April 3, 2009 at 1:00 am

Tom Long: 'Fast & Furious' -- GRADE: D+

'Fast & Furious' runs on empty

There are many good reasons to become a street car racer, according to "Fast & Furious," the stunningly dumb but undeniably speedy fourth entry into the FF franchise.

Unfortunately, there aren't nearly as many good reasons to go see "Fast & Furious." But more about that in a bit.

First off, as a street car racer it seems that no matter what grievous damage you do to your ride, it will miraculously be fixed by the next day.

Also, as a street car racer, your chances of being hurt in a car accident are apparently very low. You can hit six other cars, flip over three times and skid roof-down across asphalt for half a mile and you'll most likely emerge without a scratch.

Most importantly, though, for young males, as a street car racer you will be invited to parties where there are about 10 incredible-looking women in hot pants for every guy. And when these women aren't looking after the guys, they're usually kissing and fondling one another.

No wonder guys race cars in the street.

However, those who come off the streets and into movie theaters to see "Fast & Furious" may find themselves disappointed.

First off, there won't be 10 hot bi-curious women for every man at the theater. Beyond that, the movie is pretty bad.

This has a lot to do with Vin Diesel, reprising the role of Dom, which made him a star in the first FF movie. After achieving said stardom, he went off to appear in a series of mediocre films that eventually did so poorly that he had to come back to the FF franchise.

With his balloon arms and shaved dome, Diesel looks more cartoon than man, and this film does him few favors in terms of humanization. The script by Chris Morgan (hard to believe he wrote both "Wanted" and "Cellular") has Diesel uttering one leaden cliched line after another, as if the film was being entered in some bad writing contest.

By the end you actually feel bad for Diesel. OK, he's not Russell Crowe, but he's better than this.

The story: After an exciting opening sequence, the fugitive Dom returns to LA when he learns his true love Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) has had an accident that left a bullet in her brain. Dom, of course, immediately pledges to hunt down the street car racing impresario who ordered the hit.

As luck and Hollywood agents would have it, the other half of the FF franchise -- Paul Walker in the guise of FBI agent Brian O'Conner -- just happens to be hunting the same bad guy.

Best frenemies forever, Dom and O'Conner team up. Look out, bad guy.

Actually, look out anybody who meets Dom. The guy seems to enjoy any excuse to send those balloon arms into pummeling mode. And at least that keeps the dialogue to a minimum.

Truth be told, director Justin Lin does a fantastic job with the racing sequences, from an opening gas tanker hijacking to some wild tunnel stuff toward the end. Speed junkies will be sated.

Lin also directed "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift," the third and best installment in the FF series, which was helped mightily by a culture shift and some new blood.

This time out, though, it's the same old culture with the same old blood.

And fast cars do not alone a good movie make. There's a plain stupidity to "Fast & Furious" that's so downright insulting it's hard to believe even bi-curious women in hot pants will like it. This franchise is out of gas.

Detroit News Film Critic tlong@detnews.com">tlong@detnews.com (313) 222-8879

Director Justin Lin's chase scenes will satisfy speed fans, but other ... (Universal Pictures)
Paul Walker reprises his role as an FBI agent. (Universal Pictures)