is ready for the crew trying to rip off his cargo and he catches Vince in a precarious situation. Vince is stuck on the outside of the truck while the driver unloads shotgun rounds at him and any of the drivers trying to help. Vince gets shot in the side with his arm caught in the cable stuck in the semi. The optimism of Dom's attempts save Vince is remarkably unhealthy.

Optimism, thy name is Vin Diesel's grip. (Universal Pictures)
Optimism, thy name is Vin Diesel's grip. (Universal Pictures)

Brian courageously catches up and saves Vince. He calls in a medevac as a police offer, revealing to Dom that he's a cop. Everybody returns to Toretto's house where he's trying to get prepared to go find Jesse. As Brian and Dom are arguing about the new wrinkles to their now troubled bromance, Jesse returns in a panic. Shortly after Jesse's return to the house, Johnny Tran and his friend drive by on motorcycles and shoot Jesse.

Brian and Dom chase after Tran and his friend, running the friend off the road and eventually shooting Tran. Then Brian has to chase after Dom and they get into one more street race of a quarter mile because that's how you determine if someone should go to jail or not. Dom beats him once again, narrowly missing a T-boning train before running into a semi-truck (Oh the irony!). Brian ends up giving Dom his car because he owes him a 10-second car.

Dom gets away. Roll credits, cue Ja Rule song.

POST CREDIT SCENE

Dom is driving through Baja, Mexico. That's it.

CASTING

Brian O'Conner -- Paul Walker. Perhaps he was the new James Dean or maybe he was just the new Keanu Reeves, but Walker was still relatively new as someone trying to carry a movie. "The Skulls" and "Varsity Blues" were his two biggest roles thus far and he was fine in them. His job was to be the Johnny Utah of the street racing world and while his acting and line delivery leave a lot to be desired, it set up a great future character for this franchise.

Mark Wahlberg, Eminem, and Christian Bale were all up for the role prior to Walker getting it.

Dominic Toretto -- Vin Diesel. Vin had just been truly introduced to audiences as a great villain you can root for the year prior with "Pitch Black." His role as Riddick was really quite good and he had the bad boy mystique required to pull off the Dominic Toretto role. While some people are critical of his acting now, he truly nails the part. It's virtually impossible to see the character under any other actor's vision.

Mia Toretto -- Jordana Brewster. This role was written for Eliza Dushku. It was auditioned for by Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jessica Biel, Kirsten Dunst, and Natalie Portman. Brewster ended up with the role. The first attempt at the role of Mia was probably the best one by Jordana because she could get away with being spacy in line delivery as a younger person. At no point do you even consider the idea that this is her part and only her part.

Letty -- Michelle Rodriguez. This role needed a very tough woman to play it and Rodriguez's career has been portraying that type of female role. She may not have been the best actress in all of her delivery in the movie, but it's hard to imagine Vin Diesel being in love with anybody else.

Edwin -- Ja Rule. He was coming off his acting debut in "Turn It Up" and he had a popular album in 1999. Also, he was available.

MEMORABLE LINES

"So check it out; it's like this. I lose, winner takes my car clean and clear. But if I win, I take the cash and I take the respect. To some people that's more important." - Brian O'Conner, showing he means business. It's horribly delivered but it catches Dom's attention.

"I smell... skanks. Why don't you girls just pack it up before I leave tread marks on your face?" - Letty establishing Dom as her man and nobody else's.

"You almost had me? You never had me; you never had your car. Granny shifting, not double-clutching like you should. You're lucky that 100 shot of NOS didn't blow the welds on the intake. Almost had me? Now me and the mad scientist have to rip apart the block and replace the piston rings you fried. Ask any racer -- any real racer. It don't matter if you win by an inch or a mile. Winning's winning." - Dominic Toretto with trash talking that really confused the audience but fired up the racing crowd.

"You can have any brew you want, as long as it's a Corona." - Dominic Toretto with some of the most incredible subtle product placement in movie history.

"I live my life a quarter mile at a time. Nothing else matters: not the mortgage, not the store, not my team and all their bullshit. For those ten seconds or less, I'm free." - Dominic Toretto on his philosophy in life.

WHERE IT FELL SHORT: The acting isn't exactly knocking down the Academy's door and wondering where the hardware is. When you watch this movie, it's stunning to see that the scenes between Brewster and Walker were the best takes out of the attempts that were recorded. 

WHERE IT SUCCEEDED: Here's a fun look into the world of street racing that may or may not be anywhere close to accurate. With MTV Cribs and Pimp My Ride showing great success in the world of having money and customizing your rides, "The Fast and the Furious" showed that there are people of lower incomes putting money into making their cars faster and more eye-catching. We love racing and competition as a culture and this delivered it with the idea of adding a high-speed heist. The foundation for the franchise had been laid.

MOMENT(S) OF ABSURDITY

The final race is probably the only truly insane stunt or moment of action that happens in this movie.

RANDOM MOMENT OF HEARTFELT STORY: Dom telling Brian the story of how he heard his father screaming when he burned to death in a mangled car following an accident on a race track. This is... bonding?

