Furious over ‘Fast' success

by Robert W. Butler

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

7 April 2009


Excuse me while I pull my jaw off the floor.

Last weekend “Fast & Furious” revved into the nation’s megaplexes, zooming off with more than $70 million in box office receipts. It was the biggest opening of the year and the biggest April opening ever, beating the $42.2 million racked up by “Anger Management” in 2003.

cover art

Fast & Furious

Director: Justin Lin
Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, John Ortiz, Laz Alonso, Gal Gadot

(Universal Pictures)
US theatrical: 3 Apr 2009 (General release)
UK theatrical: 10 Apr 2009 (General release)

Review [3.Apr.2009]

Must be a heck of a movie, huh?

Actually, “Fast & Furious” is a mediocre piece of Hollywood dreck, an opinion that I suspect would be confirmed by most of the folks who happily slapped down their $10 to watch it.

The fourth entry in a franchise that was never interesting to begin with, it’s an action effort in which both the cops and the crooks zip around Los Angeles and environs in souped-up, nitro-burning cars, cheered on by hordes of nameless, bare-midriffed young women who undulate like the dancing girls in an old sword-and-sandal epic.

Shiny cars and skinny women. Toss in glowering fireplug Vin Diesel and pretty boy Paul Walker (the stars of the original “The Fast and the Furious” back in 2001) and you’ve got a package moviegoers couldn’t resist.

Just how irresistible “Fast & Furious” was shocked even the bigwigs at Universal, who had projected an opening weekend take of about $35 million.

As someone who thinks movies should aspire to being more than just a roller coaster ride (get on, do a few loop-the-loops and get off without actually having gone anywhere), I view all this with grim bemusement.

I subscribe to the great cynic H.L. Menken’s observation that “No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.” You’d think that after years of awful movies dominating the box office I’d have become numb enough to not care anymore.

But I do.

I can understand why, in this grim economy, people just want a little brainless entertainment. “Fast & Furious” certainly qualifies.

What gnaws at me is the thought that if mediocre movies are so rewarded, what’s the point of striving to make a good movie?

Making any movie is hard. Making a good one is darn near impossible. And if the best you can hope for is a berth at a film festival and straight-to-DVD release (if that), why bother?

What if from here on out I go to work knowing I’m never going to see a movie any better than “Fast & Furious” or “He’s Just Not That Into You” or “Paul Blart: Mall Cop”? I believe I’d rather write about old ladies whose houses are filled with cats.

But here’s the thing. Artists will always make art. They don’t do it for the money or the recognition (although both are welcome) but because they have to.

They’ve got something they have to express - a story, an idea, a way of looking at the world - and they’ll mortgage the farm, max out their credit cards and alienate their loved ones to see it realized. It’s a beautiful form of madness.

If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one around to hear it, does it still make a sound?

If someone makes a great movie and it’s a box office disaster, is it still art?

I say if only a handful of people see it, appreciate it and come to love it ... then, yeah, it’s still art.

It’s why I keep going to the movies.

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