Fast Five (2011) / Action-Drama
The Fast and the Furious 5

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and language
Running time:
130 min.

Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Dwayne Johnson, Tyrese Gibson, Joaquim de Almeida, Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges, Matt Schulze, Sung Kang, Elsa Pataky, Gal Gadot, Tego Calderon, Don Omar, Michael Irby
Director: Justin Lin
Screenplay: Chris Morgan
Review published May 2, 2011

fast five diesel walker brewsterJustin Lin (Fast & Furious, The Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drift) takes the director's chair yet again (his third straight) for what ends up being his best effort in the Fast and the Furious series.  Fast Five isn't really a great film by most conventional measures, but it is a solid action film, with excellent stunt work and nearly seamless CGI components, it's a marvel on a technical scale that should please those who've come to enjoy the series thus far.  It's no longer really about street racing, though there is some of that (yet, the only true race for pink slips is left to the imagination), but rather the use of hot and fast cars in order to do dangerous, action-packed work, such as steal large sums of loot from those who deserve their loot stolen.

We pick up the series where it left off in Fast & Furious, with Dominic (Diesel, Find Me Guilty) being sprung out of incarceration (via a prison bus) by his sister Mia (Brewster, Annapolis) and former FBI Agent Brian O'Conner (Walker, Bobby Z).  This makes all three hotly pursued by the authorities, led by the hardnosed, tough guy federal agent, Luke Hobbs (Johnson, Get Smart), so they make south of the border and head right to the streets of Rio de Janeiro, where they meet up with their old friend, Vince (Schulze, Mr. Brooks).  Their attempts to eke out an existence there proves moderately successful, though they end up crossing the biggest drug kingpin in Brazil, Reyes (de Almeida, Behind Enemy Lines), who virtually owns the city's underworld.  Reyes goes for revenge, while the boys vow to take down Reyes's empire right from under him with the help of a microchip in the car they've stolen that gives them the details of his elaborate operation.  But its a tall order, so they need a crew, which means reuniting with some of their former partners (from the previous movies) in order to band together an take over $100 million right from under Reyes's nose.

Fast Five will likely remind many viewers of The Italian Job than it does The Fast and the Furious.  Perhaps more than a little of the Ocean's Eleven series as well.  There is a heist plot, the pulling together of a motley crew, each with their own specialized tasks.  Lots of stunt work and elaborate set pieces involving the stealing of cars from a fast-moving train and a vault full of cash within the confines of a heavily guarded police headquarters are the main attractions.  The repartee is also heightened here, though Chris Morgan's (Wanted, Cellular) script keeps the dialogue basic and the wit mostly to casual insults lobbed between Ludacris (No Strings Attached) and Tyrese (Transformers 2) as the loudmouths of the group.  The guys have to keep out of trouble from the tenacious authorities, and, of course, there is the dastardly villain ripe for a comeuppance.  The cars and machismo are there, but it's clear that the franchise appears to be heading in a different direction, with less cars and racing and more grandiose elements of danger and destruction.

Though the physics within the series has always been an area where belief must be suspended, Fast Five is so over-the-top cartoonish in its approach, it doesn't even merit taking what we see as even remotely plausible.  Still, Lin does a good job in maintaining the tone of the action, and once you accept that we're a far cry from the original's comparably humble origins, it's not much effort to take what we see as pure entertainment for entertainment's sake.  It's as slick as they come, with sweeping helicopter shots (a little too much use of Christ the Redeemer), and some truly marvelous locale work on the city streets of Rio, and the rooftops of the favelas.

If there is an area of weakness, it comes from the family drama aspects. Such trite conventions as Mia's pregnancy, the group camaraderie, the incessant man-hugs, and the strained discussions between the men trying to give the semblance of deep meaning make for an uncomfortable watch.  The characterizations are too thin to support such heavier moments, and there is a degree of sag to the overall impact by reaching deeper than the series has ever allowed. That, and these actors are cast for their looks than they are their acting chops, so any deviation from the glossy eye candy and destruction derby antics is asking more than this particular group can manage.  Ocean's Eleven and The Italian Job had far more acclaimed thespians, and they made sure not to have any notable moments when they took themselves too seriously, so going against the grain of the formula that works could have proven disastrous, particularly when the film clocks in at about 2 hours and 10 minutes.  The Rock, who is as buff as ever, is the only performer who manages to give his respective role more gravitas than what's written on the page.

Fast Five delivers the popcorn movie goods for the fans of such fare, and in my opinion, it's the best of the series thus far.  It could disappoint those who wish for more of the street racing vibe of the original, but that angle ran out of gas a few movies ago.  The series has evolved and emulated movies that are bigger and better, and though not necessarily the most original in terms of its clichés and formula plotting, the action sequences, many which are exciting and memorable, make this meat-headed entry worth the price of admission for any die-hard action movie fan. 

-- Followed by Fast & Furious 6.

 Qwipster's rating:

©2011 Vince Leo