TOUR DE FORCE: Vin Diesel. "Pitch Black" started it for Vin but this movie established that he could carry scenes as the badass character. Every scene with him is intense and his character ends up being the most riveting character in the movie. You're always blurring the line between whether or not he's the antagonist or protagonist. 

LASTING IMPRESSION: You wanted to see where they could possibly go with this franchise because all of the elements worked together despite plenty of hiccups in quality of acting along the way. And look at the incredible cars!

BEST CAR FROM THE MOVIE: Dom's father's 1970 Dodge Charger R/T. He was too scared to drive it until he had to.

Dominic Toretto's dad's car. (Rotten Tomatoes)
Dominic Toretto's dad's car. (Rotten Tomatoes)

MESSAGE: "Live your life a quarter mile at a time."

2 FAST 2 FURIOUS (2003, directed by John Singleton) 

SYNOPSIS: How far away can you get from the strong foundation laid down in the first movie set in Los Angeles? Move it to Miami, take away the strongest character in the movie, and unnecessarily try to use neon lights to distract from what isn't going correctly. That's essentially what happened with the sequel to "The Fast and the Furious." We move to Miami, Florida where Brian is no longer a police officer, mostly because he let Dom go at the end of the first movie. "2 Fast 2 Furious" now puts him a little bit underground, waiting for his friend Tej (played by Ludacris) to set up races for him to fuel his bank account.

The opening scene of the movie shows that Brian still has it as a racer, as he dominates a street race that involves a "special treat" set up by Tej. That treat is jumping a bridge that has been opened for stunt purposes. Brian wins the race, sees an alluring figure of a woman, and then is chased down by U.S. Customs. Why U.S. Customs? They need him to infiltrate the world of Carter Verone by becoming his wheelman of choice. This will help take down a major drug kingpin and help the Customs' agent already implanted into Verone's life.

The problem for Brian and U.S. Customs is they don't have a suitable partner for him to drive with in the agency. Naturally, they "conveniently" head to Barstow, California (2,600 miles away) to recruit a childhood friend of Brian's named Roman Pearce. Roman is on house arrest and is making a living as a demolition derby expert.

Roman and Brian have a fistfight because there's animosity from Pearce getting arrested years ago and Brian being a police officer at the time. Their fight includes a point in which Brian tells Roman he's going to choke him before he does it, possibly an ad libbed moment being worked out by the actors that never got cut from the dialogue of the movie.

After convincing Roman to join them in the mission, they head back to Florida. Turns out that Customs' agent already undercover is the same alluring figure that caught Brian's eye in the first place. Brian and Roman are given street racing cars wired up with GPS so Customs can track them. The undercover agent Monica Fuentes, played by Eva Mendes, takes them to meet with Verone for an audition against other drivers to become the designated wheelman.

They pass the test of Verone and are now trying to figure out how to carry out their task with Customs, their task with Verone, and not get killed in the process. Monica warns Roman and Brian that they'll be killed once the drug money smuggling mission is over, so they devise a plan with Tej to get different cars to sneak into, which will buy get them away from local police chasing them with the money and allow them to escape from the people in charge of killing them.

Verone threatens a local officer to buy them a window of time to get the drug money out, but changes the plan on Brian and Roman. The change of plan exposes Monica as the undercover agent. Roman rids himself of his killer before rescuing Brian from his. Verone takes Monica onto a yacht as they escape with the money. Brian and Roman drive their car off the road and jump it onto the yacht, where they rescue Monica and arrest Carter. 

Roman and Brian walk away having stolen some of the drug money to go start their own garage business.

Role credits, cue Joe Budden song.

POST CREDITS SCENE

None. They don't even give you something to look forward to at the end of this movie.

CASTING

Brian O'Conner -- Paul Walker. He's back for this role but they give him much more of an edge and more street cred this time around. His acting has improved quite a bit for the delivery of these lines, but he's still mostly a pretty face for the character.

Roman Pearce -- Tyrese. He's supposed to be the comic relief in this movie, but mostly the delivery just isn't very good. He doesn't come close to playing alongside Paul Walker the same way Vin Diesel did, but maybe that's an unfair comparison. Ja Rule wanted this part and declined a role in the movie when they wouldn't give it to him. He pursued other projects instead. His 2003 projects were "Pauly Shore is Dead" and also "Scary Movie 3", so he did just fine.

Tej -- Ludacris. His previous acting role was as a customer in "The Wash" and he does a good job of embodying the trash-talking, boisterous, local businessman wearing many different hats character. He was good enough to land himself a role in later sequels to the franchise.

Monica Fuentes -- Eva Mendes. She was a very good casting option but her character just doesn't get a lot of time to develop or be all that prominent in this script. Mendes hadn't broken out with her role in "Hitch" but she had done small parts in "Training Day" and "Exit Wounds." Unfortunately, she was just a pretty face for a role that could've been done by just about anybody because of how poorly it was written.

Carter Verone -- Cole Hauser. He perfectly carries out the character of Carter Verone and is probably the best acting job in the movie. That's like being called the best scorer in the month of March on the 2015 New York Knicks, but Hauser nails this role as a drug kingpin. 

