The car-fetish franchise roars back into form in its fourth incarnation, Fast & Furious.

The added octane is supplied by the return of the original four stars: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, and Michelle Rodriguez.

Not much else has changed. It's still a gleaming display of chrome pornography set in the world of illegal street racing, where drivers strut like rock stars. Go, Speed Racer, go!

This time, both of our heroes are trying to infiltrate a ruthless drug cartel. They approach this quest with different agendas.

Diesel, who's been in exile for his outlaw ways, returns to Los Angeles to exact revenge on the man who murdered the love of his life.

Walker is working for the FBI. You can tell he's a rogue agent because he doesn't shave. And there's his habit of pounding other agents into jelly, as well as his penchant for flaunting authority by springing suspects from custody.

The two men enter a race, with the winner to become a driver for the cartel. Because, of course, a gang smuggling heroin across the border from Mexico would look to recruit from a band largely made up of tattooed and pierced street racers. (With the satellite technology and secret tunnels the cartel has at its disposal, it could have used senior citizens to drive the stuff across.)

That first race, weaving in and out of street traffic, is truly heart-palpitating. It sets such a high standard that it makes the later close-quarter chases seem like overheated exercises in swapping paint.

The drivers all use illegally modified compacts that look like slot cars. Diesel fittingly prefers a muscle car. He swaggers through this film like a bulldog wading into a flock of flamingos.

The guy is so tough he eschews guns, even in the middle of a shootout. That's easy to do when you can shrug off bullets like they're puff balls.

Diesel does pick up a shotgun when he goes south of the border. Ah, well, when in Mexico . . .

Still, Fast & Furious succeeds because the action is supercharged in a style that recalls Mel Gibson's apocalyptic classic, The Road Warrior. The characters are more than cartoonish, and the plot grips the road.

But it's Diesel who provides the nitro injection.


Contact staff writer David Hiltbrand at 215-854-4552 or dhiltbrand@phillynews.com.