Monday, March 9, 2009

Faster! Furiouser!

I just saw a TV ad for Fast & Furious, the fourth movie in the car-fetish franchise that includes the words "Fast" and "Furious" somewhere in each film's title. The lineage of this series gets confusing, so buckle up. (Driving clichés are so hard to resist.)

The Fast and the Furious was directed by Rob Cohen and was something of a surprise hit in the summer of 2001. It also turned Vin Diesel into an action star. Neither Cohen nor Diesel returned for 2 Fast 2 Furious, which was released in '03. Instead they made XXX (2002), which was also a huge hit, though neither one returned for its sequel, either—Diesel's character was declared dead at the beginning of XXX: State of the Union (2005), which starred Ice Cube as the series' new "extreme" hero.

Paul Walker, Diesel's Fast and the Furious costar, did return for 2 Fast 2 Furious, and was teamed up with Tyrese Gibson. It was the latter's second collaboration with director John Singleton, who debuted with 1991's gang drama Boyz N the Hood and at the age of 24 became the youngest recipient of a Best Director nomination in Oscar history, though films like 2 Fast 2 Furious and his 2000 remake of Shaft are more indicative of where his career has gone in this decade.

Without Diesel's star power, it seemed as if 2 Fast 2 Furious might fade quickly at the box office (I hope you appreciate how much effort it's taking to avoid phrases like "sputter out" and "crash and burn" here), but it earned $127 million in the summer of '03, only $17 million less than its predecessor. XXX: State of the Union, however, made only $26 million compared to the original's $142 million take.

In 2006 came The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, directed by Justin Lin and starring Lucas Black from Sling Blade but none of the stars from the first two films in the series—until Vin Diesel showed up at the end in a cameo. Tokyo Drift earned $62 million.

Three years later we have Fast & Furious, which was originally going to be released in June but is now set to open April 3, according to an ad I saw on TV. I wonder if Universal got a peek at the final cut and decided the movie would be better off going up against weaker competition in the spring than in the crowded summer season. Fast & Furious reunites Diesel and Walker and female costars Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster from the first film, but the director is Tokyo Drift's Lin.

I've heard Fast & Furious referred to as an "interquel," a goofy, made-up word I'm praying doesn't catch on with the public, which would mean that the film's narrative takes place between those of 2 Fast 2 Furious and Tokyo Drift. To make matters more confusing, Diesel has reportedly directed a 20-minute prequel (which itself was a goofy made-up word at one point, I suppose—but now it's the law!) to Fast & Furious starring himself, Rodriguez, and Sung Kang.

As put it last August, "The fourth movie is a sequel to the first installment, and though Diesel didn't elaborate, we assume this 20-minute prequel will tie-in some of the events from the second and third movies. Rodriguez appeared in the first movie, Sung Kang in the third, and Diesel in the first with a brief cameo in the third."

I told you it was confusing, and I read that Diesel may also be returning to the XXX franchise soon for "XXX: The Return of Xander Cage." I guess his character didn't die after all. Coincidentally, John Singleton's next film, according to IMDB, is "Luke Cage," based on the Marvel Comics character who inspired Nicolas Cage's stage name. It's set to star Tyrese Gibson as Cage (Luke, not Nicolas).

All this film-franchise zigzagging is making me drowsy, and I'd hate to fall asleep at the wheel. (See how hard it is to resist these clichés?) I'll leave you with a picture of Diesel that I found last summer around the time Babylon A.D. came out. The sci-fi action film bombed, thanks in part to its director, Matthieu Kassovitz, telling the press how bad it was before it hit theaters. In my opinion, Diesel should've cut his losses as an action star at that point and pitched himself to studios as the star of "Mr. Potato Head: The Movie." I'd buy a ticket.

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