Buoyed by deservedly positive word-of-mouth, "Fast & Furious 6" quickly sped to the top of the box office, with a $97 million opening weekend, and remains frontrunner for the No. 1 spot this weekend. Yet the sequel also represents something of a turning point for Universal's brawny, lucrative franchise, as it pivots away from its roots in underground street-racing, micro-skirt ogling and barely concealed homoeroticism (well, OK, those last two still exist) and into a sort of revenge-tinged heist/criminal takedown series, in the vein of "The Italian Job."
An important antecedent to the series highly worth checking out, however, is "Gone in 60 Seconds." No, no, no… not the 2000 remake starring Nicolas Cage before he lost his battle with hair plugs and Angelina Jolie before she became more fully stabilized, but the original 1974 film from multi-hyphenate H.B. Halicki, which laid waste to almost 100 vehicles over the course of its sprawling centerpiece car chase. If the "Fast & Furious" franchise has been employment heaven for the small army of sound mixers, digital effects compositors and, yes, stunt drivers who help breathe life into its most gloriously over-the-top moments, Halicki's movie is a throwback to the days of leaner, meaner, hands-on destruction — before genre cash-dashes became Hollywood studio tentpoles.
The story is boilerplate (a group of Long Beach car thieves take a $400,000 deal from a South American drug lord to steal 48 very specific, high-end vehicles in a span of several days), and its acting ranges from unsophisticated to kind of dreadful. Halicki played the lead himself, and further kept production costs down by filling out the rest of the roles with friends, family and recruited nonprofessionals in some cases literally pulled off the streets.
Yet there's a wild, careening joie de vivre to "Gone in 60 Seconds," most especially in a wild 35-minute sequence that spans almost 10 miles of freeway and city streets. In the end it's about little more than the mesmerizing spectacle of wanton material destruction (almost all of the many dozens of vehicles demolished, including a garbage truck and three fire engines, were bought cheaply at auction), but Halicki's movie would prove there was a massive audience for such creative and cathartic vehicular obliteration; its $40 million box office gross as an independent film upon its release would correlate with roughly $113 million today.
"Gone in 60 Seconds" was re-released in a fine-looking Blu-ray/DVD combo pack last year by the late Halicki's own company, now managed by his widow. An hour-long featurette that aired on the Speed Network anchors the set, giving a comprehensive overview of the film's production process and all its risky stunts, including how Halicki compacted 10 vertebrae performing the its big jump finale. There are also three extensive clips of car chase footage from Halicki's other movies, plus interviews with Halicki's widow, Denice Shakarian, and Lee Iacocca, who developed the Mustang, Halicki's favored, signature vehicle.
While Halicki sadly isn't around to provide perspective on the "Fast & Furious" series (he suffered an untimely death in 1989 during an accident on the set of an uncompleted sequel to his masterwork), one feels like he'd appreciate the franchise's drive-fast-and-smash-'em-up soul.
Watch the Cast of 'Fast & Furious 6' Talk Insane Action: