A funny thing happened on the way to the fourth Fast and the Furious installment -- the fuel-injected franchise overcame both absurdity (Pt. 2) and a reboot (Tokyo Drift) in order to tap into a bit of what made the first film special to begin with, which in box-office numbers meant bringing back its stars. Considering the downward trajectory that both of their careers took post-FF1, it's hard to blame Paul Walker and Vin Diesel for returning to the series that made them stars. Frankly, they could have done a lot worse, considering this sequel's admirable attempt at both delivering action-packed goods and retying their character's plots together again. Starting off with a high-speed gas heist on the asphalt and moving on to a decent foot chase right after that, the movie sets a quick pace early on and only rests for a bit of emotional brooding, which may or may not be seen as the film's one downfall. No matter what, it's safe to say that this entirely acceptable retooling of the franchise makes for a satisfying experience for those who enjoy four-wheeled chases, hot bodies, hot cars, and a tall dose of tough-guy machismo.
The years have not been easy for fugitive Dominic Toretto (Diesel). Living life on the lam has made the expert driver reassess his life and those close to him. Only after learning that the love of his life (Michelle Rodriguez -- in a glorified cameo) has died on a turnpike in L.A. does he head back to familiar ground to investigate what is sure to be a homicide. It doesn't take long for him to show back up on the FBI's radar and that of his old undercover agent acquaintance (Walker), who was last seen letting the criminal go years before. As luck would have it, they both end up infiltrating the same drug ring as drug runners over the Mexican border. Together, the two work to settle their scores, either through the ways of the law or not.
Once again, Tokyo Drift's Justin Lin is in the director's seat for this installment -- and he brings an understanding of modern action storytelling (something that could be seen as a detriment to a few in the critic crowd). Cutting the car footage tight and the hand-to-hand combat in a frenzied way is the stapled style of the times, and Lin pulls it off just well enough to not be aggravating. Especially refreshing are the car chase sequences set underground as the vehicles smash into each other within the tight confines of tunnels beneath the border. Plot-wise, the pic certainly goes through the motions. A third-act twist doesn't surprise too much, but the plot is hardly the most important element in a F&F film. That said, it is true that Vin's inner turmoil cuts the pace down to less than what it should be, though it does open up the door for a bit of well-needed (if not a little out of nowhere) sexual sizzle between Walker and the little-used Jordana Brewster. As before, the sequel does not reinvent the wheel nor make bold claims to be anything that it is not, which, in this case, is a completely passable follow-up that probably should have come out two films ago. And with the open ending, audiences can hope that if there is a fifth entry the filmmakers will be able to focus on blowing everyone's doors off instead of having to connect the dots in order to justify its reunited cast and their basically unchanged characters.