May 9, 2011

Movie Review: Fast Five

I cannot claim to be a big fan of the Fast & Furious franchise. It certainly has had its entertaining moments, but not really being a "car guy" kept me at something of an arm's length away. Sure, I enjoyed the action and the brain dead aspects of its entertainment, but it is not a franchise I would actively seek out. That said, I have seen all of the films, for better or worse leading up to this one. Initially I was not all that thrilled as the last movie was pretty terrible, but I still had that itch of curiosity. There was something about Fast Five that seemed a little different, a little bigger, and even a little fresher. It didn't hurt that Dwayne Johnson had joined the cast, the guy could be a big action star and anything that keeps him away from the kiddie fare is all right by me.

So, I gathered up a few friends and headed off to the movies, hoping for the best but not really expecting too much. Seriously, the movie is north of two hours? Talk about unnecessary... Well, we got our popcorn and found some seats and settled in for the long haul of brain dead action. As we came out the other side of the experience, I have to say that Fast Five just may be my favorite of the series. This is not to call it great, a classic, or even good, but it delivers what it promises in high octane and completely ridiculous action sequences that come on foot and in the air and include as many flying fists and bullets as it does cars.

It is rare that the fifth film in a franchise proves to be the best of the bunch, but I feel pretty secure in saying that it has happened now. It may have to do with the way they cram in pretty much all the major players from the prior four installments, or the addition of the Rock as the pursuing fed, maybe it is crazy, physics defying action, or could it just be the fact they have almost completely moved away from the car culture that spawned the franchise in the first place? Actually, it is probably a combination of the bunch.

Fast Five is a movie that draws much inspiration from the Ocean's series, The Italian Job, and any number of other heist movies. Now, I am not going to map out the history of the series, I doubt I could and frankly I cannot say I care all that much to. This fifth outing picks up after Dom (Vin Diesel) is broken out of jail. The setting has shifted to Rio where Brian (Paul Walker) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) are holed up.

Looking for some cash to tide them over, they sign up for a car heist, with the trick being the cars are on a moving train. Of course, the gig does sideways and our heroes find themselves targeted by Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), the criminal lord of Rio, as well as Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson). This leads Dom to get the gang of the prior four films together to take the fight to Reyes by staging a heist and then disappearing forever.

That's all the plot you really need. There are a couple of talk moments and comedic sidekick interference to handle the requisite character development. The rest of the time is filled with crazy action, action used to cover up logic lapses and anything approaching intelligence. This really is a crowd pleasing sort of movie, through some explosive eye candy on the screen, some testosterone fueled male-bonding, some scantily clad ladies, toss in a couple of big guns, a fist fight or two, and a crazy, unrealistic action climax and you are all set.

I really enjoyed Fast Five. I sat there with an incredulous grin on my face watching that crazy footrace on the the rooftops, the knock down drag out between Vin and Dwayne, the macho posturing, the big gunfights that randomly break out, and the safe dragging final race. Crazy stuff! And lets not forget the race for pinks, oh wait, we didn't get to see that. How odd is that? A movie series inspired by the underground car racing scene not showing the race?

Justin Lin does a fine job directing the action here. There is no doubt he knows how, the key now is to marry that with the intelligence he displayed back in his debut, Better Luck Tomorrow. He is being shopped with Arnold for the next Terminator sequel, if there was a better time to bring his intelligent and action film making prowess together, I don't know what it is.

In the end, this is a movie to have a little fun with and is another example that movies can be fun and do not always require an engaged brain. Just remember these movies are not generally great, but they do help pave the way for summer blockbuster fare.


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