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The idiocy comes ‘Fast & Furious’

We get stuck spending most of the new film’s running time watching Vin Diesel and Paul Walker squint and say words in a weak approximation of acting.

The four original stars of “The Fast & The Furious” are back for the streamlined-title sequel “Fast & Furious,” but the producers’ effort to assemble them anew assumes that audiences are coming to these movies for the characters and not for the car stunts.

Subsequently, we get stuck spending most of the new film’s running time watching Vin Diesel and Paul Walker squint and say words in a weak approximation of acting, wasting precious time that could be spent enjoying street racers zipping through crowded thoroughfares and jumping over obstacles.

The whole cast reunion is something of a bait-and-switch anyway, since Michelle Rodriguez disappears from the proceedings early on. She does at least get to participate in the movie’s highlight, a “Wages of Fear”–inspired opening sequence where Dominic (Diesel) and his lover Letty (Rodriguez) hijack an oil truck on a narrow highway winding through a South American mountain range.

Letty wants Dominic to return to the States with her, but he heads off on his own, knowing that he’s a wanted man back home. Shortly thereafter, he gets a call from his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), letting him know that Letty has been murdered, which prompts Dominic’s arrival in Los Angeles, seeking her killer.

Also on the trail of the drug kingpin responsible for Letty’s death is FBI agent Brian O’Conner (Walker) who, back in the first movie, befriended Dominic and seduced Mia while going undercover in the street-racing world. Brian tries to get Dominic to work alongside him in exchange for clemency, but Dominic doesn’t trust the Feds and strikes out on his own, leading to both Brian and Dominic getting work as drivers for the bad guys.

“Fast & Furious” often plays like a graduate thesis on the use of the automobile as a penis substitute in film; we’re thrown into a world where it’s all about cars and driving all the time, where trashy girls make out with each other in a desperate attempt to get their men to look up from their engines and pay attention to them. With so much empty macho glowering going on — particularly with Diesel and Walker both giving singularly vapid performances — it’s not surprising that Brewster comes off as Dame Judi Dench by comparison.

With Diesel getting a producer credit, it’s obvious that director Justin Lin didn’t have the last word when it came to deciding whether to give more time to the effective and thrilling racing scenes or to another of one Dominic’s tortured monologues. It’s a pity, since Lin (“Better Luck Tomorrow,” “Shopping for Fangs”) gave “The Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drift” the adrenaline and no-rules euphoria that’s sorely missing from the franchise’s latest installment. One can only imagine how “Fast & Furious” would have turned out if its faulty male leads got the factory recall they so richly deserve.