Lessons from Fast & Furious
About gasoline, Hollywood illusions and Cash for Clunkers.
©2009 Isaac Hernández/AutoTao.com
I recently received the latest DVD release of the Fast and Furious saga, as a media review copy. After a couple of weeks, I finally decided to pop it in my Made In China Mac Book Pro, to finally watch it and write the review. My father, a brilliant magazine publisher in Spain (www.luike.com), told me once that news are like hot potatoes, and you have to pass them on to your readers before you get burnt. With this DVD, I got scolded, taking so long to review it. But I must admit that, even as a car journalist, I’ve never been into the Fast and Furious saga, not even the first one, which it turns out it was called The Fast and the Furious. I’ve never seen any of them, until now. A couple of years ago I was even invited to visit the set for the third installment FF3, known as The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006) and see the filming of one stunt. If you are a FF fan, you may think, “What a waste that he got to go and I didn’t!”
So I decided to give Fast & Furious (2009, directed by Justin Lin, born 1973 in Taipei, Taiwan) a chance, looking for hidden metaphors and lessons. The opening scene is reminiscent of the great train robberies in Western films, but instead of stealing gold, they’re running away with gasoline. As Michelle Rodriguez’ character, Letty, says in the movie, “Down here gas is gold, bubba”. That’s the first metaphor. In the Dominican Republic, where the scene takes place, gasoline is scarce. Is this the way it will be for all of us in the near future? Watch the special features and you’ll see Los Bandoleros, a short directed by Vin Diesel (who plays Dom in the movie) and you’ll get more details behind the gasoline robbery. They’re stealing gas from the rich for the poor. You’ll also get Tego Calderón´s poignant political commentary from behind bars in a Dominican prison: “There were cars that ran without gasoline, suckers. But what did those son-of-a-bitches do? They pulled them out of the market. Why? Big business. Why the hell are they in Irak, fighting? Fighting for oil. And us, fighting each other for dumb shit.”
A pretty spectacular opening for a movie, with sliding cars, pretty girls and explosions, all that’s necessary to please my testosterone. I tend to like more intellectual movies, but I have to admit Fast & Furious grabbed my attention, with surprisingly good acting and an interesting plot, plus action-packed driving, both with 81 stunt people and with computer graphics (CGI) and green screens. Yes, I would have liked a few more plot twists, but what I got was enough to feed my imagination in order to write this column, which is actually not about the film, even if it seems like it, but about feeding you my thoughts about cars, driving, gasoline, Hollywood and the US government’s “Cash for Clunkers” program.
The DVD comes with a warning at the end: “The motor vehicle Action sequences depicted in this film are dangerous. All stunts were performed in controlled environments with professionally trained stunt crews on closed roads. No attempts should be made to duplicate any action, driving or car play scenes herein portrayed.” I would add, the quasy-love making scenes in this film are dangerous too, they can get you pregnant. And a final warning, the words in this column are merely my opinion, don’t believe any of them, or do, but question, always question…
Having gone through the mandatory lawyer-mandated lingo, I will say that the DVD comes with great featurette about the filming of the opening scene. Here you see the stunt drivers performing the 180 slide and then going into reverse without stopping (pretty impressive), and you can also see that the gasoline tank trailer is actually a vehicle in itself, with someone hidden inside driving as he looks down a relatively small opening. See? don’t believe what you see. It could be CGI.
Watching the movie remind me of a personal illusion that I lived. In one of the car meetings in the movie there’s at least one vehicle from Swift Car Club (www.swiftcc.net). I actually know some of the people from this club, including Albert García, its president. During a photo shoot with his tuned Chevy Impala (with a BMW front end and a Mercedes rear end), we met a guy who claimed to be a Hollywood make-up artist. He said he knew Paul Walker and that he was sure that Paul would love Albert’s car and would probably buy it. I didn’t know who Walker is, and it turns out he is the big star in the original FF movie, The Fast and the Furious (2001), the second FF, 2 Fast 2 Furious, this last fourth one, and most probably also in the future fifth installment. To make the long story short, he was/is a scam artist, looking for attention by throwing names of movie stars and doing make up jobs on people. I started the blog when I met him (and it ended when he called me, apologized and said that his conning days were over). Second lesson today, don’t believe necessarily everything you see in Hollywood, or everywhere else.
The next scene in FF4 features a funeral, and Dom watches from atop a hill, with an oil platform behind him; is it a metaphor for a funeral for gasoline? The next action part of the movie includes an illegal street car race in Los Angeles. After watching the movie I happened to drive to LA, and found myself wanted to drive fast like in the movie. Bad idea. Remember the warning about the motor vehicle action being dangerous? People die doing these things in real life. The innocent lives lost to street car racing cannot be brought back for a second take. This scene looks very much like a video game. It even has animations that are supposed to look like a navigation system, but are more video game like. Do they want to sell you the FF video game? Most probably, as Vin Diesel, producer for this last installment also has a video game company and got the video game licensing rights for the FF name. Here’s the third lesson: reserve reckless driving to your video game console. It’s more fun, cheaper, and legal. And easier, remember, it took 81 stunt drivers and many copies of each car, plus computer animators, to make what you see on the screen.
I won’t go into detail about the rest of the film. I don’t want to spoil it for viewers. But I will point out what I see as the future of the automobile. As gasoline prices climb, we will see buyers buying smaller four-cylinder cars for their daily driving, perhaps more hybrids and even alternative fuels. Would Vin then change his name to Vin Biodiesel? No, I guess it doesn’t have the same ring. The Y chromosome will still control our desire to drive big V8 cars like Dom’s 1970 Chevy Chevelle SS 454, but these will become, more and more, weekend drivers.
Wait a second, it’s already true, people are trading their SUVs, mostly Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Jeep Cherokee for Ford Focus, Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla… at least for now, thanks to a government program known as Cash for Clunkers that provides up to $4500 to trade in your gas guzzler for a smaller vehicle. A gas guzzler is considered by the government a car that does 18mpg or worse. So my 1998 Volvo V70, with an average rating of 20mpg does not qualify. It’s kind of upsetting for me that the government is giving my money (the 1,000 million dollars in aid, soon to become 3,000 million dollars, comes from our taxes) for people to trade in their cars, but I cannot take advantage of it to trade for a more environmental car. So a person with a 18mpg car can buy a 20mpg car and get rewarded, but I cannot trade my 20mpg car for a 25mpg car and get the bonus. I plan to write a letter to Obama himself. Why do people who bought SUVs when they didn’t really need them, get rewarded now? Shouldn’t responsible people, who are already saving gas and want to save even more, be taken care of too?
Which brings me to my last point. You can drive an economic car, or even a bicycle to work, and you can still play with cars. As you can see in the DVD extras, even Vin goes to driving school to have fun. When he drives around Los Angeles he doesn’t go crazy. He drives responsibly. With the abundance of racing driving schools, you don’t even have to own a V8 to experience one. Heck, you could just play the sound of a V8 engine out the speakers of your electric car. In Fast & Furious, Dom’s Buick Grand National sounds like a V8, but in real life these cars, also known as GNX, are powered by V6 engines. If Hollywood can do it, why can’t you? Come to think of it, I wonder how many of the crashed FF cars did Universal Studios trade in for new ones under the Cash for Clunkers program…