Agent Markham -- James Remar. Remar does a solid job as the paranoid, meddling U.S. Customs' agent. It may or may not have been a step down for him, considering just six years prior he played Rayden in the Mortal Kombat movie.

MEMORABLE LINES

"What are you doing, Brian?" -- Roman. It's something he asks about 20 times during the movie.

"We hungry." -- Roman, trying to break the record for scenes eating in a movie.

"Thanks a lot, Tej. You're the clutch." -- Brian either delivering a pun or some of the worst dialogue known to man.

"Nice shirt, Bilkins." - Brian
"It's my day off." - Bilkins

Bilkins' day off.  (Universal Pictures)
Bilkins' day off. (Universal Pictures)

"Why must I chase the cat?" - Roman. I have no idea. The dialogue in this movie is atrocious.

WHERE IT FELL SHORT: Without Vin Diesel in the movie, there just wasn't much continuity and it feels completely undetached from the previous movie. Yes, there is street racing and there's Paul Walker, but nothing else seems to fit. It feels sloppily put together to the point where you can see why Vin allegedly turned down $25 million to return for it. There is a lot of eye candy in this movie on various levels because the substance isn't really there. They simply had no idea where to go with this movie.

WHERE IT SUCCEEDED: Did you ever have to take the class hamster home for the weekend in grade school? Nobody wanted to be the kid that either lost or killed the hamster because you didn't want that life weighing on your mind and you didn't want the blame of a lifetime from your classmates. The good news for John Singleton and the rest of the producers and cast is they didn't kill the hamster. It wasn't doing well when it came back to school the next week, but it didn't die.

MOMENT(S) OF ABSURDITY

Third race of the movie has Brian and Roman competing against a nemesis duo from the audition. There's no way they could've made up this kind of ground in the race, right? This scene has been dubbed and it actually makes it better.

THEY JUMP A CAR ONTO A MOVING YACHT!

RANDOM MOMENT OF HEARTFELT STORY: Brian asks Roman when he started eating so much, and Roman explained that food in jail is so bad he's trying to eat as much as he can while he can before he gets put back in prison. Then Brian explains there was nothing he could do when Rome got busted by the cops and that he let Dom go in the first movie because of what happened to Roman. Rome then admits it was his fault he got busted.

TOUR DE FORCE: I guess it's Cole Hauser playing Carter Verone, but there really isn't an answer for this movie. That's how short it fell from its mark. Well, it grossed over $125 million so I guess it technically hit its mark.

LASTING IMPRESSION: This movie left you wondering if the franchise would die at a second movie. Later on down the road, you discover it established two recurring main characters so it adds value in hindsight. There isn't much else though.

BEST CAR FROM THE MOVIE: Brian's 1999 Nissan Skyline GT-R. Opening scene car for Brian and he jumped a bridge with it.

Brian's Skyline. (Rotten Tomatoes)
Brian's Skyline. (Rotten Tomatoes)

MESSAGE: Write a script that will bring back all of the main actors from the first movie when trying to create a proper sequel. Also, neon lights only brighten up the flaws in a movie; they don't distract you from them.

THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT (2006, directed by Justin Lin)

SYNOPSIS: On the surface, this movie really has nothing to do with the previous two, aside from sharing the "Fast and Furious" franchise tag. It's not until the ending of the movie that there's even a vague tie-in to what we know has happened in the first two installments. This story follows Sean Boswell, a high school student that loves American muscle cars. We kick off this movie with him getting into it with a jock, racing him through a construction site for the rights to the jock's girlfriend (her idea), and ends up getting arrested after he wins.

In order to avoid jail time for Sean, his mother that was probably written for Susan Sarandon but is definitely not Susan Sarandon agrees to send him to his dad, who lives in Tokyo. The adjustment for Sean is difficult right away, mostly because his dad has a prostitute when Sean arrives at his doorstep. From there, Sean is trying to figure out how to get through high school in Japan whilst not speaking a lick of Japanese.

He meets a fellow American student named Twinkie, the salesman of this school. He sells shoes, iPods, necklaces, and whatever dignity can be pawned off. Twinkie takes Sean under his wing and starts introducing him to the culture outside of high school. This means he gets taken to a party in a giant parking garage where the kids race. But it's a different kind of racing; it's drift racing. Drifting is essentially skidding your car around corners and angles, often sending it sideways.

Sean becomes interested in Neela, who just happens to be dating a guy named D.K. D.K. stands for Drift King and he also happens to be part of the Yakuza. One of D.K.'s cohorts named Han offers up his car when Sean wants to race D.K. because he wants to see what the kid is made of. Predictably, Sean ruins the car because he doesn't know how to drift.

The next 40 minutes or so involve Sean learning how to drift, learning the business of his friend Twinkie, earning Han's respect, and learning the business of Han. Han is into some of the same shady stuff with D.K. and this eventually leads to their falling out because Han has been stealing money from their business dealings.

D.K. declares war on Han and Sean gets caught up in the middle of it. Punches turn to gunfire and gunfire turns to car chases that involve high levels of drifting. Lucky for Sean, he's become an expert at drifting as tension has been mounting. As they're trying to flee from D.K., Han is hit by a car and dies in an explosion after the wreck. 

