Fast Five (**1/2)

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"Fast Five" is cheesy and ridiculous, but the franchise is finally entertaining...

On the way to the screening for “Fast Five”, it dawned on me that not only is this the fifth film in the “Fast and the Furious” franchise, but it also turns the franchise a decade old.  There are occasional moments I have enjoyed sure, but by and large, I have rarely liked these films and have hardly, if ever, given these films a second thought after finishing one.  Until now.

“Fast Five” is a surprise; albeit one which arrived with tempered expectations.  Easily the finest film in the series, “Fast Five” is, at times, wildly entertaining and much better than it probably has any right to be.  Sparing a rehash of the franchise, I am going to assume that if you are reading this, you have a basic understanding of the storylines presented thus far.  So, with that said…

Dominic (Vin Diesel) is headed for prison to serve 25-years to life after surrendering to authorities following all of the heists and killings he has been associated with.  Former FBI agent Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) leads the charge in freeing Dominic, orchestrating an incredibly elaborate plan to overturn the prison bus and allow he, Dominic, and Dominic’s sister and his girlfriend, Mia (Jordana Brewster), the chance to relocate to Rio de Janiero to begin a new life.  All goes to plan except Dominic is not in Rio as scheduled, so Brian and Mia stay with their old friend, Vince (Matt Schulze).  Under the expectation that Dominic either bowed out of the plan or did not make it, Brian and Mia take a job for Vince, which requires stealing three cars from a heavily guarded train.  Vince’s motives may not be the most honest and it turns out he has ties to a vicious kingpin, Reyes (Joaquim de Almedia).  The cars are seized property by the U.S. Federal Government and as the heist is set to go down, Dom arrives.

Needless to say things fail to go smoothly and although Mia is able to get away, Dom and Brian become imprisoned by Reyes and his henchman.  Corollary to these happenings, the theft of the cars triggers the attention of Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), a top level Federal agent who assembles a team to find those responsible for attempting to steal the seized vehicles.  Hobbs arrives, surprisingly selects a local rookie officer, Elena (Elsa Pataky), and begins his investigation.  Able to escape from Reyes’ henchmen, Dom and Brian find a safehouse, reconnect with Mia, and assemble their own team of thieves and talented drivers,  Naturally, the team comprises familiar faces from the previous films and the crew conspire to bring down Reyes, steal $100 million from his holdings in Rio de Janiero, and then retire once and for all, going “off the grid”.

Again, the fact that “Fast Five” is as enjoyable and entertaining as it is caught me completely by surprise.  I have no real dislike for the previous films but I have never really enjoyed them all that much either.  I was dazzled the first time I saw the amazing stunt racing and chase sequences which have been the franchise’s trademark, but the wooden acting, contrived storylines, and uninteresting dialogue seemed to make each film a distant and immediate memory as soon as the credits appeared on screen.

When the series lost the Walkers, Brewsters, and Diesels briefly and shifted to Tokyo for an ill advised reboot of the franchise, I really believed the series had seen its end.  Audiences were largely uninterested in the “Tokyo Drift” edition, but those who saw it and/or caught it on home video saw the return of Diesel’s Dominic Tarretto at the very end.  This, of course, set the stage for 2009’s “Fast & Furious”, which became the largest grossing film in the franchise and greenlighted this fifth edition.  And so expectedly, the band is back
together with “Fast Five” and everyone seems to be having a whole lot of fun here.

As engaging as the characters are this time around, there is one notable addition to the ensemble…Dwayne Johnson.  The Rock.  And while I perhaps should not heap praise on one actor for saving a franchise’s credibility, his presence infuses a different style and feel to the proceedings.  Johnson’s charismatic turn as Hobbs finally gives this series the something extra that I, for one, have not seen previously; a swagger, a different kind of cool maybe, which makes this a lot more interesting from start to finish.

But don’t get me wrong, the film is quite silly in parts in ways both good and bad.  Chris Morgan’s dialogue at times hits with the subtlety of a brick and the film is excessively long at 130 minutes.  And yet, I saw a different approach being taken this time around.  The opening 20-25 minutes is rather laborious to get through but once a ridiculous and over-plotted action sequence concludes with Walker and Diesel leaping from a car and into a river, the film hits its stride and races on by.  Justin Lin, now three films into the series, has cut his teeth on these films and has become quite the accomplished action director.

Largely “Fast Five”‘s success comes from Chris Morgan finally delivering some effective comedy and Justin Lin finding a way to help this the ensemble take a connective stride together.  As wooden and unconvincing as the dialogue can be and scenes involving Diesel and Pataky are especially cringe-inducing, there are moments of laugh-out-loud hilarity in the interplay between Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris, Johnson’s interactions with the members of his team, and the (un)fortunate recurring circumstance that one of Reyes’ hitmen finds himself in over and over again.  Later, when the film moves into its climactic final minutes, all the frayed elements tie together and “Fast Five” delivers one of the most inspired and entertaining action sequences I have seen in quite some time.  Oh, it’s over the top and completely unbelievable, but a success in terms of finally providing me with a memory I can take away from the series.

“Fast Five” can be easily dismissed as another empty-headed, banal, car chase/action movie and if you have been resistant to the other 4 films in the series, I understand that rather merited point of view.  However, as resistant as I was to this film, it kind of won me over by the end.  Maybe it was Johnson.  Maybe it was Lin finally finding his feet with this material and this cast, or maybe if you try something again and again…and again and again, you can finally get something right.  “Fast Five” is a nice kick off to the summer season of big-budget studio offerings and while it is hardly a great film, it delivers a lot of popcorn-fueled entertainment.

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My love of film began at the age of 7 when my parents not only gave me a television, but HBO to boot. My first theatrical experience was "E.T." My first movie cry came with "Old Yeller". "The Usual Suspects" made me decide to make movies and film writing a priority in life, even knowing the twist beforehand. My passion for film, music, and pop culture in general can be isolated to my youth. My love for film took root in high school. Above all else, movies and art, in any form, exist to entertain and I remain much more interested in how art affects others, more than with myself. But I love the conversation and to have a chance to share my thoughts and be a part of the community here is a unique and enriching experience.