a critiQal film review Fast Five (2011)

Plot: Since Brian (Walker) and Mia Toretto (Brewster) broke Dom (Diesel) out of custody, they’ve blown across many borders to elude authorities. Now backed into a corner in Rio de Janeiro, they must pull one last job in order to gain their freedom.

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After seeing The Fast and the Furious (2001), I figured it was another one-off for acting thug Vin Diesel. Sure, it had nice cars, but such awful acting and thin plot, it looked to quickly go the way of xXx (2002) – nowhere.

But, just as xXx (2002) survived Diesel to make a sequel he didn’t show up in, The Fast and the Furious (2001) spun into a non-Diesel 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003), and another, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006) (where Diesel popped up only in a cameo appearance).

After the success of those sequels, Diesel signed on again for Fast & Furious (2009), the 4th film in the series…and the result didn’t turn out half bad.

So now that the series has survived into a 5th film despite Vin Diesel’s return, would fans keep clamoring for more when Fast Five hit, or would Diesel once again run the series into the ground?

As expected, Vin Diesel’s thug is very little changed from the last time we saw him. He’s still ridiculous at trying to show emotion (barely eking by Schwarzenegger’s cyborg in The Terminator (1984) in that category). Thankfully, those sequences are kept to a minimum, leaving viewers only one or two chances to guffaw as Diesel tries to showcase some sort of emotion. But, when he’s still a natural at playing a dumb thug, and Fast Five gives him plenty of opportunities to do that.

Paul Walker, who went on from the disappointment of The Fast and the Furious (2001) to headline the first sequel, continued into Running Scared (2006), and managed to gain some viewer appreciation with that adrenaline-fueled thriller. After a brief foray into the silly but fun Into the Blue (2005), he basically dropped off the radar. In Fast Five, he’s a bit rusty and it shows. Thankfully, he only looks awkward in the sequences he’s not behind the wheel, and those are (again) few and far between.

Jordana Brewster returns as well, but seems to be around only to add a bit to the continuing storyline. With that part played, she seems to jump around from sequence to sequence just looking for something to contribute.

The viewer definitely gets a sense the filmmakers are trying to tie the whole series into Fast Five, as the viewer is treated to several returning characters from different sequels, including Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris and Sung Kang, among others.

One of the only newcomers is Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, and, as usual, he’s a welcome addition. He does dumb it down a bit this time around, not playing quite up to his usual caliber of performance, but with his new bigger and dumber attitude, he mixes well with Diesel. It’s pumped-up thug vs. pumped-up thug, and it’s nice to watch somebody go toe-to-toe with Diesel. Sure, he may be the easily stronger of the two, but as an ex-WWE star, Johnson knows how to fight to make his opponent look good – and he puts it to good use in Fast Five.

The storyline, as usual, is contrived and a bit nonsensical, with the characters being easily moved from sequence to sequence (especially during the setup of the film) without anything more than a simple gloss-over explanation as to their odd actions. After a quick series of ridiculous coincidences, they arrive at the gist of the film, and there let throwaway sequences (like a villainous board meeting) to let the characters explain the plot for them.

But, really, The Fast & The Furious series has always played quite loosely with silly details like plot. Instead, they devise reasons (however silly) to justify the need for insane car driving sequences, and then let the cars when over the viewers.

That same idea holds true in Fast Five, where the car sequences are taken up a notch. Sure, they aren’t quite as intricate as those seen in Fast & Furious (2009), but when the viewer gets to the culmination of the flick, where two cars are chained to a massive vault careening through city streets with a load of cops on their tail, really, plot becomes less relative. As the vault crashes through everything in it’s path, and the drivers use some interesting techniques to take out their opponents, viewers will sit back, munch on popcorn, and enjoy themselves, and not worry about how shaky the foundation leading up to that point was.

Maybe it’s that Fast Five never leaves the viewer in doubt it’s going to be over the top. From the very first sequence, where a convoluted prison escape leaves a path of destruction that, despite all laws of physics, leaves no one with as much as a scratch, the viewer knows they are stepping into a world where real world laws – including little things like gravity and realism – don’t exist.

At it’s best, Fast Five is an over-the-top adrenaline rush with a hint of nostalgia. By pulling stars from past films, they tie things together neatly from this all-over-the-map series, and hit the gas on escapism.

As anyone who has seen any of the films in this series can attest, if you go into this looking for a strong plot, solid acting or even an attempt at believability, you’ll be sorely disappointed. If you’re just looking for a thinly-veiled stunt car demonstration flick, however, you’ve come to the right place, and should get a shot of adrenaline from watching Fast Five.

And, with a sequel already in the works (another ridiculous plot twist is revealed during the credits that setups up the next film, Fast & Furious 6 (2013), the adrenaline rush isn’t quite over for fans of this series.

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