Movie Maniac

May 26, 2013

Formula obviously works for ‘Fast & Furious’ movies

Admittedly, I have not seen any of the “Fast & Furious” films. They’re just not my thing.

Admittedly, I have not seen any of the “Fast & Furious” films. They’re just not my thing.

But a lot of people love them, and “Fast & Furious 6,” which opened Friday, is expected to dominate the Memorial Day holiday weekend. Case in point: The film’s Facebook page has more than 28 million “likes.”

The last installment, “Fast 5,” made more than $416 million worldwide. “6” is poised to top that figure, which is amazing since we’re more than a decade into the franchise (the first film came out in 2001). But its fan base absolutely can’t get enough — it’s as if the studio can’t make the movies fast or furious enough (a seventh film is already in the works, to be released next year).

All this without the aid of superheroes or a built-in comic book fan base. It defies traditional Hollywood logic. But how?

Following the “Fast” series as a model of success, here are some things we can learn from it:

• Deliver what your target audience wants. It’s no surprise that the biggest bloc of the “Fast” fan base is male, so the films feature jaw-dropping cars and over-the-top action. But a lot of the audience is female, also, so the films feature a couple of strong female characters who aren’t just eye candy but are integral to the action.

•  Don’t mess with the formula. Don’t inject behavior that isn’t typical of your characters, say having Dom (Vin Diesel) battle an alien. And don’t kill off your characters or inject unneeded drama — although one character that was killed in a previous “Fast” film, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), returns in “Furious 6.” So apparently there’s an “undo” button.
•  Make your stars comfortable. If it weren’t for the success of the “Fast” movies, it’s debatable whether Diesel would have a film career, following the missteps of “The Pacifier” and “Babylon A.D.” He hasn’t branched out much from the “Fast” franchise because those films have made him an A-lister, at least in the “Fast” world. Co-star Paul Walker has branched out of the “Fast” universe with mixed results, but it’s no doubt that these are his most successful films. Go where you fit in best.
•  Don’t take yourself too seriously. The films seem to know what they are and what their purpose is, unapologetically so. They’re not going to be regarded as “art,” and that’s just fine. There’s nothing wrong with just being entertaining.
•  Broaden your horizons. The budgets of the films have gotten progressively larger as the success gets greater, so the crews of car racers and thieves have evaded the law in exotic settings such as Brazil, Spain and the United Kingdom. Filmmakers also know that their films are wildly popular overseas and want to be appealing (and relatable) to those markets.
•  Be critic-proof. The films have gotten a mostly negative reaction from most critics, although some admit the films are a guilty pleasure. But their voices don’t matter here. Fans flock to the “Fast” films religiously despite what the critics say, almost in defiance. And the immediacy of social media gives the critics even less significance.
•  Just be loud and fast. Furiously so.

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