Let’s cut to the chase here shall we? Fast Five is a stupid, overly long, and poorly written movie with moronic dialogue, plot contrivances big enough to fit both of the bald giants above through, and a complete disregard for right, wrong, and the sanctity of human life. More on all of that in a minute, but the other half of this equation is that it also features some kick-ass, high energy, destructive-as-hell action scenes that rattle the walls of the theater and happily remind you that there are still filmmakers capable of crafting spectacular cinematic mayhem without relying on CGI to do all the heavy lifting.
So you can see my dilemma…
Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is on a bus loaded with “high risk” convicts, and he’s heading to jail for the next few decades. His crime? Being awesome. His friends, including ex-cop Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) and skeletal sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), are also all kinds of awesome and “rescue” him by flipping the bus on a long stretch of desert highway. We see them next in Rio de Janeiro where the trio lays low by taking part in a daring act of grand theft auto off of a moving train. When some federal agents from the US are killed during the robbery the wrath of the FBI comes down on the group in the form of bad-ass Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson).
Facing this new pressure Dom and his friends decide to lay low again… by robbing Rio’s most notorious and powerful drug lord of $100 million in cash. They call in several recognizable faces from the Fast & Furious series to help with the heist including Tej (Ludacris), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), and Han (Sung Kang) as well as a non-sausagey addition in the form of the very easy on the eyes Gisele (Gal Gadot). Together they plan and prepare for an elaborate scheme to steal the cash which eventually leads to a Dom/Hobbs showdown and an epic race for their lives through the streets of the city.
Fast Five is not a smartly written film. Hell, it barely reaches the heights of asinine. The dialogue is a humorous mix of verbal high fives, drawled speeches about family, and ridiculously out of place bits meant to lighten the mood like when Hobbs arrives in Rio full of vengeance and bluster and is told there’s good news and bad news. “You know I like my dessert first,” he says before following it up with “now give me my veggies.” Brian and Mia arrive in Rio flat broke, or “running on fumes” as he says in a bid to keep his street cred, but while the rest of the team shares his desperate need for money they seem to have no problems securing all manner of props, costumes, schematics, gas, weapons, R/C cars, and more. I realize you need to spend money to make money, but things scream past preposterous when they have a giant, top of the line bank vault seemingly shipped overnight to their secret warehouse for practice.
It begs the question how are they getting all of this shit, including the team of known criminal associates, into the country without anyone noticing? We’re told Hobbs is the best but he never thought to watch the airports or monitor communications? And as much as the film tries to leave its street-racing past behind in favor of an Oceans 11-type vibe it still comes down to pure brawn and brute force.
Which brings us to both film’s greatest strength and biggest weakness (and the point where someone calls me an old fuddy-duddy). It’s a fantastic surprise when a big Summer movie comes packed with brains and action, but audiences will settle for spectacle in lieu of smarts. What shouldn’t be acceptable though are the casual murders and (unseen) collateral human damage perpetrated by our supposed heroes. The film is careful to note after the opening bus crash to free Dom that none of the violent criminals were hurt, but it gleefully kills off dozens of Rio’s police officers during the massive car chase at the end.
A chase scene which, admittedly, is pretty goddamn amazing.
But police cars are smashed, crashed, flipped, crushed, decapitated, sunk, and more and we’re meant to cheer the officers’ deaths because Rio’s policemen are probably corrupt. Just don’t think about the fact that they’re doing their job and chasing criminals. And don’t give thought to all of the widows and orphaned children. Or to the off-screen but almost guaranteed civilian lives lost during this wide swath of mayhem and destruction. Or the idea that even if no one was killed they could easily have been, and our heroes don’t seem to give a damn.
It’s just a movie! It’s meant to be fun! You’re over-thinking it! Stop being an asshat!
The biggest and best aspect of director Justin Lin’s third entry in the F&F franchise is his gleeful use of practical effects and action. Gone are the CGI cars and fairly boring races from point A to B. Instead we’re treated to muscle cars that feel like they have real weight and power behind them, vehicular destruction that would make John Landis proud, and physical mayhem that tears through buildings, bus stops, trees, and more. The monster flatbed truck used during the train robbery alone is cooler than any vehicle in any movie last year. The out-of-car action fares slightly less well as Lin shoots so much of it too tight on the actors, but even so the rooftop chase is still the best of its kind since Daniel Craig went all parkour in Casino Royale. The fight between Diesel and Johnson is of the knock-down-drag-out variety and it’s great fun to watch. More scenes like these and less of these jokers talking about how important family is or planning for details of the heist that never come to pass and the film would have been far better.
Depending on who you ask this is either the third or fourth entry in the Fast & Furious series’ time line. Speaking as someone who may or may not have seen at least two of the previous installments I can say with almost complete uncertainty that the time line is irrelevant. Fans will eat it all up, but even non-fans should have some fun and be entertained by the quality and quantity of physical destruction, the bald-headed brawl between Diesel and Johnson, and the thrilling rooftop chase. It’s everything else that happens across the film’s two hour run-time that will leave many viewers stuck idling in neutral. (Sorry, contractually obligated to include at least one car-based metaphor in this review.)
The Upside: Foot chase through Rio slums is pretty exciting; final car chase features some fairly spectacular vehicular carnage; Rock vs Diesel brawl; handful of small laughs; practical effects trump CGI
The Downside: Many of the action scenes come in two varieties, utterly ridiculous or shot so tightly as to be indecipherable; our ‘heroes’ are responsible for the deaths of dozens of police officers, but don’t worry, they were probably corrupt; film could have shaved twenty minutes or so by cutting some of the helicopter flyovers of the giant Jesus statue; script is stupid with a capital ‘D’
On the Side: Be sure to stay through the end credits for an extra scene and a familiar face or two.