The summer of 2001 was chock full of great movies for audiences to feast their eyes upon. Within that assortment of entertainment there was one film that stepped out of the shadows of obscurity to become one of the biggest surprise hits of the year. That film is the adrenaline-fueled thrill ride known as “The Fast and the Furious” starring Vin Diesel (“A Man Apart”) and Paul Walker (“Varsity Blues”), and directed by successful action director Rob Cohen (“xXx”).

On the streets of Los Angeles, in the world of street racing, there is only one question you must answer to in order to win the day: Are you faster than all other contenders standing next to you? For undercover LAPD officer Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker), that question is one that he is determined to answer at any cost by taking down the one man that rules the street racing life, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel). However, can Brian remain loyal to his brothers in blue while at the same time becoming immersed into this fast-paced world of cars, money, and women?

My initial reaction when I saw the first trailers for this film was one of indifference. Based on the trailer the film seemed to be just an endless supply of racing sequences, close-ups of cars, women, and so on and so forth, with not much of anything else really holding the experience together. While each of those items I mentioned are on display in this film (and I’m not complaining about that in the least), there also happens to be plenty of story to tie it all together in a very cohesive fashion that I found surprising for a movie like this.

The story, written by Gary Scott Thompson (“Hollow Man”), Erik Bergquist, and David Ayer (“Training Day”), is a non-stop ride filled with intense racing, character development (surprisingly enough), drama, and even a little bit of romance. I thought it was wise for the writers to take the time to actually build-up relationships between the characters, especially the two leads. Thus allowing the audience to get to know them and relate to them, so that even when they do things that we know isn’t completely legal, we still side with them due to our connection. The inclusion of the theme of loyalty was also a very nice touch and in the end was the overall theme for the entire film. Many times a film’s theme(s) are beaten endlessly into the audience so that they don’t miss the main message of the film; however, in this instance the question of loyalty amongst the film’s characters is handled in a much more realistic fashion. Only a few instances is it really touched upon in an overt way, and rarely does it feel forced into the storyline as a way to catch up those audience members that might not be comprehending the underlying theme. For a film that at first glance appeared to be a brainless actioner for the adrenaline junkies, the well-developed storyline really took me on a much more enjoyable ride than I initially thought possible.

For a movie like this to succeed several key factors must fall into place, among them it must have the combined talents of stunt drivers, computer wizards, and of course a director accustomed to action films to hold it all together. The stunt drivers in this film have got to be without a doubt some of the best in the business, if not the very best. The tricks they achieve are truly stunning, and sure some of them benefited from CGI enhancement, but even with that assistance there was plenty of realism involved to serve as the basis for the technical wizards to draw upon. As for director Rob Cohen, he tends to be one of those directors that creates very entertaining movies for the general public, but finds himself maligned by most critics. With “The Fast and the Furious” I believe that Rob has actually crafted what could be his best and most comprehensive movie to date, and as a person that has enjoyed many of his films, it’s a shame he’s not more appreciated by most film critics.

And finally, we cannot forget the cast of talented up-and-comers that brought these characters to life. Portraying the film’s two leads are Vin Diesel and Paul Walker. Another part of why this film found bigger success than was expected (at least in my opinion) is due to the brotherly type of relationship between Dominic and Brian that develops over the course of the film. Had their scenes not felt so realistic and natural, this movie would have fallen apart at the seams in an instant.

Regarding the actors individual performances let’s start off with Vin Diesel. For the majority of Vin’s work he ends up criticized for being a one-note performance type of actor, which normally means he’s best suited for the action genre; however, in this film there are a couple of times where he lets down the machismo armor and allows a gentler side come to the fore. It’s in these times, and in other films he’s done (i.e. “A Man Apart” or “Find Me Guilty”), where Vin shows that there is more depth to him than most critics give him credit for. As for Paul Walker, I typically find him to be a decent actor, albeit with a little too much laid back, surfer dude quality imbued within every performance he gives. However, for this film, it is that very quality that seems to make him an ideal choice to play the character of Brian O’Connor. And for the most part, his performance in this movie is actually quite good, only a couple of instances he seemed like he rushed some lines or was a bit stiff, overall it was one of the stronger performances in his career.

Supporting the two leads are actresses Michelle Rodriguez (“Resident Evil”) and Jordana Brewster (“Annapolis”). Both actresses do well with their respective roles; although, for me personally I would have preferred a little more work had been put into developing Jordana’s character a bit further. It seemed that her character was essentially there for two reasons, to serve as the catalyst for getting Brian mixed up with Dominic’s crew, and secondly, to be Brian’s love interest so that all the ladies in the audience would have a little bit of romance to enjoy. Jordana’s character of Mia seemed like she could have been a more interesting character given the opportunity, but I guess the writers just didn’t really know what all to do with her. As for Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), she was a different kind of character than I expected, because in essence she was just a female version of Dominic. Just like Mia, Michelle’s character was mostly used as a love interest and strong female character for the ladies to relate to. Unlike Mia though, I didn’t really find Letty to be all that interesting and worthy of receiving any further screen time, especially since most of her background was summed up in a matter of sentences and beyond that I didn’t feel any further exposition was warranted.

“The Fast and the Furious” was not only a surprise hit at the box office, but also a surprise for me as well. As I stated before, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot from the movie, but upon watching it I found that I was sorely mistaken in that assumption, and extremely entertained at the same time. This film is definitely a lot of fun, especially for car guys, but even if you’re not, there is plenty in this film to keep you entertained and in my opinion leave you wanting more.

“The Fast and the Furious” is rated PG-13 for violence, language, and sexuality.