Directed by Justin Lin
Screenplay by Chris Morgan
Vin Diesel as Dominic Toretto
Paul Walker as Brian O’Conner
Jordana Brewster as Mia
Tyrese Gibson as Roman
Ludacris as Tej
Dwayne Johnson as Hobbs
Running time: 130 minutes
Motion Picture Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, sexual content and language.
‘Fast Five’ shines when Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel are on screen, but just can’t shake the feeling that we’ve been there, done that.
Fast Five is the Ocean’s Thirteen of car race heist flicks, bringing back all of the colleagues Dominic Teretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) have worked with over the previous four entries in the series to pull one last job. In addition to series alums Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Sung Kane and Gal Gadot, who rejoin the original film’s cast, we are also introduced to Hobbs, a DEA agent played by Dwayne Johnson. Johnson at one time was poised to take over the action megastar crown after solid flicks like The Rundown and Walking Tall. After a spate of kiddie movies, he has made a return to form with this and last year’s minimalist revenge film Faster. His presence as the heavy to Vin Diesel’s antihero Dom is much welcomed and improves a film that relies upon a cliché-heavy script that feels like it was just blended together from previous films in the franchise.
This time around we are transplanted to Brazil after an opening sequence in which Mia (Jordana Brewster) and Brian break Dom out of a prison transport. During a heist in which the crew steals two cars from a speeding train (which leads to one of the most ridiculous and obviously fake “stunts” I’ve ever seen in a film, ending with the car and the men plunging off a cliff into a river far below), they are betrayed by their employer and corrupt politician, Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), and take off with one of the cars they were supposed to turn over to him. They soon discover that the car’s GPS has the locations of this local kingpin’s money laundering houses, and they decide to take him for all he’s got, calling in their friends from across the globe. Meanwhile, as a result of the botched heist on the train, they are framed for the murder of two DEA agents, and are set upon by Agent Hobbs.
There are plenty of car chases, explosions, fistfights, and gunfights to hold the proceedings together, which is lucky considering the plotting is so wafer thin. As ridiculous and sometimes plain dumb a film as Fast Five is, I have to give it credit for going all the way and at least making an entertaining flick to kick-start the summer blockbuster season. Director Justin Lin, who has now directed three entries in the series, pulls off some fairly classy action sequences along with stunt coordinator Agnaldo Bueno. A chase through the slums of Rio de Janeiro successfully juggles a whole lot of different elements that could easily have become a jumbled mess. The finale sees Dom and Brian dragging a bank vault through the streets of Rio and using it like a wrecking ball to take out a barrage of oncoming police cars.
For the first twenty minutes or so, it’s rough going, with not much happening, but once the plot kicks into gear after the train heist, the film moves along at a breakneck pace and leaves little time to consider its lesser moments. Weak dialogue and ludicrous “emotional” situations cast a “bad movie” shadow over the bulk of 80s action movies which are clearly a heavy influence on this film. Fast Five, which is largely enjoyable, should have tried harder to avoid these traps if it seeks new members to the franchise’s already sizable following. These movies don’t need contrived angst to get in the way of all the action.
Other than the dialogue’s unwieldiness at times, the cast is actually pretty solid. It’s easy to forget that these actors were all once promising young stars, poised to take the world by storm after the first film came out a decade ago, but all of whom never managed to reach the heights their talent seemed to promise. To see them inhabiting these roles again is hard to believe. Maybe it’s just their familiarity with the characters, but there’s an effortlessness to their acting despite the frequently embarrassing dialogue. They all seem to be having fun just being around one another.
The film really shines when Johnson’s on screen, side by side with Diesel. The actor formerly known as The Rock is all sweat-streaked muscle under a skin-tight black shirt with a gun and holster strapped tight over his khakis; a lean tactician unafraid to use force to bring down anyone in his path. This contrasts visually with Diesel’s slightly bulkier build, which typifies Dom’s status as a straight-up brawler who can plan a flawless heist but may not be the smartest guy in the room. The final confrontation between the two is a knockdown drag-out fight in which they tear through walls, windows and pulverize the crap out of one another. It’s a thrilling scene to watch because of the sheer muscle power on display, and harkens back to the heyday of super-dumb but super-good Stallone/Van Damme/Schwarzenneger action extravaganzas.
Surprisingly, the film isn’t that bad. It’s actually pretty fun. It’s just not a classic. It’s instant gratification that will be forgotten by most after they leave the darkness of the theater. As good as Johnson’s performance and the chemistry between the actors is, they can’t save the movie from the sense of déjà vu that accompanies the audience throughout. And it’s always a shame to see elaborate car stunts that don’t actually involve real cars. Or people. With a better script and a bit more real-life stunt work, this franchise could have the future that Universal clearly wants it to have. Fast Five will no doubt thrill its fan base and entertain anyone looking for a simple diversion.