The Fast and The Furious: A Love Story
When The Fast and the Furious hit theaters back in 2001, I like most people didn’t expect much from it. A movie about fast cars, hot guys and the girls who love them didn’t seem like the kind of offering that would stand the test of time. More like a hectic adrenaline rush that subsides as soon as the credits start rolling.
The original poster for the film that started it all
The one element that was hard to ignore was the seductiveness of the main cast. Vin Diesel (Dominic Toretto), Paul Walker (Brian O’Connor), Jordana Brewster (Mia Toretto) and Michelle Rodriguez (Letty Ortitz), were young, gorgeous and prepared to Ride or Die. Couple that with the richly diverse landscape of street racing, and you might just have a major hit on your hands.
The formula worked like a charm. The film that started all the madness to follow crushed the box office that summer. The next three installments also performed quite well, but Fast Five’s arrival in 2011, changed the game completely and solidified the global validity of the franchise. But most importantly, the action genre as we knew it was experiencing a drastic makeover. The idea of a lone soldier battling a whole army of bad guys was fast becoming an outdated concept. The Fast films were amassing legions of fans unique proving that the combination of a multi-cultural cast, exotic locales, and super-charged cars was profitably irresistible. The blueprint had been drafted more than a decade ago, and despite a turntable of directors, the main ingredients always remained safely secured.
Director Justin Lin should be credited for his immense contribution to the franchise, thanks to his visionary approach to filmmaking. The Fast films could have easily sunk into the generic pool filled with tacky storylines and over-staged car chases. But instead, we were feted to grippingly erected action sequences that took us from a gorgeously implemented bank heist in Rio to an electrifying street race through Piccadilly Circus. So, it’s not surprising that the last film Lin oversaw, Fast and Furious 6, which opened on May 24 2013, grossed over $780 million worldwide. Fast and Furious was now a juggernaut in an industry where the application of “easy come, easy go” is standard.
The franchise was undoubtedly a certifiable goldmine rapidly soaring in popularity, showing no signs of slowing down. No doubt the authenticity of the core cast members which expanded to include Tyrese Gibson (Roman Pearce), Chris “Ludacris” Bridges ( Tej Parker) and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (Luke Hobbs) helped to instigate this phenomenon. Their obvious bond is played out to perfection both on and off screen.
The sense of enjoyment and fulfillment they get from inhabiting each of their assigned roles is palpable. The mandatory press junkets have historically exposed their heightened affections. Watching the playful banter between Paul and Tyrese was just as endearingly entertaining as Vin’s hilarious attempt at perfecting his British accent. It became clear that the key to their effortless camaraderie was due to their innate ability to not take themselves or the dizzyingly fanfare too seriously, which in turn prevented them from converting into arrogant assholes
On the heels of another major win, Universal announced the recruitment of Australian director James Wan (The Conjuring) for the seventh installment. In mid-September 2013, filming for Fast 7 was underway. Images started to emerge from the set as fans were treated to sporadic teasers and captions. The excitement was brewing and suddenly July 11 2014 seemed a million light years away. This film was going to be epic! The lineup of star power included Kurt Russell (who took the role Denzel Washington swiftly turned down), Jason Statham, and Djimon Hounsou. The expectations were feverishly high with all hands on deck. The summer of 2014 was going to be a very good one for the gang fondly known as The Fast Family.
Paul Walker, Vin Diesel and Kurt Russell on the set of Fast 7
On November 30, 2013, everything changed forever. Paul Walker was tragically killed in a car crash in Valencia, California, after attending a charity event hosted by his non-profit outfit, Reach Out Worldwide (ROWW). When the news broke, it spread like wild fire across major social media platforms. It was unfathomable that one of the main stars of the beloved franchise would perish in a manner that mirrored the character that he portrayed. Walker was a passenger in the Porsche Carrera GT (ironically his dream car) that his friend and business manager Roger Rodas, who died alongside him, was driving. The accident was dramatically horrific, with images of the barely recognizable vehicle splashed all over the circuit. Investigators concluded that excessive speed was to blame.
In the weeks following the death of Paul Walker, it was hard to imagine how Fast 7 would recover from such an immense loss. Walker was a key component to the franchise and in some way had been responsible for its inception. After completing The Skulls, producer Neal Moritz and director Rob Cohen were eager to work with Walker again and asked the budding heartthrob what he wanted to do next. The California native and car enthusiast, whose grandfather raced cars for Ford back in the sixties, had developed the same affinity for the tracks, and declared that he wanted to play an undercover cop against the backdrop of underground street racing in Los Angeles. Months later, the concept was developed and Redline (the working title) became The Fast and the Furious
The sudden demise of Walker was and is a catastrophic event of remarkable proportions for the Fast Family. Something so beautiful was instantly turned into an evolving horror show. The whole world was gawking and waiting to see how the recovery process would be initiated.
After a calculated time off, production commenced in early spring, and what followed was an operatic response to all the chaos and mayhem. Walker’s younger brothers, Cody and Caleb, were both been commissioned to help complete their late brother’s work. Aesthetically, both men resemble their older sibling, the same electric blue eyes, sandy blond hair and immaculate profile. They were needed to fill in as body doubles, and the magic of CGI would take care of the rest. Suddenly all the fragments started to pull together and slowly a collage of loyalty, undying love, and fortitude was being manifested. A once hopelessly paralyzing situation became a stunningly inspirational love story complete with tear-jerking testimonies and fireworks.
Caleb Walker (R) and Cody Walker (L) working on Fast 7 in Dubai
Fast and Furious 7 completed production sometime in mid-July 2013, and is scheduled for an April 3 2015 release. It was most certainly an emotional rollercoaster for the close-knit cast and undoubtedly challenged every fiber of their being. But they made it. They got the job done and they did it because of the love and respect borne out of years of familial tendencies. You don’t typically witness this level of commitment and endurance in Hollywood. But that’s what makes this franchise a special endeavor, and it also demonstrates why we have all refused to abandon ship.
It is hard to say if the remaining installments of the saga (Fast 8 and 9) will go on as initially planned. Either way, Paul Walker will forever be the glue that holds the cast and crew together. And that for now is enough.