Somehow, I’ve convinced myself that a big-budget car chase movie is in fact a “genre” film, and am thus – against my better judgment – going to offer you a review of Fast Five right now. You’ve been warned.
I didn’t really expect that I would want to write anything about this movie, which is obviously the fifth entry in a fast series of films about street racing and criminal activity. Though I’ve been a shameless consumer of summer blockbusters for pretty much my entire life, this is a series that’s always left me a little cold. It all began in the summer of 2001, when then little-known thespians Paul Walker and Vin Diesel led a young, “hot” cast in Rob Cohen’s sleeper summer hit The Fast and the Furious, which turned a budget of $38 million into a box office run of $144 million in the USA alone. The film was one of that summer’s biggest winners by default, capitalizing on the failures of films like Evolution, Swordfish, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and A.I. that were released in the same month.
Diesel and Walker alternately took breaks from the series through the next two sequels – 2 Fast 2 Furious and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift – but reunited in 2009 for Fast & Furious, which makes the FATAL mistake of neglecting to honor the word THE. A return to the formula of the first film led to a box office revival, despite an increase in wooden acting, and Fast Five was all of a sudden a good idea.
If Fast & Furious was designed to bring back the feel of the first film, Fast Five is director Justin Lin’s way of bringing back all the films and shoving everything down your throats. Cast members from all four previous films head to Rio De Janeiro as Diesel’s Dom Toretto and Walker’s Brian O’Conner (who’s still in a “we’re so awkward together because we’re terrible actors” relationship with Dom’s sister, played by Jordana Brewster) form a team to get revenge on the villain from Desperado and evade a supercop played by none other than Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. I know that was a terribly long sentence, so let me shorten it for you: Fast Five is trying everything it can to win you over.
Much to my surprise, the plan to overwhelm the viewer works very well. The film’s plot is full of holes and leaps of faith, but the bank heist set up at least feels fresh compared to the other films in the series. In fact, I’d say the film feels more like a sequel to the charming 2003 version of The Italian Job than the other films in this series. The story spreads out the members of the team into typical roles – most noticeably Tyrese Gibson as the comic relief and Gal Gadot as the eye candy – but the excess of characters gives us a chance to escape from the tired cliches that come from the scenes involving Diesel, Walker, and Brewster.
The most welcome change to the film is certainly Johnson, who appears to be enjoying himself as he uses his in-ring promo abilities to posture his way through his role as the no-nonsense agent sent to hunt down Toretto and O’Conner. Like his “sports entertainment” character, The Rock is imposing one minute and cracks wise the next, cementing himself as a physical opponent to Diesel and a….well, he doesn’t really compare to Walker, because Walker literally brings nothing to the table but horrible acting.
Fast Five keeps the pedal down for over two hours, straight through a mid-credits teaser for Fast Six that features one and a half more cameos to add to the ten returning characters from the first four films. Though it derives so much from its predecessors, it never gives us time to stop and think about what we’re watching. I went into the film wondering why all car movies couldn’t be as poetic as Vanishing Point, but it wasn’t long before thinking was no longer an option.
Fans of the other Furious films will certainly get a kick out of number Five, but I’m surprised to admit that it’s fast enough for me. This is a truly mindless summer action film that offers plenty of high-speed fun, and I’m not above turning my mind off at the door.