April 28, 2011

Fast Five

Between a Rock and a lard face

Grade: C +

Director: Justin Lin

Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Matt Schulze, Sung Kang, Gal Gadot, and Dwayne Johnson

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 2 hr. 10 min.

Maybe I’ve been asleep at the wheel, but when exactly did the Fast and Furious films develop a mythos? For “Fast Five,” director Justin Lin assembles a cross-sectional cast drawn from the franchise’s previous four nitrous-fueled installments, including Tyrese Gibson and Lucadris (2 Fast 2 Furious), Matt Schulze (The Fast and the Furious), and an assortment of lesser-knowns from “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” and Fast & Furious.

The headliners, of course, are Vin Diesel and Jordana Brewster, series originals who resurfaced for 2009’s Fast & Furious, and Paul Walker, who has starred in every film but Tokyo Drift.

That said, it is hard to manufacture genuine nostalgia for a vacuous ten-year old film series built around street car racing. Fast Five boasts truly high-octane action sequences, but it crashes due to defective acting, plot, and dialogue. Like the souped-up racers at the center of these films, Fast Five is loud and flashy, but not very practical.

After executing a live-action version of the animated prison-break kicker at the end of Fast & Furious, Brian O’Conner (Walker), Dominic Toretto (Diesel), and Dominic’s sister Mia (Brewster) escape to Brazil to hide out in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. The ever-available crime job soon calls, however, culminating with a spectacular train heist during which three DEA agents are gunned down and our three expats taking possession of a computer chip–cum-MacGuffin full of mysterious but valuable information.

Brian and Dominic soon find themselves being pursued on one side by Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), a wealth Rio kingpin, and on the other by Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), a DSS federal uber-agent whose rapid-fire, tough-talking lingo smacks of a cross between Johnson’s pro wrestling alter ego “The Rock” and Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive.

One moment Brian, Dominic and Mia are trying to elude Reyes; the next they are deciding to go after him. One moment they are trying to keep a low profile to avoid being located by Hobbs; the next they calling an all-star heist team in the country with designs on breaking into a police station where Reyes is hiding his money. Don’t even try to figure out why they decide to torch a cartful of Reyes’ drug money in order to manipulate him into moving his fortune to a central location – wouldn’t the continued threat of stealing the money accomplish the same purpose?

Lin’s action segments are exhilarating and increasingly outlandish – the final big set piece involves a massive bank vault being slingshot throughout the streets of Rio. In all other respects, however, his direction is predictable and ham-fisted – I counted at least three cutaway shots involving flyovers of the Christ the Redeemer monument. I certainly don’t begrudge Lin for helming his now third lucrative Fast and Furious film – reliable paydays are rare for young filmmakers. But, enough is enough – the good will he engendered for making “Better Luck Tomorrow” is long exhausted.

Fast Five is a cacophony of pretty cars, prettier women, and pretty loud gun fights, which is exactly what anyone going to a Fast and Furious flick expects. However, it’s also the mindless embodiment of American might, both cinematic and militaristic. The byways of a foreign land are little more than a backdrop for imported car chases and glorified lawlessness, supposedly thwarted by jackbooted federals steamrolling local cannon fodder and led by a hulk willing to divert from his assignment long enough to gun down some Brazilian baddie in cold blood, all of it designed to reeve up American theatergoers. For what it’s worth, mission accomplished!

Neil Morris

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