You could call him Vin (The Refrigerator) Diesel: he's that solid, that cool, and precisely as emotive as your average kitchen appliance. The star of such red-meat melodramas as The Chronicles of Riddick and xXx has the huge, smooth head of an outdoor sculpture, a bad Buddha, and the dull eyes and mouth of a golem who's just been recklessly woken. His screen personality could be seen as surly or resentful in the Clint Eastwood Dirty Harry or Toshiro Mifune Yojimbo mode if he displayed anything as human as an attitude. Instead he simply looms and emits fumes; he just is. He can read lines and move about, but there's no inner life to this Refrigerator; when you shut the door, the light goes out. (Read the Q&A with Vin Diesel.)
Which makes Diesel a great stage name (his real one is Mark Vincent) for an actor who seems motor-driven ideal as the headliner of special-effects action films like this weekend's Fast & Furious, the fourth in a series that launched in 2001 and has now been stripped of its definite articles because, in Hollywood, thes are for wimps. In a car-demolition picture like F&F, the real work in the driving and fighting and jumping scenes is done by stuntmen and computer nerds, but the stories require a stoic male presence, and that, Diesel provides to the teen boys who constitute such a movie's core audience. Like Stallone and Schwarzenegger and the other Incredible Bulks who preceded him, Diesel exudes an impersonal toughness; he's the machine at the heart of a movie machine. (See pictures of American muscle cars in movies.)
The considerable artistic coup of the producers and director Justin Lin (who also helmed the third episode, Tokyo Drift) is to reunite the cast of the 2001 film: Diesel as superdriver Dominic Toretto, Paul Walker as FBI agent Brian O'Conner, Jordana Brewster as Dom's sister Mia and Michelle Rodriguez as his girlfriend Letty. Iconographically, the two male leads balance nicely, since Walker boasts California good looks half surfer boy, half altar boy and a face that reads as clean-shaven even with his careful stubble. And Diesel and M-Rod are a perfect pair. She showed off her muscular arms in Girlfight nearly a decade before America fixated on Michelle Obama's pythons, while Diesel has biceps the size of Barack Obama's governing challenges.
Boiled down to its essentials, F&F is four pretty swell auto-race video games on a highway, across city streets, through a mountain tunnel, then in an all-terrain chase with a tunnel reprise encased in the bloated carcass of a script by Chris Morgan that must have been researched in the Archive of Movie Clichés. In these interminable interstices, audiences in the theater can take a popcorn break or enjoy a snooze. Viewers of the DVD are luckier; they know how to find scene selection.