Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
The franchise that was born with THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS was never one that I've waited with baited breath for new installments of since it began 10 years ago. But I will admit that, although I know nothing about cars, this variety of car porn has always made my heart race, especially when those muscle cars are standing still and feature sexy ladies draped over them (and all five of the films in this series have managed to include such scenes as reliably as they have included car chases/races). These movies were never about character, story, strong performances, or even humor (yes, even the dumb jokes are underwritten). All of that being said, there is something about these big, dopey, clunky, loud films that is seriously appealing, and FAST FIVE, a film that finally gets the formula more or less down, is the best of the bunch.
The way you break down this or any of the FFF (FAST/FURIOUS Films) is simple: there's either something going on or there is not. And usually when there is not, the movie slams on the brakes. Banter is attempted and almost always fails to be witty. So, really all there is for us to do is listen to the exposition and/or stare at either biceps or boobs, both struggling to break free of their unnaturally tight clothes. With FAST FIVE, there's one more thing to do: enjoy the parade of characters returning from one or more of the previous four films. The core characters--Vin Diesel as master thief and driver Dominic Toretto, his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), and the former police officer Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker)--are all back again. The film opens with O'Conner and Mia leading a small team to help Dominic escape from a prison transport vehicle. It's a pretty splashy action sequence, and director Justin Lin (who has helmed this series since the third installment, TOKYO DRIFT) wisely ramps up each new chase with just a little more speed, destruction, noise, and general excitement.
The other smart thing that Lin and his team have done is begin a transition away from this franchise being strictly about fast cars. A great deal of time (too much, in my estimation, as the film hits the 130-minute mark by the time the credits are done) is spent on a big vault heist. I can only imagine that, with this enormous crew and a seemingly impossible heist involves trickery as well as brute force, the inspiration for the this film were the OCEAN'S 11 films. On hand to round out the team are former franchise all stars Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Matt Schulze, Sung Kang, Gal Gadot, and Tego Calderon. Added to the list of thieves is Puerto Rican rapper Don Omar.
Pursuing Dom & Co. this time around is none other than Dwayne Johnson (don't call him The Rock) as federal agent Luke Hobbs, who can apparently walk into a foreign country (in this case Rio De Janeiro, where most of the film is set) and snatch up whoever he wants in broad daylight. Hobbs enlists the help of a translator named Elena (Elsa Pataky), who is the only local police officer he can trust. Why does he think the local cops are corrupt? Because a major drug dealer (Joaquim de Almeida as Reyes) is hiding more than $100 million dollars of his money in a vault housed in a police station evidence locker, that's why.
But why am I spending so much time talking about story? This movie would be almost as good if all of the actors were wearing ski masks and everyone was gagged. You don't go to a FFF for the dialogue or plot; you go for the fast cars, and this movie has them in abundance. From an early sequence where the team steals two cars off a moving train to the 30 or so minutes of two cars dragging a massive vault at high speed down Rio's downtown, demolishing everything in its path, FAST FIVE is at its finest when the speedometer is well above 80 mph. I have no idea how much of what we're seeing in this movie is special effects, but it looks and feels real this time out (in previous films, the CGI seemed very obvious), and that's a vast improvement.
All of the performances are equally bad/good/appropriate for the material, but I did want to give special notice to Dwayne Johnson (fresh off last year's unofficial FFF entry FASTER), who might be the only actor in the film who is aware of just how silly everything that's going on around him truly is. He's not playing his role for camp, but it's very clear (and the results are quite funny) that he's adding the only sense of irony this franchise has ever experienced. He's great, don't get me wrong. He just sticks out, even without the heaving muscles. FAST FIVE is as outrageous, catastrophic, and massively entertaining as Vin Diesel's upper torso. This isn't about sitting back and removing your brain for more than two hours in order to enjoy it. Even the most intellectual among us will find things to enjoy here. You probably won't remember many of the details of the movie by the time you make it to your car, but so what? This is most definitely an in-the-moment kind of experience. Welcome to the summer movie season, folks. It gets earlier every year.
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