Friday, May 06, 2011

'Fast Five' does the impossible: it is actually decent

“Fast Five” is the fifth movie in this title-challenged street racing series. First we had “The Fast and the Furious” a decade ago. Then came “2 Fast 2 Furious” followed by “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.” Perhaps concerned by being too wordy with the third film, part four dropped the "the" and went with “Fast and Furious.” Now furious is out of the race too. At this rate the inevitable sequel will likely be called “F Six.”
All jokes aside, the film is sort of a minor miracle. Five movies into a series that wasn't that illustrious to start with, this should be the most stale piece of bread around. Somehow, against all odds, the film is actually decent.
As with the last film, “Fast Five” opens with a spectacular James Bond-style stunt sequence. This time, it involves stealing cars off a moving train and ends with our anti-heroes, Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, having to drive one of the cars off a cliff. The whole sequence, to borrow the stage name of one of the film's co-stars, is ludicrous, but it is also thrilling and highly entertaining.
Diesel's Dom and Walker's Brian are on the lam in Rio de Janeiro with Dom's sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) who is pregnant with Brian's baby. The death of some federal agents gets pinned on them, which brings down the fury of the FBI's top headhunter (Dwayne Johnson). To have the means to disappear forever, the boys plan to steal $100 million from Rio's crime kingpin.
Screenwriter Chris Morgan along with director Justin Lin, three-time veterans of the series, have wisely removed nearly all the street-racing elements from this new film. They instead have positioned it as a heist film, and this gives the film a certain degree of freshness if only because the familiar characters are now playing in a new genre.
To pull off the heist, the film brings together a team comprised of cast members from all the previous films: Matt Schulze from the first film, Tyrese Gibson and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges from two, Sung Kang from three and Gal Gadot and Tego Calderon from four.
The cast has good chemistry together even if some of the acting is only mediocre at best. There's a let's-get-the-gang together vibe similar to Steven Soderbergh's “Ocean's” movies that goes a long way to helping the film over its shortcomings.
Walker, who seemed too young for his character back in 2001, has grown into the part over the years even if his acting prowess hasn't had a similar growth spurt. Diesel is still a marble-mouthed mumbler to rival Sly Stallone. Even with their limitation there's a certain fondness that has developed for these actors in these roles.
Johnson makes a formidable and worthy adversary. There's an unavoidable throw down between Johnson and Diesel that should satisfy those who are into that kind of thing. Bridges and Gibson provide some nice comic relief. The ladies of the cast provide little more than their physical assets.
The film ends like it begins with an absurd but energetic and exciting action sequence with Walker and Diesel behind the wheel of two separate cars that have literally pulled a vault from the building it was in. They hit the streets of Rio dragging the vault behind them. Most movie car chases are instantly forgettable, but “Fast Five” deserves credit for originality, at least in this one aspect of the film.
This is by no means high art. It isn't even high-end entertainment, but it works as mindless action escapism and without the nasty hangover you get from a Michael Bay movie.

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