By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
Let me not overstate this.
When I call Fast Five, the fifth installment in the Fast and the Furious franchise of action thrillers, “the best of the bunch,” I offer the assessment as someone who hasn’t found any of the previous quartet of outings recommendable.
First there was The Fast and the Furious (2001). Followed by 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003). Next up was The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006). Then came Fast & Furious (2009).
Now, many hundreds of millions of dollars later, we get Fast Five, the fourth sequel and fifth adventure in the vroom-vroom franchise. Would that the film was as mercifully brief as the title.
That said, however, although the fifth installment in the franchise is not exactly the charm, it is the pick of the litter, even though, as before, excess and preposterousness trump nuance and logic. Fast Five is another pedal-to-the-metal action thriller that doesn’t need to cut to the chase: the movie is the chase.
Like its predecessors, Fast Five is a fierce and frantic tribute to the youthful urban subculture that was the illegal street racing scene in Los Angeles and is now an array of even more illegal activities involving our Boyz Under the Hood anti-heroes and their speedy cars.
All that’s really been changed are the tires. And yet…and yet.
It’s another testosterone-pumped rebellion drama starring Vin Diesel (because the disappearance of his Diesel fuel after the first adventure made the second one a no-Vin situation) with his trademark charisma. And playing second fiddle — or is it second piston? — to the cars as they endure large-scale vehicular destruction, is Paul Walker, back behind the wheel with his trademark inexpressiveness.
Featuring high-performance vehicles and non-performance thespians, Fast Five hits the ground driving, not only reuniting ex-con Dominic Toretto (Diesel) with former copy Brian O’Conner (Walker), but rounding up returnees Tyrese Gibson, Jordana Brewster, and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges in Rio de Janeiro.
It’s there that the elite team of racers, after a few of them have bungled an ambitious and complicated train heist and have been framed for murder, attempts one last job to gain their freedom from the Brazilian crime lord (Joaquim de Almeida) who wants them dead. Their plan: to steal $100 billion from him, while new-to-the-franchise Dwayne Johnson as a tenacious FBI agent tries to track them down.
Remarkable or memorable acting is not to be found in this vehicle, but at least a few of the performers — Johnson and Gibson in particular — convey their joy in an infectious way.
Justin Lin, back in the director’s chair for a third consecutive installment and collaborating for a third time with screenwriter Chris Morgan, is only a shade more interested in the “plot” than he was before. But he has become an assured action director.
And the quick dip he takes in the Mission: Impossible/Ocean’s Eleven pool of improbable group gambits has the effect of raising the film’s game: convoluted shenanigans still reign, but Morgan’s unabashedly ludicrous script has a pulse and, unprecedentedly, exhibits an interest in cerebral cleverness and surprise, even if the outline for it is borrowed and formulaic.
With extravagant, gravity-defying stunts that make the film look as cartoonish as Rio — to say nothing of the curious lack of resulting injury and death that could only be the case in an alternate universe that ignores physics the way animated features do. Fast Five cares mostly about cars as they speed, as they crash, and as they burn.
But the movie avoids the latter two fates. Oh, there’s a bit of unintentional hilarity whenever an inappropriate verbal cliché lands with a clunk, but we’re distracted from the lack of conviction or authenticity in characters’ motivations by the outlandish but undeniably exhilarating action and the good-natured patches of unforced humor.
Somehow, this time the excess, the silliness, the lack of subtlety or any semblance of depth — in other words, all the franchise’s trademark flaws — lend the film escapist entertainment value instead of blocking it.
So we’ll accelerate to 2½ stars out of 4 for the turbocharged, go-for-broke, new-and-improved crime thriller Fast Five.
And fans who would be furious if this were to be the last Fast needn’t worry. We sense a sixth.