The Fast and the Furious features all relative newcomers, few special effects, and not one excrement joke, yet this summer movie has become a sleeper anyway, and a much bigger hit than Driven. Audiences probably appreciate the basic, unpretentious plot about an undercover cop, Brian (Paul Walker), infiltrating a group of street-racing drivers as a way to ferret out the criminals behind a rash of truck heists.

The suspects include Dominic (Vin Diesel), the best driver of the bunch, and Johnny (Rick Yune), the leader of a motorcycle gang. However, Brian's loyalty is tested when he falls for Dominic's sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster). In the end, as his identity is revealed, Brian must decide how to fulfill his duties as a law officer and remain faithful to his new 'family.'

Director Rob Cohen (The Skulls, Dragonheart) cuts to the chase on plot and technique, keeping the simple tale on course, and taking out the obligatory soggy romance and older wise man character. (Wilfred Brimley is never in sight). One might even call Cohen's approach Hawksian: There is more bonding between the laconic leading men, Walker and Diesel, than between the lovers, Walker and Brewster. In this and other ways, The Fast and The Furious neatly recalls Howard Hawks' underrated Red Line 7000 (1965), updated for the NASCAR-"Fear Factor" generation. (One of the racing stunts looks pulled from that latest reality show.)

While the cars are the stars, Walker and Brewster provide the good looks, and Diesel adds some unexpected charisma. Girlfight's Michelle Rodriguez, playing Dominic's feisty girlfriend, stands out in the supporting cast, which also includes hip-hop star Ja Rule.

The letdown is in the screenplay by Gary Scott Thompson, Erik Bergquist and David Ayer, which gives the women characters little to do, and all the characters witless dialogue to utter. (Example: 'I live my life a quarter of a mile at a time,' says Dominic.) Clearly, Thompson, Bergquist and Ayer could learn a few things from Leigh Brackett (Hawks' favorite screenwriter).

Still, credit the writers and the director with making comprehensible the human attraction to--and fetishism with--fast-moving vehicles. Unlike David Cronenberg's morbidly funny Crash, The Fast and the Furious finds innocence in the eroticism, when it's not pushing the issue aside.

Yet, with the rousing (or is it arousing?) racing scenes dominating the action, audiences won't much care about fine points or subtext.

--Eric Monder