May 02 2011
4 out of 5 stars
You know what critics? You can go to hell.
That’s right, I’m talking to the 80% of you currently giving Fast Five rave reviews, a sudden and stark contrast to the 50-25% ratings previously handed to each film the franchise.
For years now, I’ve been a Fast and the Furious apologist. I landed my first reporting job on the film staff of the Michigan Daily by writing a 4 star review of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. They questioned my taste, but said my point was well made. Taking it purely for what it was, that movie was an absolute blast.
The same is true for the other installments in the series. Rank them in whatever order you like, but the fundamental premise has remained the same. Ridiculous, over the top automobile action mixed with an organized crime plotline. The formula hasn’t changed for Fast Five, so why now are critics just coming around?
The analysis is all the same. Yes, it’s stupid, but the action is great, and if you don’t take it seriously, it’s a lot of fun. Where these people have been for the entire franchise, I do not know, but I’m glad that the mainstream is finally viewing these movies the way I always have.
There are a lot more assault weapons and less underbody lights and hydraulics than there used to be.
So what of it? Is Fast Five really God’s gift to summer blockbusters as all these converts would have you believe? In a way, yes. Fast Five has captured what’s been missing from so many movies in this day and age. Its action is REAL. No CGI, just flesh and blood and metal, and it creates a visceral action film the likes of which we rarely find today in a world of superheroes and toy robots who seem to have a monopoly on the blockbuster genre.
Director Justin Lin took over the franchise at Tokyo Drift, and has ramped up the insanity of his car stunts in each subsequent feature. Fast Five features not only the best of these scenes in the franchise, but I would argue in cinema history. In terms of pure madness, Steve McQueen has nothing on Vin Diesel here.
The plot is largely inconsequential as it always is. The gang is on the run for being criminals as usual, and they’ve landed in Rio looking for work. When their old friend Vince (Matt Schulze) offers them a job that promises some quick cash, Brian (Paul Walker), Mia (Jordana Brewster) and Dom (Vin Diesel) jump at the opportunity. But as it happens it’s a set-up by a local crime boss, and in a car he wants them to steal is a chip containing the location of all his safehouses full of dirty cash. A few bullets and explosions later, and the team is in dire straits as they have an entire criminal empire on their tail.
But they’re not the only ones in pursuit. The FBI has commissioned manhunter extraordinare Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) to track down the fugitives, and his brute force approach is nothing to be reckoned with. The team has to dodge him while devising a plan to steal all the safehouse money and get away clean.
Vin Diesel vs. The Rock is a match up more epic than any car chase.
Fast Five assembles the Avengers of its series, and brings members back from each installment. Vince from the original, Tej (Ludacris), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Leo (Tego Calderon) and Santos (Don Omar) from 2 Fast, Han (Sung Kang) from Tokyo Drift and Gisele (Gal Gadot) from the last chapter. This supporting cast creates most of the film’s laughs, and for fans of the series, it’s rather cool to see all these characters from past movies in one place.
Fast Five has more in common with Ocean’s Eleven and The Italian Job than it does its own past installments, and that’s not always a good thing. There’s an incredibly long stretch in the middle of the film where there’s not an actual action sequence for close to an hour. There were some poor editing decisions made here, as in one scene Brian and Dom track down a local race club so they can win some pink slips for some heist cars. They challenge the local champion, and the audience gears up for a race. Instead, the scene cuts to them rolling into the hideout with the man’s car. Even if we know they obviously would have won that race, it was the perfect moment to show it, and you could feel the disappointment in the audience when they skipped what would have been a classic Fast and Furious drag race sequence.
But despite its rather slow hour, the film is bookended by such absurd and adrenaline filled action scenes, you’ll forget all about the lulls. The opening train sequence is crazy enough, but the concluding car stunt where two Dodge Chargers pull a room-sized metal safe through downtown Rio while being chased by the entire police force is one of the most insane to ever take place in a movie.
I love it when a plan comes together.
It’s one of the most physically implausible action sequences you’ll ever witness, and one that could have an entire Mythbusters episode devoted to it, but as the massive safe tumbles through buildings and police cruisers alike, you won’t be bothered by such a silly concept as physics. The concluding moments where the chase moves to a narrow bridge is so expertly crafted, you’ll want to stand up and cheer when it’s over. In my theater, a few people did.
The movie is just satisfying. The Fast and the Furious series has mastered mindless entertainment. They’ve taken stupid action and made it an art form, and the bank vault scene is just the crown on a decade of similarly exhilarating cars stunts. The characters are likable, the cast is hot, the cars are fast, the action is mind-blowing and there’s nothing more you should need to ask out of a summer blockbuster. I’m just glad everyone else finally agrees with me.
4 out of 5 stars
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