Sean wants revenge against D.K. and he wants to make things right with the Yakuza. He confronts D.K.'s Yakuza uncle and offers up a "peaceful solution" between D.K. and Sean. Loser has to leave town for good. The two of them race on the same mountain where Sean honed his drifting skills. Sean wins the race with an American muscle car his dad has been fixing up after Sean and his friends make some modifications.

He's now the new Drift King in Tokyo and he's got the Alabama accent to prove it.

POST CREDITS SCENE 

It's not technically after the credits but the final scene is Vin Diesel showing up at the end in the same parking garage where Sean first drifted. He says he was a friend of Han.

CASTING

Sean Boswell -- Lucas Black. Lucas was coming off a pretty successful role as the high school quarterback in "Friday Night Lights" in 2004. It's hard to kill him for his performance in this movie because it's not a particularly strong script. However, his accent is almost distracting in this role and you can often see him just awkwardly smiling through the end of whatever scene he's just completed. It was like his sign off move as they were yelling "cut."

This smile is everywhere and at the weirdest times. (Universal Pictures)
This smile is everywhere and at the weirdest times. (Universal Pictures)

Twinkie -- Bow Wow. Shad Moss busted into the acting world with the movie "Like Mike" starring him and followed it up a few years later with his role in "Roll Bounce." He's asked to play a smooth talking, mover and shaker in the high school world of selling stuff. Bow Wow does a pretty good job in this movie in that character, 

Neela -- Nathalie Kelley. This was Nathalie's first role in a movie, so it makes a bit of sense that she struggles throughout with this character. Much like with Lucas' troubles, it probably had more to do with the script than her acting in it. Although, she hasn't had a huge career since this movie, so maybe it's a little bit of both.

Han -- Sung Kang. After scraping through with several smaller parts in TV series and movies, Sung Kang drifted into the movie scene and nailed this role. He shows the best acting chops throughout the movie and keeps the mystery of Han's character steady and evident throughout the movie. He really steals the movie and proves to be a valuable character in the franchise, as it moves on past this movie.

D.K. -- Brian Tee. "Drift King" was the other role in this movie that was just about perfect. He plays perfectly against the persona of Lucas Black. He plays off the mystery of Han with an understated knowledge, fear, respect, and envy toward that character. Tee's ability to play the benefit of nepotism in the world of Yakuza while still showing he deserves fear of his own character is fantastic in this movie.

MEMORABLE LINES

"It's not the ride; it's the rider." -- Sean Boswell. This might be the most depth he shows and it's basically his first line of the movie.

"I have money, it's trust and character I need around me. You know, who you choose to be around you lets you know who you are. One car in exchange for knowing what a man's made of? That's a price I can live with." -- Han dropping all kinds of wisdom.

"Fifty percent of something is better than 100 percent of nothing." -- Han dropping business wisdom.

WHERE IT FELL SHORT: Almost everywhere. The story is pretty weak, the majority of the acting is horrendous, and if not for Han and D.K. this movie would be a huge flop. It feels like it was hastily put together because they were trying to squeeze the last drops out of the Fast and Furious franchise.

WHERE IT SUCCEEDED: The way the movie is shot and executed from a technical standpoint seemed to set the future of the franchise up beautifully. The racing scenes are fantastic and you've gone from a lot of CGI of engine parts to just appreciating the actual racing and car action in the movie. 

MOMENT(S) OF ABSURDITY

In the final race of the movie, Sean beats D.K. on the mountain when D.K.'s car goes flipping down the side of the mountain. The absurdity of the moment is heightened when everybody cheers the possible death of the driver of the car rolling down a mountain.

RANDOM MOMENT OF HEARTFELT STORY: Closest thing we have in this movie is Han telling Sean he needs something to race for other than just trying to beat someone else. There's also the story of Neela's mom being a prostitute.

TOUR DE FORCE: Han. It's absolutely Han. He might be the most fascinating character in the entire franchise outside of Jordana Brewster trying to deliver lines. Han gives this entire movie relevance and it's not just because he's the best of a bad product. He's one of the best in the entire movie franchise.

LASTING IMPRESSION: It's not until the end of the sixth movie that you really have an impression of this film's story, but the shooting of this film stays with you. 

BEST CAR FROM THE MOVIE: 2004 Volkswagen Touran. I'm not sure this is actually the best car in the movie, but with the custom Hulk features, Twinkie certainly had the most memorable car. I don't think this is stock.

Hulk drifty. (Rotten Tomatoes)
Hulk drifty. (Rotten Tomatoes)

MESSAGE: Han matters; this movie doesn't.

FAST & FURIOUS (2009, directed by Justin Lin)

SYNOPSIS: The gang is back together and we know that from the opening scene. As we saw at the end of the first one, Dom has escaped south of the border. He has a crew of Letty, Han (who quickly mentions he has to go to Tokyo after the opening scenes), and two drivers helping Dom steal tankers full of gasoline or oil or "liquid gold." After the heist of the tanker and some heroics by Dom, he sends Letty away because it's too dangerous to be around him. Toretto is wearing a dress shirt that doesn't have any sleeves.

