If the next edition of "Grand Theft Auto" is too far off for you, the zooming, clutch-popping, tire-smoking action of "Fast & Furious" might be just the thing to tide you over. The film returns the original stars of the franchise to the driver's seat with the tagline "New model. Original parts." It's a telling motto for a film that feels assembled from stock components. Everything that happens here happened in the three previous chapters -- and in "Cannonball Run," for that matter.
Tanklike Vin Diesel returns as Dom, an auto mechanic and high-speed getaway driver for hire. Some days he leads coordinated raids on tanker trucks transporting gasoline. Other days, he's infiltrating the operation of a Mexican drug lord responsible for the death of a loved one. The role calls for a great deal of scowling, steering and punching, which pretty much covers Diesel's range. The actor made several sincere attempts to break out of the action star mold in recent years, acting for the legendary director Sidney Lumet in "Find Me Guilty," co-starring with the classically trained Oscar winner Dame Judi Dench in "The Chronicles of Riddick" and going family-friendly in Disney's baby-sitting comedy "The Pacifier."
Now he's back in his comfort zone, doing he-man things, modeling T-shirts molded to his 'roided-out physique and growling like a gravel grinder. If there were any more testosterone in him, he'd subsist on bananas.
Also returning are Michelle Rodriguez as Letty, Dom's sweetheart and partner in crime; Paul Walker as Brian, his friendly FBI nemesis, and Jordana Brewster in the throwaway part of Dom's upright sister Mia. Someone close to Dom is killed by a drug lord's henchman, providing a hackneyed revenge plot for the film. In actuality, though, it's just a montage of muscle cars careening through L.A. streets, Caribbean mountain roads and even mine shafts. Aside from a solid and well-edited opening hijack sequence, the action is just slightly less dependent on computer-generated trickery than "Speed Racer."
There are acres of attractive women in the film, but it's a curiously sexless story. Director Justin Lim's camera appreciates the ladies, but lusts after glossy sheet metal. Even by PG-13 standards, this is a frustratingly immature piece of work. For the inevitable next installment, please find a director who's passed his driving lessons and a screenwriter with a learner's permit.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186