By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Jun 22, 2001 at 1:55 AM

There are a lot of people out there that enjoy "Tomb Raider," and I have taken some heat for my negative review of the film. Some feel that I don't know how to appreciate a summer movie, specifically ones meant to be escapist entertainment.

There's another movie being released that falls in that category. It's called "The Fast and the Furious." I wish I could say it is a good movie, but while it is better than "Tomb Raider," it still falls well short of being quality entertainment.

"The Fast and the Furious" stars Vin Diesel ("Saving Private Ryan"), Paul Walker ("Varsity Blues") and cars. It is set in the illegal street-racing underworld of Los Angeles.

Things get off to a fast start. Three speedy little black cars surround a semi late at night. A person in the car in front of the truck shoots a metal spear through the windshield and pulls it out. Then they shoot another one and climb into the truck, overtake the driver and steal everything.

A bunch of these crimes have happened and the cops think a gang of young street racers is behind them. They send Brian (Walker) undercover, hoping he can buddy up to some of these guys and crack the case before the truck drivers administer vigilante justice.

Brian takes a stab at becoming pals with Dominic Toretto (Diesel), the king of the street racers. He flirts with Dom's younger sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) and hangs out at a little diner they own.

But Brian isn't getting anywhere. He needs to prove himself on the streets, so he heads over to a street race and challenges Dom. Though he (barely) loses the race, Brian rescues Dom from certain arrest after the cops break up the event and chase after everyone. Because none of his own friends came back for him, this is big, and Brian is in.

The rest of the movie is full of cars, more cars and street racing. Of course, Dom and Brian become good friends and Brian falls in love with Mia. This all puts him in a tough spot and he is forced to make difficult decisions.

While the racing scenes are well done and at times exciting, "The Fast and the Furious" falls a few laps short due to its preposterous plot, weak script, recycled story and horrible acting.

I didn't go in expecting an Oscar worthy story and screenplay, but a little imagination would be nice. Is that too much to ask? Like "Tomb Raider," the writing here is just plain lazy. No serious thought went into anything. All that matters is whether or not something looks cool.

Though Diesel is a fine actor and does his best with lackluster material, Walker is not much of an actor and gives an awful performance. He is never once believable as a cop or a street racer. He tries way too hard and the effort shows in the look on his face. Most of the time he appears to be in serious pain.

I know how to enjoy a summer movie. I had a great time watching "Swordfish." That movie at least attempts to push the boundaries and give the viewer something they've never seen before (and no, I'm not referring to Halle Berry).

"The Fast and the Furious" is content with its own mediocrity. It doesn't aspire for anything else. If ever a movie was a rental, this is it.

Grade: C-

"The Fast and the Furious" opens everywhere on Fri., June 22.