Race down memory lane, again
By Sean O’Connell
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Quick! Name a Hollywood franchise that has produced its finest installment on the fifth try. It’s tough to do, right? Everything from “Harry Potter” to “Police Academy” tends to peter out after two or three films. But the burly, brawny “Fast Five” bucks the trend. By shifting into a previously untapped gear, it delivers the most entertaining “Fast and Furious” adventure while also getting 2011’s summer movie season off on the right lead foot.
Let’s not get too carried away, though. This remains a “Fast” film and likely won’t win over new converts to the 10-year-old franchise. But the reason this series has survived for a decade is because it respects its target audience, caters to their adrenalized needs and rarely tries to be something it isn’t.
This is a souped-up soap opera. It’s “Guiding Light” for guys. Chris Morgan’s script trots out melodramatic plot twists that are the norm on daytime television: unplanned pregnancies; betrayals orchestrated by close teammates; a presumed-dead character returning from the grave. But as long as cars are racing, metal is crunching and bikinis are hugging female curves, die-hard “Fast” fans either won’t notice or simply won’t let it spoil their fun.
Aside from its wayward third installment, the “Fast” series has followed the dangerous exploits of monotone street racer Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), the ex-cop who gradually became Dom’s high-flying partner in crime. The duo’s latest impossible mission takes place in and around Rio de Janeiro’s congested favelas, where Toretto’s crew uses vital information stored on a stolen microchip to rob a sadistic drug kingpin (oily Joaquim de Almeida), all while avoiding Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), the road-raging federal bounty hunter ordered to bring these fugitives to justice.
That may sound like too much plot, but director Justin Lin, helming his third consecutive “Fast” film, has become adept at steering this continuing story around major plot holes as we race toward the next muscular action sequence. Morgan may have constructed a durable heist at the heart of “Fast Five,” but it’s Lin’s elaborately planned and eye-popping automobile stunts — which avoid artificial-looking CGI whenever possible — that butter this movie’s bread.
Characters dangle from the hoods of trucks as they are driven into rapidly moving trains. A footrace across Brazil’s rooftops looks like a large-scale game of Tetris. And the film’s final chase scene, which demolishes most of downtown Rio as two cars drag a multiton safe, will make Michael Bay drool with envy.
Just about every actor previously involved with a “Fast” film returns, so Lin finds a place for cocky Roman (Tyrese Gibson), tech-savvy Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) and mainstay Mia (Jordana Brewster), who has provided eye candy since the first “Fast” in 2001.
Johnson — who I’ll always consider to be The Rock despite his name change — is the film’s notable newcomer, yet he plugs so effortlessly into the franchise’s brash vibe you have to wonder why it took so long for him to be included. His relentless agent is an ideal foil to Diesel’s arrogant crook, and when they clash in a no-holds-barred fistfight, the audience will understand how teenage girls felt when they finally saw Bella kiss Edward in “Twilight.” To borrow a culinary analogy, Rock is chocolate to the “Five” series’ peanut butter. Now that I’ve tasted the two flavors together, I can’t ever imagine them being apart and am excited that Rock appears to be sticking around for future installments.
Oh, there will be more “Fast” films. Stick around through the “Fast Five” credits to learn where the story’s heading next. Producers have suggested in recent interviews that the sixth “Fast” is likely to be the last, but I don’t believe them for a second. Once that aforementioned baby is born, he or she will be groomed to assume the lead role in “Fast” parts nine through 12. By then, I can only assume Walker and Diesel will be infiltrating NASA so they can hijack rockets in outer space.
Contains intense sequences of violence and action, sexual content and language.