Fast Five – Review


The fifth in the Fast and Furious series gets a much needed tune-up.

They say time away makes the heart grow fonder. That’s probably how fans of the very first Fast and Furious movie felt once they saw 2009’s Fast & Furious. Eight years and two more movies in the series they had yet to get a sequel that paired the two stars of the original, Vin Diesel and Paul Walker. When the duo reunited for Fast & Furious so did the fans, flocking to theaters to make it the most successful entry in the franchise thus far.

You have to admire the staying power the series has had over the course of a decade. The first entry from director Rob Cohen basically borrowed the plot of Point Break but replaced surfboards with souped up street racers. The underground street racing culture was an entry point to a franchise that has made modifications with each successive release. John Singleton occupied the driver’s seat for the sequel, 2 Fast 2 Furious, and the results were mixed. It was like a Floridian Speed Racer with homosexual overtones between Walker and co-star Tyrese Gibson. Honestly, the movie was a volleyball scene and Kenny Loggins song away from being this generation’s Top Gun.

If movies were families, then Tokyo Drift, the third release, would be the redheaded stepchild of the bunch. Diesel (except for a last-minute cameo) and Walker are nowhere to be found, and the chronological timeline is disrupted – the film will remain the bookend to the series. It acts as a one-off in the franchise, similar to Halloween III, which lacked masked killer Michael Myers. Justin Lin took the helm for the release and he’s remained behind the wheel ever since. The fourth entry brought all the principles back for another by-the-numbers revenge tale.

The question now is if the series is stuck in neutral. While Fast & Furious may have been a paycheck grab for the two stars, Fast Five revs its engines and goes from being just about fast cars and loose women to become a big budget action-adventure – a heist film that culminates with a chase sequence that is totally implausible but is totally in sync with audience expectations.

The movie begins where the last entry left off with Dominic Toretto (Diesel) being sentenced to a twenty-five-year stretch in a federal prison. Of course, he doesn’t make it to the prison. Brian O’Conner (Walker) and Dom’s sister, Mia (Jordana Brewester), intervene and cause a spectacular over-the-top accident on the open highway.

The action then picks up in Rio. When Dom, Brian and Mia assist in an elaborately staged robbery that goes wrong, our Robin Hood criminals must enlist the help of old friends (Tyrese Gibson and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges from 2 Fast 2 Furious, Sung Kang from Tokyo Drift, and Gal Gadot, Tego Calderon and Don Omar from Fast & Furious) to take out their frustrations on the drug kingpin (Desperado‘s Joaquim de Almedia) who set them up. As the old characters are introduced, you get the sense that an Ocean’s Eleven is taking shape.

What should be a Sunday morning drive for this ragtag bunch is jeopardized with the addition of Dwayne Johnson as Hobbs, a tough as nails Diplomatic Security Service agent who has the task of apprehending the gang. Johnson has always been a formidable presence on screen but he really stands out here. It could be because he gained thirty pounds of muscle for his role. And just like one of his famous wrestling catchphrases, Johnson “brings it” in the scene where he and Diesel pummel the hell out of each other.

Writer Chris Morgan, who came on board with Tokyo Drift and has written each installment since, may have had a clear idea that Fast Five focus less on cars and more on a burglary, but the execution is pretty dumb. It’s fun, but it’s still dumb. Not much smarter is trying to give the players in the heist skills that didn’t exist in any of the prior films. You mean to tell me that Ludacris went from being an ex-street racer to be an expert safe cracker. Talk about living up to your nickname. But it’s all explained with a simple piece of dialogue, kind of like trying to explain how smoking would be possible in a movie set in space in Thank You For Smoking.

Though I have to applaud him for changing it up. By shifting the focus from street racing to a heist he’s reinvigorated the franchise and in the process made it more accessible to those that may have dropped off the Fast and Furious bandwagon or never bothered with the series to begin with.

Justin Lin, a first-rate director shepherding a very profitable, if still second-rate, franchise also must be commended. He was put in a Catch-22 position with Tokyo Drift with no Diesel and no Walker and made it work. And his exploration of the underground street racing scene in Tokyo may be better than the original Fast and Furious if only for the fact that it emphasizes a particular style of racing that is foreign to most American audiences. With each sequel Lin has shown growth as an action director as someone who’s mindful of taking what worked in the past films and pushing it to new heights.  The decision to lose the whole “car culture” angle in Fast Five illustrates this point. We’ve seen it countless times before so what would be the point now?

At 131 minutes, Fast Five is much too long for the story it wants to tell. Several subplots fail to get off the starting block and the little interludes with characters expressing their feelings are a bore. Still, this is a refreshing entry in the Fast and Furious series. The car sequences are few this time around, but the chase at the end, involving Diesel and Walker hauling ass down the streets of Rio dragging a massive bank vault, more than makes up for the difference. With the tagline “Summer Begins April 29,” Fast Five lives up to its billing. The implausibility meter and Tachometer may be redlining, but this is one fun ride.

Director: Justin Lin
Notable Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Joaquim de Almedia
Writer: Chris Morgan

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