By Linc Leifeste | April 29, 2011
Director: Justin Lin
Writer: Chris Morgan
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Matt Schulze, Sung Kang, Dwayne Johnson
I feel it’s only fair to get something out of the way up front…I’ve never seen a single one of the first four installments in The Fast and the Furious franchise. And while I’m in confessional mode, let me add that I’m not a big fan of action films. I have a theory on action films and it’s this: they’re a lot like drugs. At the beginning they’re a real thrill ride (or you simply OD). Just a small hit and you’re on your way. But the more you use, the smaller the thrill and the more you need. And Fast Five is an all-out full-blown action film, no small doses for the novice here. So if the sounds of punches landing, metal crunching, glass shattering, gunshots ringing, explosions blasting, and engines revving and roaring (of course) is your idea of cinematic excellence and you’re not concerned with the finer points of plot development or acting, you’re in for the thrill ride of a lifetime. Or at least of the week.
Fast Five is the fifth installment in the “Fast and Furious” franchise, although evidently it’s chronologically the third, and nearly all of the regulars are back for more. The film opens with ex-FBI agent and current fugitive Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) and Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster) enjoying a romantic Brazilian train ride before all hell breaks loose in an absurdly entertaining action sequence involving dueling gangs stealing three law enforcement-seized cars from the train. Let me say that I’m not sure the all the laws of physics were strictly followed in filming the sequence but that’s not the point. The laws of adrenaline-inducing action trump all. Its well into this opening sequence before “Dom” Toretto (Vin Diesel) makes his crowd-pleasing appearance, muscles bulging and words few. Dom, after all, is a man of action. Not words. Or thoughts, really.
From there, things just get wilder, louder and faster. Without recounting the whole plot (and in this film narrative development is only a burdensome afterthought), Dom and gang ultimately have to assemble a crack team of impressively racially diverse bad-asses and experts to pull off the legendary “one last job,” hitting every single safe house around the city of Rio belonging to crime boss Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida) in order to steal every bit of his cash. And not only is Reyes the biggest, baddest gangster in all of Brazil, he also happens to have the entire police force under his thumb.
Complicating matters further for Dom and his crew is the appearance of American super-cop Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), whose single-minded mission is to capture or kill Dom and Brian. Director Justin Lin knows what the crowd is waiting for and he’s a bit of a tease in saving the muscle-bound knuckle-scraping two-step dance between Dom and Hobbs until well into the film. I’m sure the payoff is intense for those who are into the image of two shaved-head and muscle-bound titans (the temptation was there to say “steroid-enhanced” but I don’t want to accuse without evidence) beating each other senseless while rolling around in each other’s arms, but for me I couldn’t shake the sensation that no mere human could sustain this kind of beating and keep standing. Of course, I couldn’t even tell whose fist was pounding whose bald head during much of the shadowy fight sequence. And it didn’t really matter as long as both sides landed their fair share of punches before the bout was finished. And in fairness, the fight scene seemed more natural and less forced than the dialogue between the two characters, in which the actors awkwardly attempt to portray more emotion through facial expressions than through words.
Ultimately, of course, Dom and Hobbs are forced into each other’s arms and begrudgingly wind up playing for the same team. Madness proceeds in the form of exploding toilets, a bold day-time robbery of a well-fortified police station (using a fleet of stolen police cars!), and a mad car chase through the streets of Rio involving a fleet of bad-guys pursuing a gargantuan safe being pulled behind two cars that literally crushes every single obstacle (be it car or building) that happens to come in its path.
While filled with overcooked muscles and undercooked depth, Fast Five wears its surprisingly tender (if somewhat teenage) heart firmly on its sleeve. The main them of the film (besides action and the epic battle between Vin and The Rock) seems to be family and the ties that bind. Mia and Dom are siblings and Brian (former enemy of Dom) has Mia in a family way. Dom makes it clear that he’ll do anything for his family. The film also deals with betrayal within the family and what it takes to be accepted again once you’ve betrayed family trust. But it’s not just blood relations that make up the family of Fast Five. The whole diverse gang serves as a rag-tag family built around common values. Or a common love of fast cars and stolen goods. Or something like that. And while the narrative and the acting aren’t up to the task of effectively conveying the true messy nature of love in all it’s fractured glory, they do love each other in their own special way.
Judging from the packed screening that I attended and the enthusiastic crowd response throughout the film, there is a huge market for this film. So what’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just turn off the analytical workings of my mind and enjoy the thrill ride? Well, back to my earlier action film drug analogy. Despite enjoying the occasional action-packed summer blockbuster I’m still basically an action drug novice. So the opening sequence was a huge thrill ride for me but by 30 minutes in my disbelief had been fully suspended and my system had overloaded on audio-visual smack, my brain had shut down and I’d entered a semi-comatose state. I’d flat-lined. Code blue. But I did survive to leave the theater and as I slowly walked out into the still night air I realized just how much I love peace and quiet. So the question that’s probably being begged here: “Why did you review this film?” Well, the simple answer is that there was a job to be done. And I’m nothing if not a man of action! Even if not a man of action films.