review: Grafix Block Tech Fast & Furious – Urban Menace (69 Pieces)

ff-um-box
How is this racer an “Urban Menace?” In addition to this set, there are two others: “Drift 180” and “Speed Patrol.”

By the time this review gets posted, Furious 7 – the latest installment in the Fast & Furious film series – will be the first movie of 2015 to earn $1 billion in worldwide box office sales, making it the most successful film of the series. True to the car-based franchise’s theme, the new movie is also the fastest movie to reach the $1 billion mark. I haven’t seen it. I may never see it. Honestly, I’m not in these movies’ key demographic. However, I was intrigued to find this set at a local Dollar General store.

One obvious question springs to mind when you look at the photo above: Why Block Tech? For those unaware, Block Tech is activity and craft kit manufacturer Grafix’ building block brand. Generally speaking,  Block Tech is considered to be a “budget” brand; but their value is highly debatable (more on that in a bit). The popular opinion among builders is that it is a brand to be avoided. I have a hard time believing they were Universal’s first choice.

On the other hand, I suppose Block Tech may have been their only choice. Lego may not have been interested in acquiring the license due to the fact that the series’ protagonists are basically thieves, and Lego also has their own “Speed Champions” theme which features licensed models of real-life sports cars and racing cars. Mega Bloks has a long-standing association with the Need for Speed video game series and may not have been able to acquire the Fast & Furious license. The company’s acquisition by Mattel may have been another factor. The elimination of the big two building block systems doesn’t leave many other legitimate contenders.

Enough marketplace chit-chat: let’s have a look at the set. The box design is uncharacteristically slick for a Block Tech set. It leads me to believe the graphic design was either done by Universal’s in-house team, or Universal specifically dictated how the box art should appear to Block Tech. You might even think that Block Tech has finally stepped up their game with the acquisition of this license.

ff-um-contentsInside the box, you get one instruction sheet, a sticker sheet, a bag of parts, and a cardboard tray. I actually like the fact that Block Tech sets come with trays. It helps to keep track of smaller parts and prevents the box from being crushed. If only other companies would follow suit…

16-1x1sThere’s a point in the build where the instructions call for the use of sixteen black 1×1 plates. There is no practical point in using sixteen black 1×1 plates. It doesn’t do anything to strengthen the model, nor does it improve the appearance of the model. It is only done to increase the set’s piece count. It gives the impression to the buyer that you’re getting more for your money; but the adage in this case is, “More is less.” It’s a sketchy business practice that makes building more tedious than it ought to be, and Block Tech should discontinue it.

urb-complete
Let’s go through the street racer checklist. Does the vehicle have almost no ground clearance? Does it have (probably) loud dual exhausts? Does it sport an absurdly large spoiler? Tinted windows?

Here’s the completed model. Overall, it’s a bare-bones representation of a generic street racer. The profile silhouette looks close enough to a souped-up hatchback import. The giant spoiler has some difficulty staying attached to the model, though. Also, the set includes cheap plastic tires that are completely hollow. That’s hardly suitable for a high performance street machine. It’s a shame, because this set is maybe 4-8 pieces away from being halfway decent.

Conclusion

In spite of acquiring a well-known and popular license, Block Tech’s miserly ways prevent a mediocre set from being a satisfactory buy. With a MSRP of USD$3, it’s affordable enough for fans of the movies and casual builders to pick up (provided they have a Dollar General store in their vicinity). Otherwise, there’s little of interest aside from the branding on the box for more serious building block fans.

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