He definitely modified this shirt. (Universal Pictures)
He definitely modified this shirt. (Universal Pictures)

Then we jump to catch up with Brian O'Conner, who is now a federal agent chasing bad guys on foot through the markets of Los Angeles. We don't know why he's chasing him, other than to get the name of David Park, who is caught up in drug smuggling from Mexico. We also don't know how he was just given a position as a federal agent when his previous official job was LAPD officer looking to become a detective.

We then jump to a phone call between Dom and Mia in which we find out Letty was murdered. This sends Dom on a mission to find out whom Letty was working with and it leads him to crossing paths with Brian once again. Dom goes back to his original house to talk to Mia, despite the place allegedly crawling with law enforcement staking it out. Dom is a ghost in the night, exploring the underbelly of the world that took Letty. He's also mostly just wearing tank tops.

Dom goes to the crash scene where Letty died and all of a sudden becomes a medium. The skid marks of the crash tell him the story of how it went down. He sees the car rolling, he sees her struggling in her mangled car, and he sees someone shoot her in the head. All from tire marks on the ground and a substance he noticed on the asphalt. The substance is a burn mark from nitro meth and only one guy in LA sells that.

From there, it leads Dom to the same people Brian is trying to chase and those drug people need getaway drivers and smugglers. Dom wins the audition against Brian. Then Brian gets one of the other drivers pegged for the job arrested in order to earn his spot. From there, both guys are assisted by Gisele, the assistant of the man operating things for the drug kingpin. That assistant is Campos.

Gisele guides the drivers through their missions. Brian is after the kingpin named Braga, and Dom is after Fenix, the guy who killed Letty. After they complete a mission, Dom confronts Fenix about Letty's death before blowing up his own car and escaping from an ambush with Brian's help. They escape with their lives and $60 million worth of drugs, which they stash in a police impound lot. Brian assures Dom it's the last place they'll check.

It's at this point that Mia sutures up Dom and Dom discovers that Letty was helping the feds for Brian when she got killed. This... does not go over well with Dom.

Paul Walker screaming "I'm sorry, Dom!" is one of the funniest line deliveries in this franchise. 

Brian, Dom, and the feds set up an exchange of the drugs for cash. The twist is Braga is supposed to deliver the cash and Campos has been the real Braga this entire time. It's a twist in the plot that was never really all that necessary and the audience mostly doesn't care about. Braga and Fenix escape, as does Dom.

Toretto is going to go after Braga in Mexico and Brian tells him he's tagging along. Before they leave, Brian reconnects with Mia to bring even more of a family element into this story. This is important because the rest of this franchise is about family.

Gisele helps Brian and Dom track down Braga because Dom saved her life during the big twist. They grab Braga and plan to take him back into the U.S. so he can be arrested. Fenix catches wind of this, leaves a cock fight, and chases them down to stop this from happening. A big chase through the Mexican desert takes them into the tunnel where they were trafficking drugs and money.

Fenix chases Brian and Braga while Dom tries to catch up. Eventually, Fenix crashes into Brian on the other side of the tunnel and Dom comes crashing through rubble from the tunnel collapsing to pin Fenix against a car. He gets his revenge and Brian gets the collar on Braga. This also leads to Dom deciding to go to trial where he's sentenced 25 years to life.

POST CREDITS SCENE 

It's not after the credits but the final scene is Dom in a prison transfer bus. Mia, Brian, and others swarm around the bus in fast cars to bust him out. Roll credits.

CASTING

Brian -- Paul Walker is back after not appearing in the third installment and he's so much better.

Dominic -- Vin Diesel is fully back in the franchise.

Mia -- Jordana Brewster is still delivering lines like she's reading off a backwards teleprompter.

Letty -- Michelle Rodriguez makes her brief appearance in this movie.

Han -- Sung Kang still manages to perfect the Han character despite never appearing past the first couple scenes. But they make sure to address how he's alive by making it clear he has to get back to Tokyo.

Gisele -- Gal Gadot is given the role of Gisele in her big screen debut. She's not asked to do too much with the character in this one, so there's not much to do other than notice her striking good looks. Thankfully, the character will be given more to do in later movies.

Campos -- John Ortiz does a great job of nailing the role of the bad guy. He's cunning but not a criminal mastermind. He has a great balance between hiding that he's the made crime boss but still displaying the fear necessary for people to do what he asks.

MEMORABLE LINES

"You asked me why I let Dom go. I did it, because at that moment, I respected him more than I did myself. One thing I've learned from Dom is that nothing really matters unless you have a code." -- Brian
"And what's your code, Brian?" -- Mia
"I'm working on it." -- Brian

"I'm a boy who appreciates a good body, regardless of the make." -- Dom. 

"Stasiak, go get yourself cleaned up. You're bleeding on my floor." -- Federal Agent Penning.

WHERE IT FELL SHORT: The story of the fourth installment isn't very strong and so it's hard to really care about the end game. There isn't a "save Letty" part because she's gone. There isn't much of a "Brian needs to win Mia over again" because that's not the focus. Maybe the most compelling part is Vin learning to trust Brian as a partner again, but when they give the tagline "New model, old parts" they really mean it. This is more just a message of "we're rebooting the franchise with the same people" than an accomplishment of making a movie.

