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Movie Review: ‘Fast Five’

April 29, 2011

Maybe I should preface this with the disclaimer that I’ve not seen any of the previous installments of The Fast and the Furious. I’m not a fan of Vin Diesel; I’m not particularly interested in fast cars; and, most of the time, I’m more irritated than outright furious. I also didn’t know anything about the characters’ backstories going into the film nor was I, in full disclosure, looking forward to this screening. That said, I had a lot of fun with this flick—and evidently so did everyone else at the screening, from the critics, who laughed snarkily at the plot contrivances and flagrantly obvious exposition, to the rest of the audience, who clapped at every conceivable moment and in general ate it up like hotcake-crepes wrapped in unicorn butts.

If you have seen the other movies, you may be happy to know that the original trio of Vin Diesel (Dominic Toretto), Paul Walker (Brian O’Connor), and Jordana Brewster (Mia Toretto, Dominic’s sister and Brian’s lover) are back, as are Sung Kang (Han Lue), Tyrese Gibson (Roman Pearce), Matt Schulze (Vince), Ludacris (Tej Parker), a whole bunch of others I’m not sure were in the other several thousand Fast-and-Furiouses, and, what the hell, they got The Rock, too.

The movie begins with the jail-springing of Toretto, a stunt so implausible that not even the film itself takes it seriously, and soon the gang’s in Rio (and, after seeing the animated film Rio recently, I’m guessing that somewhere there’s an elephantine warehouse filled with stock shots of the cityscape as leered from behind Christ’s shoulder), plotting a car-jack heist for their shady friend Vince, who’s after three seized cars being transported across the country by train. The job turns out to be a setup orchestrated by the even shadier businessman Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), who’s trying to get back the one car that has a computer ship tracking all his money-laundering schemes. A violent scuffle erupts, and Toretto is framed for killing several DEA agents, and the US sends DSS agent Luke Hobbs (Dwanye Johnson) to apprehend him.

Pursued by both Hobbs and Reyes’ goons, who appear to be the entire Rio police force save for the buxom Elena Neves (Elsa Pataky), who’s coincidentally paired with Hobbs, Toretto, O’Connor, and Mia assemble a team of experts to rob Reyes, car crashes ensue.

It’s hard not to like Fast Five—even if you’re a newcomer to the franchise (which is only a slight impediment) or a stuffy film snob—in many ways it’s similar to The Expendables in that the action is fun and the tone is very light. With so many ultra-serious action films that sacrifice thrills and divertive humor for convoluted plots and affected moodiness, it’s nice to see one that not only enjoys itself but also has the good spirit to mock its weaknesses. For example, the scene where Hobbs and Neves first meet makes absolutely no attempt to hide the fact that it’s exposition—Hobbs simply lists Neves’ own qualifications to her as if she were an amnesiac. Or, earlier still, when Toretto is sprung from prison in a spectacular bus crash, a subsequent news broadcast offhandedly mentions that, “amazingly,” there were no fatalities. Exposition and plot are irritating but necessary in a movie like this, and director Justin Lin doesn’t just keep them to a minimum, he recognizes his own contrivances to play them for laughs at the same time subtly reminding the snootier portions of the audience that Fast Five is, after all, an action film.

Of course, Fast Five has its flaws. The acting, especially Diesel and Johnson, isn’t anything stellar; the action sequences, particularly the final car chase, go on too long (the film itself is an extended 131 minutes) and can be hard to decipher thanks to their liberal use of the shaky cam; and the characters’ personalities are largely defined by whatever foreknowledge you have of the actors “portraying” them.

But who cares? It’s fun. The first half of the movie had the critics and the rest of the audience laughing at different moments, but by the end, we were all laughing together.



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