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REVIEW: FAST FIVE

Fast Five is the best ‘Fast and Furious’ film. By a large stretch. To many, that’s like saying prostate cancer is the best form of cancer but it’s true. Justin Lin has made a very effective summer movie that delivers an incredible amount of entertainment. Especially considering the fact that the series had no right becoming what it has become. The first film was a lowest common denominator teen-centric action flick geared almost entirely around director Rob Cohen’s now horribly dated computer assisted car FX shenanigans and two then mostly unknown young actors with chiseled abs. And it was huge. The second film was a markedly better product and though a decent film the third Japanese installment seemed to be the death knell of the series as a theatrical franchise. Vin Diesel’s drawing power was proven in spades when the dismal fourth Fast and Furious made a mint and proved this series had more legs than anyone could have expected. Unkillable. It was like a roach. But something happened along the way. This series somehow evolved into not a harbinger of some unwanted cinematic apocalypse but a nice little diversion. It’s outgrown its auto-centric hook and become an interesting little outlaw saga, all things considered. It’s still pretty people in pretty cars but this fifth film seems to wants more than just be a juiced up rehash.

Fast Five still retains the series’ brawny physics and reality challenging action sequences but marries it to an Ocean’s Eleven ensemble aesthetic that actually works. Though no one is ever going to hand Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, or Tyrese Gibson an acting award there’s a surprising amount of effort given towards making this collection of characters familial and somewhat faceted. There’s also quite a bit of heart here and it showcases that regardless of how the series got to a fifth installment, this isn’t some cash grab. There’s actual emotion here and it helps cut the insane amounts of motion.

The premise is this: Cars.

To elaborate, after Diesel’s Dominic Toretto’s is busted out of a prison bus by his sister [Jordana Brewster] and Paul Walker’s ex-Fed Brian O’Conner the whole crew becomes the Most Wanted crooks around. As a result they escape to Rio where they run afoul of a dangerous crime syndicate let by Joaquim (“The machine is still on, Moira!“) de Almeida. Cornered, they decide to fight back and rid the villainous man of his massive stacks of money. As a result they reach out to their circle of friends, a cast of of returning supporting characters from the previous films. Of course as is the case with big sequels a new wrinkle is thrown into the mix and it’s a big one. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. As a special agent with a team of his own eccentric partners the action star brings intensity and charisma to the lawmaking side and everyone within fifty miles of the theater know it’s only a matter of time before his massive biceps go up against Diesel’s. It’s familiar, it’s manipulative, and it works. Somehow all of these little characters make one rather nice family.

The entire cast is a collection of archetypes but as the film moves on it gives choice moments to the smaller characters, creating at least the illusion of character development. It’s hard not to succumb. Especially considering the sheer amount of energy put towards delivering bang for buck. Everyone brings a little to the proceedings whether it be the bickering duo of Latin crooks (who owe a debt to Ocean‘s Casey Affleck/Scott Caan tandem), Ludacris and Tyrese’s competitive hustlers, Matt Schulze’s hothead, or smoking hot duo of ladies on both sides of the law. It’s simply hard not to be entertained. It’s also nice to see producer/star Diesel loosen the tough guy belt here and provide some surprisingly tender moments. His star has faded but there’s no doubt that when he’s in one of these films he has the audience in the palm of his hand. Paul Walker does his best to be the straight man and though saddled with the semi-extraneous Jordana Brewster he acquits himself well. Dwayne Johnson is larger than life through the first two acts, sweating profusely and looking as pumped up as ever before. He also gets to use up the one F-Bomb the MPAA allows and just when his schtick has worn thin he’s given some fun new things to do in the film’s last act.

Fast Five is bloated and some of the action is insanely dumb, but damn if it doesn’t work. And surprisingly this film feels as big as any other movie around. This is as toned up and polished as any other film coming out this summer. In fact, when the smoke clears I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s bested both the numbers and the overall entertainment value of some much higher profile movies.

This is two hours and ten minutes of movie, which is a lot for vehicular bromance, but it pulls it off. There is a really nice balance here and it without a doubt proves that Justin Lin is a director to be reckoned with. If the guy got handed a Terminator or Aliens type of project it’d be in safe hands.

When there’s not a big action scene there’s a nice comedic moment or a tender character bit. If that’s not going on, the plot is moving along as the villain is treated to bad news from his useless lieutenant (Michael Irby, whose ability to show up unharmed after each action sequence became a running joke). The movie never really stagnates and somehow has no problem veering into some pretty crazy terrain in terms of scope, property damage, and moral ambiguity. It’s good to be young, dumb, and full of come.

It’s the PG-13 Bad Boys 2.

Coming from me that’s a big compliment.

[rating:3.5]

 

Also, stay for the credits. There’s a twist that will have hardcore fans of the series anxious for the sixth movie and others wondering if they’d stumbled onto a soap opera.