Friday, May 13, 2011

"Fast Five" (2011)

Starring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson
Written by Chris Morgan
Directed by Justin Lin
Rated PG-13 - Language, violence
Running Time: 130 minutes
Trailer - via youTube

Fast Five (Score)I'm about to use a word in association with "The Fast and the Furious" that I'm sure no one would ever have guessed would come up in the process of this review: Smart.

When we last left our heroes, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) has been convicted of his crimes and is en route to incarceration.  Former Federal agent Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) and Dom's sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) cause a bus crash to bust Toretto free.  Some time later, Brian and Mia arrive in Rio de Janeiro where they meet up with Dom's old friend and Brian's rival Vince (Matt Shulze) who convinces them to join him on a heist of three high-end cars from a moving train.  Dom shows up just in time to help with the heist, but it goes sour when the rest of the crew Vince is working with murder three DEA agents on the train, and Dom, Mia and Brian go on the run from the evil Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida) who wants he car they've stolen from the train.

Meanwhile, the trio is blamed for the DEA agents' murders, and thus their status as fugitives is upgraded.  Soon, Federal Agent Hobbs (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) arrives in Rio to hunt down Brian and Dom.  Soon enough, Brian and Dom discover that hidden inside the GPS unit of the car Mia stole from the train is a data chip which has the locations of all of Reyes' money houses, basically the addresses for some $100 million in cash.  Deciding that they can't be on the run for the rest of their lives, Brian and Dom concoct a bold plan to steal all of Reyes' money.  To do so, they'll recruit all their old friends from previous adventures including Roman Pierce (Tyrese Gibson), Han Seoul-Oh (Sung Kang), Tej Parker (Ludacris), Gisele Yashar (Gal Gadot), Tego Leo (Tego Calderon) and Rico Santos (Dom Omar).

"Fast Five" is an intriguing entry in a series that, somehow, seems to get better with each successive film, totally blowing away the old "diminishing returns" path of typical sequels.  It's a film that has its formula down pat - that is, to present a fairly basic plot loaded with simplistic but occasionally funny dialogue punctuated by a few incredible sequences of vehicular insanity.  It's a combination that keeps audiences coming back for more, and this fifth film even manages to turn the entire series on its ear and be even more successful than previous entries in the series.

Here's the smart thing that "Fast Five" does - it doesn't retread the same street-racing premise of the original films.  Instead, that concept is kept to a minimum while the characters embark on an audacious heist of $100 million in cash money.  Though "Fast Five" includes some nods to its street-racing origins, the entire plot is centered around stealing Reyes' money.  The producers have been public that this is the new direction for the series - to have the characters go on a series of new adventures that will always involve all kinds of ridiculous driving sequences, but they're pretty much done with illegal street racing.

I couldn't be happier with the results.  Sure, the characters are essentially basic constructs.  No one is looking to the "Fast and Furious" franchise for deep characterization.  The characters here all exist to serve a purpose, whether its comedic relief, badassery, sexual appeal, whatever.  They don't exist to tug at our heart strings or make us consider any real deep moral or philosophical quandaries...

...they exist to fuck shit up.  And thankfully director Justin Lin, who has helmed the series since "Tokyo Drift," is perfectly capable of getting that done.  The action sequences in "Fast Five" are confidently directed, and varied enough that we're never bored with them.  There are foot chases, gunfights, car chases, fist fights, and many, many, many destroyed cars.  The film's climax doesn't even seem to bother with any kind of realistic physics, but, seriously, who cares?  With that much explosively fun chaos going on, cars getting crushed every which way, gunfire, roaring engines and a pounding soundtrack by Brian Tyler, is the fact that it's totally absurd really going to get in your way?  The finale chase sequence is just destructive joy on film as Brian and Dom tear through the streets of Rio in muscle cars dragging an entire vault behind them.  The train heist is equally fun, too, especially when things go very wrong and end up leaving Paul Walker hanging precariously off the side of a burning truck that had crashed into a train car. 

But one of the things that had excited me since the film's announcement was the casting: Vin Diesel is going to fight The Rock.  Dwayne Johnson, who I've always liked as an actor (I think he's got good presence and comedic timing) hasn't ever really come into his own as an action star the way I wanted him to.  He's gotten too bogged down over the last few years making family comedies instead of kicking ass like he should, even though he's pretty decent at the comedy stuff.  Here, he's in full-on badass mode, and that's great to see.  The man is truly massive, I have no idea how he can move the way he does, but his fight with Diesel is a great few minutes of the picture.  (Try to ignore the fact that the two of them come out of such a brutal, ridiculous battle almost totally unscathed in the next scene).  The fight gets a little lost in shaky camera nonsense, which is too bad, plus it's difficult to make out which muscly bald guy is which, but it's still a pretty sweet fight.  Bravo, gentlemen.  I do hope that Johnson returns for a sixth film and gets another go around with Diesel.  I really do.

"Fast Five" can go on a bit too long; it's over 2 hours in length, but when the carnage starts, time seems to fly.  There are subplots for a lot of characters, including Mia expecting a child, Vince trying to earn back Dom's trust, and Han falling for Gisele.  These are all handled with only the basic amount of development necessary to make it work, but nothing more.  The film could easily lose some of this stuff to get back down under two hours and not have lost anything of any particular merit, though it's commendable that the film cares enough about its ensemble cast to give them all something to do.

My good friend Jackie (who I totally adore for sharing the deep, not-so-guilty pleasures of these movies with me) and I saw "Fast Five" at the Jordan's Furniture IMAX Theater in Natick, and that was a total blast.  Beforehand, the introduction says that Jordan's wants to give you the ultimate theatre experience, and they're not kidding.  There are no obnoxious ads running, no looped trivia with the same questions over and over, the seats are that memory foam stuff which is incredibly comfortable, and they even rumble slightly to help the immersive surround sound.  All this included on a gigantic screen for less than the price of that 3D nonsense that's going around at regular theatres. 

"Fast Five" is a great action flick to start off the summer.  Though it runs a little too long, it's the most fun film in the franchise which continues to defy sequel-itis.  The series may have outgrown its street-racing past, but it's moving on into territory with even more potential for big action and a fun time at the movies.

See Also
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift