Fast Five (Review)
Fast Five injects massive amounts of testosterone and machismo into the Fast & Furious franchise, as well as moving from street racing series into heist film, making for an action flick that delivers on the thrills but falters everywhere else.
I’ve always been a huge fan of car chases in movies. It’s something about taking something as dangerous as cars and pitting them against each other as they weave dangerously through traffic and pedestrians as high speed. Car chases are fast, dangerous, and epic. As much as I love car chases, however, I can’t say I’m a huge fan of cars. That may be why I have never been a huge fan of the Fast & Furious franchise. The absurd sense of car lust never exactly appealed to me, and the street racing action didn’t do enough to make me a believer. However, for Fast Five, the series dispenses completely with the street racing slant of the former films and moves into heist territory. It’s a step in the right direction and marks the first time I’m notably interested in a Fast & Furious film.
Fast Five pick up exactly where the previous film, Fast & Furious, left off: Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) is loaded onto a prison bus to carry out a 25-to-life prison sentence, and is of course saved by his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), and his best friend, former police officer Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker). The trio meets with their friend Vince (Matt Schulze), who has been recruited by a crime lord named Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida) to steal some DEA-possessed cars. Things go sour during the heist and the crew ends up on the wrong side of Reyes and framed for the murder of several DEA agents. This puts them squarely in the crosshairs of the obscenely macho DSS agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), who is notorious for always being able to find the men he hunts. To get revenge on Reyes, Dom recruits and old crew (comprised of characters from across the entire film franchise) in order to steal a safe containing $1oo million that is located in the middle of a police station (because of course it is). What follows is the standard heist movie montage of preparation, comical trial-and-error planning, and witty banter between the ragtag crew.
Like I said, I’ve never been a fan of the Fast & Furious franchise. When the first film, The Fast and the Furious, came out, I enjoyed it well enough but it was not exactly memorable. I didn’t care for the sequel, 2 Fast 2 Furious, but I rather liked Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. The next film, Fast & Furious, just left a bad taste in my mouth and left me disinterested in any further sequels. Fast Five mercifully moves away from the immature street racing scene of the franchise, and focuses on the theft of Reyes’s fortune. There’s even a street race that is hinted at but skipped over in the actual film. I liked this new slant, as the heist film is one that I enjoy as long as it is executed well enough. Unfortunately, while this is a step in the right direction, the film still reads like a laundry list of heist film cliches: the aforementioned montage and ragtag crew, testing various methods for making the heist, and always barely escaping the cops and bad guys. It’s fun, but also very easy to predict what’s going to happen next in the story.
Where Fast Five unmistakably delivers is in the action sequences. Director Justin Lin, who has helmed the franchise since Tokyo Drift, has crafted some extremely entertaining action setpieces for the film, and each of the major ones are undeniably pulse-pounding, from a high-speed car theft aboard a speeding train to an absurd chase through the city streets towing a massive safe between two cars as mobsters and police take chase. In fact, that final chase ranks as one of the most satisfying car chases I’ve seen in an extremely long time. A hand-to-hand fight between Dom and Hobbs late in the film has them destroying tables, shelves, and walls. The action in most of the film has a rather ridiculous edge to it, and it makes for a film that is, at least in the action scenes, a lot of fun.
I say “at least in the action scenes” because the rest of the movie really isn’t as entertaining. The recycled Ocean’s 11 character archetypes are not that funny anymore, and the constant arguing between several of the characters got old really fast, especially in a script that is, at best, lukewarm. Reyes is disappointingly weak as a villain as well, popping up now and then to look menacing or kill one of his henchmen, then disappearing again, and failing to ever create a truly formidable presence. Fast Five also sports the most machismo that I’ve seen in a movie since The Expendables, and coupled with the adolescent male fantasy of fast cars and hot women, it creates the perfect storm of absurdity, and not always in a good way. Dwayne Johnson sports a pair of ridiculously muscular and shiny arms and shouts lines like “If he goes to the john, I want to know how many times he shakes it”. Such displays of masculinity are to be found throughout the film, and are fun for a while, until it really starts to strain the film. It’s a one-note tone that, in a film whose running time exceeds two hours, gets old after a while.
I did enjoy Fast Five, even though the story dragged when things were not crashing or blowing up. Striking that delicate balance between drama and action, and being able to keep the film engaging throughout both, is not easy to do, but it seems like the screenwriters were not even trying. The non-action bits of the film seem culled from the book of heist film cliches and the dialogue appears to have been written by pro wrestlers. I certainly enjoy such absurdity from time to time, but here it borders on idiotic, whereas the “serious” moments were simply boring. Even so, it’s still the best film in the series and certainly worth checking out from some very entertaining action. Just don’t expect to get blown away by anything else.
Score: ***1/2 (out of 5)
Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, sexual content and language.