WHERE IT SUCCEEDED: Where it works is Paul Walker is so much better in this role than the previous two movies combined. In the first two movies, Walker was stiff, didn't deliver lines well at all, and couldn't bring it as an on-screen presence outside of looks. He adds some attitude and moxie to his character this time around. While he still had some acting issues to work out, he proved himself a worthy cohort on the screen with Vin Diesel.

MOMENT(S) OF ABSURDITY

Right off the bat, the makers of the fourth Fast and Furious show us this is going to be a different kind of movie than what we're used to in the franchise. We've gone from street racing to drug smuggling to hydroplaning without water to now having tankers flipping over cars. This isn't your older cousin's Fast and Furious movie.

RANDOM MOMENT OF HEARTFELT STORY: Brian tells Mia about why he let Dom go in the first movie because he felt like Toretto had a code and he respected him for having and following that code.

TOUR DE FORCE: Vin Diesel. It's still Vin Diesel's franchise with the Dominic Toretto character, and even with Walker's improved depth and acting given to Brian's character, Vin rules the show.

LASTING IMPRESSION: Justin Lin as the director puts this franchise in incredibly capable hands. He is the true Linsanity in this world.

BEST CAR FROM THE MOVIE: 1970 Dodge Charger R/T for Dom. 

Still the best car. (Rotten Tomatoes)
Still the best car. (Rotten Tomatoes)

MESSAGE: Ride or die.

FAST FIVE (2011, directed by Justin Lin)

SYNOPSIS: We don't have to get cute or in-depth with where the plot goes in this movie. This movie is about making incredible action on the big screen, doing it with a lot of cars, and turning these guys from boosting VCRs and DVD players into stealing an entire bank vault in broad daylight. How do they do this? They put together the most incredible crew you can possibly find. They also manage to get themselves hunted by a special forces officer and a drug lord that runs Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Remember the final scene in Fast and Furious in which it looks like they're getting ready to spring Dom from the prison transport bus? That's exactly what they do in the opening of this movie. They break him out of the crashed bus and then flea to Brazil where they hook up with an old friend, Vince. Remember, Vince was the original part of Dom's crew and he always suspected Brian to be a cop.

Brian, Mia, Vince, and Dom get set up to do a car heist on a train, but end up getting double crossed by the criminals. Mia and Vince get away while Brian and Dom get captured by the drug lord. They escape from being captured and are now on the run with a false news report that they killed DEA agents on the train in Brazil. They have an important file hidden in the car Mia stole during the heist and that file contains the stash houses of the drug lord's money.

A federal agent named Hobbs comes to Brazil to hunt down Toretto and O'Conner. He finds them in the favelas of Rio and so do the drug lord's henchmen. After escaping, Mia informs Brian and Dom that she's pregnant, triggering Toretto's "family above all" instinct.

They devise a plan to rip off all of the money from the drug lord by burning the money in one stash house, which will trigger a defensive maneuver to store the rest of the money in a vault in a police station, which the drug lord operates. Every cop in Rio except the one helping Hobbs is apparently on the take. Then they're going to steal the vault and escape forever with new passports and new lives.

They put together a team, bringing in Roman, Tej, Han, Gisele, Leo, and Santos from previous movies to form a super team with them. As they work on perfecting the heist, Hobbs and his men are hunting them down. It's not enough just to find them though because this is Brazil.

They get to Dom's team before Dom's team can get to the vault, but the drug lord's men take down Hobbs' men. Hobbs then helps Dom get revenge on the drug lord by helping them get the vault.

There's a chase with the vault through Rio and Hobbs kills the drug lord at the end of the chase. He allows the team a 24-hour window to run before he starts hunting them again. His kindness comes because they tried to save Hobbs' men. Roll credits, cue Busta Rhymes.

POST CREDITS SCENE

Monica Fuentes from 2 Fast 2 Furious drops a file on Hobbs' desk, informing him that Letty is actually alive and in Europe. 

CASTING

Brian -- Paul Walker finally nails this role, playing Brian's character perfectly. He balances concerned partner of Mia, group leader with Dom, and action star. It's a complete 180 with the e-brake from the original movie in 2001. He's the glue that brings and keeps everybody together.

Dominic -- Vin Diesel put on a few pounds for this one, but some of that is muscle. He's become a tank in order to tussle with Hobbs.

Mia -- Here's how they make Jordana Brewster work in this role the best: they put a lot of characters around her and she doesn't have to say much.

Tej -- Ludacris is less of a hustler like we saw in "2 Fast 2 Furious" and he's now the tech genius of this group. He's great in this role as it gives him more intelligence and understanding to use while playing off the rest of the group.

Roman -- Speaking of playing off the rest of the group, they finally found a proper balance for Tyrese in this. In "2 Fast 2 Furious", Tyrese's lines fell flat and he was the comedy without being funny in any way. But playing off the group as the loudmouth, comedic relief is much easier.

Han -- Sung Kang is the cool, calm, confident helper in the group and he's still perfect as this character.

