General Motors may be having its problems, but "Fast & Furious" has the pedal to the metal all the way to the bank.
This fourth installment of the action-movie franchise built on moving violations made a record-breaking $70 million at the box office last weekend. Reteaming Vin Diesel and Paul Walker from the original F&F, it's like the animated "Cars," only with actual drivers behind the steering wheel.
The major requirement of the stars is that they be quick on the clutch; beyond that, the roles call for charisma more than actual acting. Ditto for the writing, demonstrating that heroism is painted in the broadest brush strokes, and you don't need much of a script if your target audience has ADHD anyway.
After tapping into the subculture of illegal street racing in the first film with Diesel as the criminal and Walker as the cop, this one ratchets up the concept, enlisting all that reckless driving on the side of the law to try to bring down a Mexican drug lord.
Throw GPS into the mix, not to mention a wild series of subterranean mining tunnels on the U.S.- Mexican border, and -voila! - the missing link between hot rods and rocket science.
Diesel and Walker seem happy enough to let the cars do most of the work, and slinky auto groupies in tight skirts are along for the ride whenever the mind wanders. But the real star of the show is director Justin Lin.
His flair is for turning cars - and semi-trucks, and anything else on wheels - into flying objects, preferably lighting them on fire first. This results in lots of dodge-the-fireball driving, lots of adrenaline and lots of ka-ching! for Universal Studios.
Economic recessions are good for the movie business. "Fast & Furious" staged its own version of an economic recovery last weekend. Let's hope General Motors doesn't get any crazy ideas.
"Fast & Furious" is state of the art when it comes to things that don't require a mind to appreciate. Left in its dust was a sweet little film called "Adventureland." It might have sold more tickets if they had named it "The Past and the Curious."
"Adventureland" is what used to be called a coming-of-age comedy, except coming of age is something kids don't do much anymore. It's another casualty of the digital divide, where kids seem to know from birth more than their elders ever will about technology - but don't have a clue about much else. What do you expect? They're just kids.
"Adventureland" is set in 1987, when sensitive guys not only came of age, but also majored in English Lit in college, dreamed of becoming writers like Charles Dickens and fell in love with girls far more worldly than they were - all while pondering the meaning of life as they worked for the summer in a third-rate amusement park.
Jesse Eisenberg stars - Michael Cera must not have been available. But Eisenberg deftly clones the smart, funny - but mostly just nice - persona the other actor has honed in films like "Juno" and "Superbad," right down to the faltering cadences and irresistible sincerity.
It's no coincidence that Greg Mottola wrote "Superbad" before writing and directing the autobiographical "Adventureland." Apparently, both young actors are playing him, with that self-effacing earnestness that's such a relief from the arrested-development testosterone that usually sets the agenda for tales of male teens on screen.
Brainy, pouty Kristen Stewart capably plays the girl of his dreams, also slumming for the summer working on the seedy midway where corndogs are haute cuisine, "Rock Me Amadeus" plays nonstop through the PA system, and the future stars of "Fast & Furious" learn to drive in the bumper-car ride.
With a supporting cast including Bill Hader, Kristin Wiig and Martin Starr, this is one of those gentle comedies where there really aren't any bad guys. The va-va-voom Lisa P. (Margarita Lavieva), the fantasy of every male in a 50-mile radius, isn't really a slut after all. The park's philandering, hunky musician-maintenance man (Ryan Reynolds) isn't a total jerk, even though he has a wife at home.
"Guys are just wired that way," he explains.
Not all guys. Eisenberg's character is the type wired to keep falling in love - in lieu of having sex - and to keep getting his heart broken as a result.
Turns out, the condition isn't fatal. Coming of age is the cure. Too bad kids aren't into that anymore. Last time I looked, they hadn't come up with anything better, across the digital divide.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org.