A film review by Craig J. Koban May 1, 2011


2011, PG-13, 130 mins.

Vin Diesel: Dominic / Paul Walker: Brian / Jordana Brewster: Mia / Dwayne Johnson: Hobbs / Tyrese Gibson: Roman

Directed by Justin Lin / Written by Chris Morgan, based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson

Wow.  This should not happen.  Like, ever.  I should not like fifth films in a series as much as I did with FAST FIVE, aka THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: PART 5

Yet, gosh darn it, this entry in the bros, hos, and autos series contains some of the most ridiculously exhilarating, shamelessly inventive, and unapologetically pulse-pounding action scenes I’ve seen in a long while that revels in testosterone heavy awesomeness.  It’s one of the great examples of the “Cinema of Incredulity” genre, one that, as I have pointed out in the past, contains action films that leap well beyond normal chasms of logic to the point where you laugh at and with them and just take in and enjoy the ride.   

Yes, I have been a F&F apologist over the years.  I thoroughly enjoyed the 2001 original, which implicitly knew that it was aiming for the often forgotten B-grade, low budget, drive-in exploitation chic formula of yesteryear.  Then came the sequel, the hilariously titled 2 FAST, 2 FURIOUS that was sans star Vin Diesel, but still knew how to deliver on the requisite elements of grease monkey bromance, high octane muscle and import car intrigue, and more skanky hos than you’d find in Charlie Sheen’s pad. Then came the extremely goofy THE FAST AND FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT, a bad film that knew it was bad which made it a compelling good time.  Perhaps more than anything, all of the F&F films, including the most recent, FAST AND FURIOUS, worked overtime in the way they eroticized the automobile.  All of these films, in essence, are blatant car porn. 

2009’s FAST AND FURIOUS was the only entry in the series that I did not wholeheartedly recommend, mostly because it was just spinning its wheels - pardon the pun - on autopilot.  I wrote at the end of my review for it that the series desperately needed to tune itself up or face being discarded to the movie junkyard once and for all.  It appears that the makers of FAST FIVE have sincerely taken my advice.  This improbable fifth entry certainly crams the silver screen with muscle bound action figures, nitro-powered autos, vehicular mayhem and carnage, and scantily dressed bimbos as much as the previous films, to be fair, but FAST FIVE makes a very wise choice from abandoning the street racing subculture of the whole series and instead opts to be a fairly involving and exciting heist flick, much akin to OCEANS ELEVEN.  The personas are the same, as are they character dynamics, but the overall formula for this series has been completely jettisoned in favor of kick-starting it in new directions, which is arguably what this series should have done four films ago. 

FAST FIVE opens with an unadulterated bang, as it shows highlights of what occurred at the end of FAST AND FURIOUS: Dominic (Diesel, in all of his pulsating, gravel voiced glory) was arrested, sentenced to life, and placed on board a transport bus taking him to prison.  What we see now is how former FBI agent turned criminal Brain (Paul Walker) and Dom’s sister and Brian’s girlfriend, Mia (Jordana Brewster) organize a daring high speed jailbreak that, in terms of chaos and pandemonium, rivals a similar prison train break from THE FUGITIVE.  Let’s just say that some head-spinning driving and a precision hit against the bus flips the vehicle and frees Dominic.  Head shakingly unbelievable?  Yes.  Exciting as hell?  Affirmative. 

Since Brain and Mia sprung one of the most wanted men in America, they too have become hotly sought after fugitives.  The trio then decides to lay as low as possible and heads straight for Rio (I’m not entirely sure how they managed to get past airport security, but never mind).  While there they reconnect with an old acquaintances and Dominic, dead tired of running from the law, decides to take one incalculably huge gamble to secure his “family’s” freedom once and for all: he wants to steal over $100 million, in cash, from a viscous drug kingpin (Joaquim de Almedia, who may be typecast playing these types of roles forever) that is stashed…wait for it…in a corrupt police station’s vault.  Realizing the enormity and danger of the task, Dom and Brian decided they need their own personal A-Team to pull of this dicey plan, so they enlist some friends and confidants (from the previous F&F films) to assist them.  The implementation of their plan is made more difficult with the presence of brooding, hulking, and perpetually sweating U.S. special agent named Hobbs (played by the brooding, hulking, and perpetually sweaty Dwayne Johnson, in pure badass mode), who is about to rain down a Godlike firestorm of whoop ass on Dominic and his party. 

One of the finest things this entry does is to bring back some much-needed fresh faces (like Tyrese Gibson and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) to inject some spunk and light comedy into the mixture.  One of the best additions, however, would most certainly be the inanely juiced-up visage of The Rock (Dwayne, you need to abandon your birth name please) who continues his bid – especially after last year’s enjoyably trashy FASTER – for reclaiming the once sought after action hero title belt that he absconded from when he made a series of forgettable family films.  Growling and barking orders, nonchalantly throwing protocol and safety of others to the crapper, and using his beefy physique and penchant for laying a maelstrom of bullets fly on his prey, Johnson is an unmitigated scream as a one-man army hell bent on taking down Dominic and company.  The scene where Diesel and The Rock finally have a stare down followed by a serious pummel-a-thon is one of the series’ giddy, adrenaline surging, and macho-centric highlights. 

The film is also book ended, so to speak, by two action set pieces that have to be seen to be believed.  The first is as breathlessly paced and bravura display of stunt work where Dominic and Brian attempt to steal some very expensive sports cars off of a moving train...without stopping.  I will not say how they achieve their goals, but let’s just say that their plan cheerfully disregards physics, gravity, and most earth-bound logic, but it does not matter because it's so technically well coordinated and ends with such a rush that you are willing to forget its ridiculousness.  The ending involves the heroes escaping an exploding sidecar, but then has them free fall – while in their convertible – down an immeasurably large canyon.  The film wisely drops out all sound as they plummet, and this moment is a real heart-stopping rush.  

The film’s climatic action sequence is arguably the most zany, wickedly preposterous, but electrifyingly enjoyable high speed chase involving the police since the original BLUES BROTHERS.   Brian and Dominic take their camouflaged police muscle cars, attach each to the police station’s money vault, and then yank it right out of its spot and proceed to tear down the streets of Rio with it in tow and most of the police in feverous pursuit.  The sheer level of destruction and demolition is as delightfully over-the-top as it is a wanton spectacle of, yup, utter incredulity.  One thing is for sure: FAST FIVE is the first film in history to have a careening bank vault crash through another bank.

FAST FIVE was directed by Justin Lin, who helmed the last two entries and this time he seems more akin to shooting things for real, whether it be the gaudy atmosphere and grit of the Rio hillsides and backstreet slums or the manner he appears to use actual cars, breakneck editing, and stunt choreography to sell the action (the final scene apparently destroyed 200 cars in the process of filming).  Sure, FAST FIVE has its issues: the drug kingpin villain is right out of the  Antagonist 101 playbook.  Paul Walker is still so egregiously stoic and blandly wooden that you have to remind yourself that he’s one of the heroes.  That, and he is paired with Jordana Brewster who has zero spunk or enthusiasm.  Yet, I cared far less about these nitpicks this go around, because FAST FIVE achieves the impossible by erasing the memory of four inferior sequels that predicated it and reinvents the once decaying franchise into a new breed of noisy, trashy, frenzied, and subversively and unashamedly silly joy ride.  

And as for its place in the Cinema of Incredulity genre?  FAST FIVE graduates with great distinction.. 

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