Gisele -- Gal Gadot is a legitimate female action star and plays the role of the tough woman you don't want to mess with quite well.

Hobbs -- Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. You know how Vin Diesel was the perfect choice for Toretto? Double that and you've got Dwayne Johnson as Hobbs. He may be the perfect action star for any movie, he has the impeccable line delivery and dialogue to make this character pop, and he completely dominates every scene he's in. The role was apparently envisioned for Tommy Lee Jones... which would've been a mistake.

MEMORABLE LINES

"We don't ever let them get into cars." -- Hobbs to his team on apprehending Brian and Dom.

"Guess they did, considering your ass is here. When are you gonna give Martin Luther King his car back?" -- Roman
"As soon as you give Rick James his jacket back." -- Tej. Their banter becomes a staple of comedic relief in these movies.

"Money will come and go. We all know that. The most important thing in life will always be the people in this room. Right here, right now. Salute, mi familia." -- Dom cheersing his crew.

"Running ain't freedom." - Dom, possibly writing a country song.

WHERE IT FELL SHORT: The villain in the movie isn't great, but it's always about the chase and the team than it is about the villain in these movies. The setting was perfect and they execute navigating that environment well. But this movie lacks a lot of shortcomings, other than a few continuity issues, because they cast it almost flawlessly and the execution by Lin and his cast are superb.

WHERE IT SUCCEEDED: Everywhere? We went from this being a look into a possibly accurate street racing culture to being one of the better heist movies we've seen. They set out to be a top box office draw in the summer of 2011 and they hit their mark perfectly. They finished sixth in box office for 2011 behind Harry Potter, Transformers, a Twilight movie, Hangover II, and a Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Four of those five movies have large tie-ins to a kids' audience, so Fast Five had phenomenal success. 

MOMENT(S) OF ABSURDITY

Buckle up.

First, we've got the opening train rescue in which Brian is about to get picked off the side of a truck that is stuck in a train by a bridge up ahead. Dom has to grab a car, drive it off the train, get back to Brian, and then have him hop on before the bridge. Once that happens, they fall a couple hundred feet to safety in the water. Just go with it.

This fight scene between Dom and Hobbs is absurd and just know that they both walk away from it with almost zero damage on their faces or not a single trace of a brain injury.

The ambush action scene is the calmest of these four I've picked out, but it shows you just how well Justin Lin directs action scenes. This basically looks like a deleted scene from "Black Hawk Down."

The final big action scene in the movie is Dom in one car, Brian in the other, and the giant bank vault strapped to both of their cars. They maneuver it through the streets of Rio while outrunning an entire police force. Think of the damage.

Dom starts picking off oncoming cop cars by wielding the safe like it's a mace.

RANDOM MOMENT OF HEARTFELT STORY: Brian never knew his father, so he asks Dom what he remembers about his and Mia's father. Dom tells a story about how he either worked in the shop or helped Mia with her homework. Dom tells Brian he won't be like his father and not be remembered. Then Brian tells Dom they can't keep running forever. 

TOUR DE FORCE: Hobbs.

LASTING IMPRESSION: Release one of these every two years and the audience will flock in huge numbers. This went from a cult classic of the ironic variety to being a legitimate action movie contender. If they deliver more products like this, they'll clear a couple hundred million dollars every time they put one out.

BEST CAR FROM THE MOVIE: GURKHA armored vehicles by Terradyne. Hobbs' truck from this movie was insanely awesome and it was once rumored to have been purchased by J.R. Smith

J.R. Smith was rumored to have purchased this. (SuperStreetOnline)
J.R. Smith was rumored to have purchased this. (SuperStreetOnline)

MESSAGE: Money will come and go but family is what will always matter. 

FAST & FURIOUS 6 (2013, directed by Justin Lin)

SYNOPSIS: Justin Lin was even more serious about delivering exactly what fans of this franchise are looking for. He even opens up the sixth installment with a recap of events of the previous five movies and it's a great reintroduction to what's happened. Everyone in the crew has parted ways with Brian and Mia with their new baby in Spain, Dom and Elena (Brazilian cop from Fast Five) are nearby, Roman is on a jet somewhere, Tej is hacking ATMs somewhere, and Han is with Gisele in Asia.

Hobbs has to bring them all back together to help capture Owen Shaw, a super villain trying to bring the most dangerous weapon to any rogue military unit willing to purchase it. In order to entice this crew to help Hobbs, he lets them know Letty is alive and working with Shaw. The kicker is she has amnesia and didn't actually die in the fourth movie.

The crew gets prepared to take down Shaw and his crew while rescuing Letty with the top equipment as Roman, Tej, and Hobbs provide all kinds of comic relief.

They track down Shaw but it's just a ploy to pull law enforcement away from Interpol, where Shaw's crew is stealing key information on a weapon. Shaw and his crew escape and as Dom tracks down Letty, she shoots him in the shoulder to get away.

Dom's crew tracks down the maker of Shaw's car while having run-ins with his crew. Tej and Hobbs acquire older cars to avoid being affected by computer and electronic interference. Dom and Brian track down the maker of the bullet Letty used when she shot him. 

