April 28, 2011

Fast Five

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Fast Five

ACTION/THRILLER:

United States, 2011

U.S. Release Date:

2011-04-29

Running Length:

2:08

MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Violence, Profanity,Sexual Content)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Dwayne Johnson, Joaquim de Almeida, Tyrese Gibson, Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges, Matt Schulze, Sung Kang, Gal Gadot, Tego Calderon, Don Omar, Elsa Pataky

Director:

Justin Lin

Screenplay:

Chris Morgan

Cinematography:

Stephen F. Windon

Music:

Brian Tyler

U.S. Distributor:

Universal Pictures

Subtitles:

none


Ever since Justin Lin took control of The Fast and the Furious franchise with installment #3, he has pushed things in new and sometimes daring directions. With Fast Five, he not only melds balls-to-the-wall comic book action with heist movie dynamics, but divorces things completely from reality. Admittedly, the other four Fast/Furious films had as little respect for the laws of physics as they did for the laws of man, but Fast Five elects to ignore them altogether. Combining that with the violence limitations imposed by the PG-13 rating, death is about as likely as a graphic sex scene.

The summer movie season of 2011 has arrived in much the same manner as many summer movie seasons: with a blaze of moronic action. No one can fault Fast Five for not pumping up the testosterone level, but the previously mentioned disregard for even the most basic realizations of Sir Isaac limit the potential excitement of some of the high octane sequences. Ignoring the rules of physics doesn't make a movie more entertaining; it merely makes the writing easier. If a screenplay can cheat at any time, it encourages sloppy authorship.

Fast Five opens an undetermined time after the fourth installment. The opening sequence is shorter than the one in its predecessor as Brian (Paul Walker) and his girlfriend, Mia (Jordana Brewster), organize a jailbreak for Dominic (Vin Diesel), who is being taken to prison in a bus. A little fancy driving is all that's necessary to flip the bus and spring the criminal. For their efforts, Brian and Mia get their own "Wanted" posters and have to hide out in Rio, although at no point are they shown to be looking for talking animated birds. Instead, their goal is somewhat bigger: the $100 million cash stockpile of a drug kingpin (Joaquim de Almedia). To accomplish that theft, the intrepid trio must assemble a team - a dirty dozen of sorts. However, not only are Dominic, Brian, and Mia at war with the Brazilian drug lord, they are being hunted by an elite United States special agent named Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), whose methods are charitably referred to as "wrath of God" stuff.

Back in the '80s, action picture fans never got the pairing they were hoping for (primarily because finances and egos got in the way): a movie featuring Stallone and Schwarzenegger. When Schwarzenegger stepped out of the action spotlight before entering politics, much was made of who would wear the mantle of his successor. Vin Diesel was an early contender. Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a. "The Rock," was another - in fact, in 2003's The Rundown, Schwarzenegger jokingly passed the baton to Johnson. Over the years, neither Diesel nor Johnson has proven able to rise to the level achieved by Schwarzenegger or Stallone (or, for that matter, Bruce Willis). In fact, the biggest action star of the past ten years is arguably Matt Damon. Nevertheless, action fans will probably get as much of a thrill seeing the two would-be Schwarzenegger successors go at it one-on-one as they did watching the real one finally sharing the screen with Stallone in The Expendables. The scene in which Diesel and the Rock thump and pummel one another is among Fast Five's highlights.

The focus has shifted from cars to burglary. There are still plenty of chases and stunts involving high powered vehicles, but Fast Five is more about the heist than it is about racing. One can make a case that this movie has a closer kinship to The Italian Job and Ocean's Eleven than The Fast and the Furious. The characters are the same but their purpose has shifted. As is almost always true of a heist film, the most enjoyable elements relate to the plotting, rehearsing, and execution of the caper. Those aspects of Fast Five are workmanlike. The over-the-top action sequence "icing" feels like it belongs in another production. It's a lazy way to broaden the audience, avoid disillusioning fans of the franchise, and provide clips for the trailer. Are we supposed to be snickering at the impossibility of the climax, with two souped-up cars dragging a massive safe behind them through city streets? Is Lin going for an adrenaline rush, a laugh, or both? The sequence is too long to be funny and too silly to generate tension.

Although Fast Five tells a complete story, there's no mistaking the promise of a sixth movie at the conclusion. And, speaking of endings, there are more of those than in The Return of the King, as every surviving character is given an epilogue. While Fast Five isn't as long as the fantasy epic, it's at least 30 minutes longer than it needs to be. Perhaps with Fast Six, the metamorphosis begun here will be complete and something interesting will emerge from the chrysalis. For what it is, Fast Five is passably entertaining, although the obligatory qualifier about it being "mindless" must be appended. Why, one wonders, are so many summer movies handicapped by that adjective? Whatever the reason, Fast Five satisfies on a visual and visceral level while leaving the intellectual one cold and shriveled and starving. At least it's not pretentious.

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