To find out more about Shaw, Brian travels back to the U.S. to interrogate Braga in prison, except because Brian is a fugitive he has to get himself arrested and then get himself out of a maximum security prison and back out of the country. And without a lot of explanation of how it all works, Brian finds out what he needs from Braga and makes it back to England.

Dom ends up challenging Letty, who still doesn't recognize him.

Shaw then sets up the theft of the final component of this super weapon by hijacking it on the highway. As Dom's crew tries to thwart their attack, Shaw's crew busts out a tank. Through a series of ridiculous action moments, they stop the tank by using a car as an anchor, Dom saves Letty, and they capture Shaw. Except that's exactly what Shaw wanted them to do.

He's captured Mia and uses that as leverage to let him go. As he tries to escape on a gigantic plane, the crew tracks him down despite giving up their promise of amnesty when they return to the United States. Gisele dies saving Han's life. Letty takes down Riley. Dom takes down Shaw. Hobbs takes down a mountain. And the crew takes down the plane.

The crew ends up getting their amnesty anyway and they're back in the Toretto house in Los Angeles barbecuing and having another family moment. Letty doesn't remember much yet, but she is happy to be with Dom. Roll credits. 

POST CREDITS SCENE

We cut back to Han's death in Tokyo Drift and Jason Statham gets out of the car that hit him. He calls Dom after killing Han and let's him know he's coming for him.

CASTING

Same crew as before with a couple of additions and Letty is back.

Owen Shaw -- Luke Evans. Shaw is the main villain in this new movie and Evans does a phenomenal job. He's almost like a throwback to some type of Bond villain and always seems to have a plan on top of the plan being executed. He was a perfect criminal mastermind with comparable driving skills to the main characters.

Riley Hicks -- Gina Carano. The MMA fighter is Hobbs' sidekick, who turns out to be Shaw's sidekick and a double agent against the good guys. Carano acts like an MMA fighter without much acting experience. Line delivery isn't very good but she's there for fight scenes and her fight scenes are pretty much perfect. 

MEMORABLE LINES

"You want to catch wolves, you need wolves. Let's go hunting." -- Hobbs is the best.

"Now we were for the Hulk? Do I smell baby oil?" -- Roman about Hobbs as Hobbs enters the room.

"We're talking vehicular warfare." -- Tej giving taglines for the movie in the dialogue.

"The crew we're after, they hit like thunder and disappear like smoke. You go in alone, you won't ever touch them. I've been chasing these guys across four continents and twelve countries and believe me the last place I want to be is in front of your door step selling girl scout cookies. I need your help Dom. I need your team." -- Hobbs selling Dom on helping. 

"Brian. Remember, the second you go through those doors, everything changes. Our old life is done." -- Dom to Brian at the birth of Brian and Mia's child. Of course, the old life wasn't done.

"Hey, Mia, you better hide your baby oil." -- Roman as Hobbs walks up the driveway.
"You better hide that big ass forehead." -- Hobbs right back at Roman.

WHERE IT FELL SHORT: You can knock the believability of some of the action, but this movie delivers every single place it's supposed to. 

WHERE IT SUCCEEDED: The action is nearly flawless, the dialogue is much improved, Hobbs steals nearly every scene, the way the crew plays off of each other is incredible, and every character seems to have a well thought out story of their own. 

MOMENT(S) OF ABSURDITY

75 percent of this movie is just ridiculous action that somehow jumps a car over the jumping of the shark. It all comes together quite impressively. 

Interrogation is different in England.

Hobbs has a penchant for jumping insane distances without any kind of worry about his personal safety. That's confidence in being indestructible. 

Owen Shaw flipping police cars like they're pancakes on the griddle. We're like 20 minutes into the movie.

This fight between Letty and Riley is insane and makes the guy fight look mild in comparison.

The tank scene alone is one of the craziest action scenes we've ever seen. 

We really need to isolate the Dom-Letty moment though. She's flying off a tank, he jumps out of a moving car going the opposite direction, catches her in mid-air hundreds of feet in the air, and lands "safely" on a windshield of a car. Everybody is fine.

Some beautiful person put the entire plane scene together in four screens in real time. Empire Online estimates the runway in the plane scene is over 27 miles long, which I believe. 

RANDOM MOMENT OF HEARTFELT STORY: Dom trying to remind Letty of how they know each other, are in love, and belong together after he's beaten her in a race. 

TOUR DE FORCE: This entire movie is a tour de force. You can put it up against any action movie in cinema history.

LASTING IMPRESSION: When they announced there could be as many as three more of these films after the sixth one was released, nobody batted an eyelash at such a notion. Fast and Furious has taken over the action genre.

BEST CAR FROM THE MOVIE: 2012 F1 custom ramp-car

The spatula of race cars. (Edmunds)
The spatula of racecars. (Edmunds)

MESSAGE: It's still ride or die.

CBS Sports Writer

Zach Harper likes basketball. Some would even say he loves it. He's also an enthusiast for everything Ricky Davis, Rasheed Wallace, Nic Cage, and has seen the movie Gigli almost three times. He's been... Full Bio

Our Latest Stories