Fast Five Quits Reality, Goes Full Spectacle – Review

Fast Five is great, superb summer entertainment, and a fitting commemoration for the 10th anniversary of the original The Fast and the Furious.  Justin Lin has fashioned himself into a groundbreaking action director in the vein of Michael Bay, and delivers one of the most original action films in recent memory.  Considering the Fast and Furious franchise was on its last legs a few years ago, this is a real renaissance for the series.  The film works because it dispenses with any pretense of reality or seriousness.  The bright primary color palette of the desert and Rio de Janeiro give the movie a feeling of vibrant energy, moving away from the dirge-like tone of the previous entry, Fast and Furious, which had a sense of possibly being the last in the series pending its impressive box office numbers.  The film also benefits heavily from the large budget the studio has invested in the property.

5 Fast 5 Furious favors wide open vistas, huge landscapes that open up possibilities that don’t exist in cramped city streets.  The opening sequence takes place in the rolling hills of California, where Brian O’Conner and Mia Toretto (and a mysterious third person who is never revealed) glide across the highway to free Dominic Toretto by flipping his prison bus in a clearly fatal maneuver.  The camera-work is smooth and the sense of position, movement, and gravity work to great effect, especially as the bus is catapulted over Brian’s car in a huge spectacle.  The story skips ahead to Brazil, where Brian and Mia search for an old friend in the slums of Rio De Janeiro, presented in a sweeping view of steep mountain slopes and mandatory shots circling and lingering on the giant statue of Christ watching over the city.  Some pains are made to connect the image of Christ to the Dominic’s signature crucifix necklace, but the theme of personal sacrifice isn’t delivered on.  Brian and Mia find their old friend Vince from the first film, who quickly provides them the opportunity to steal some cars and make some much needed money.  Vince is portrayed as a possible Judas, but the constant suspicion becomes superfluous before the final act.

As a matter of course, the job goes terribly wrong, and provides an amazing action sequence that sets the bar of destruction for the rest of the film.  The absurdity of the heist and the chaos that ensues makes the scene great.  Brian and Dom flying off a cliff in a Corvette, pursued by a flaming ball of wreckage into the abyss is great (very reminiscent of Vin Diesel driving a Corvette off a bridge and jumping out midair in XXX), and the feeling of weightlessness is conveyed in slow motion freefall.  Dom and Brian are collected by the local drug kingpin, whom they easily escape.  Several DEA agents are killed in the heist, and the pair are wrongly accused for the murders, bringing in Agent Hobbs (played by the Rock) to chase them down with his commando squad.  The story is unimportant for the most part, and only serves to bring about orchestrated orgies of destruction.  The Rock seems better suited to this role than many of his previous films, because it is so similar to his wrestling persona.  Hobbs is a brash, assholish rogue federal agent who specializes in badass sayings and ridiculous acts of murder.  The Rock is finally starting to truly deliver on his action star potential.

Hobbs and generic Drug Kingpin are both chasing down Dom and Brian and often clash in ways that allow the pair to escape.  When Hobbs and his team have shootouts with masked gangs in the streets, the result is highly competent and entertaining action, if not as creative as the driving sequences.  At about this time, the film pulls in many characters from the past, Tyrese and Ludacris providing the best dividends in comic relief and charisma.  The film has moved into heist genre territory at this point, though Justin Lin is kind enough to throw in a few street racing nods.  After all, if you’re planning to rob a police station, why wouldn’t you steal some police cars and race them with lights and sirens on, four cars abreast, through the middle of the city?  Brian O’Conner’s discovery of Mia’s pregnancy is used to push a creaky theme of the importance of family, with Dominic cast as a father figure watching over his flock.  Thankfully this dispenses the uncomfortable homosexual tension which has existed between Brian and his obsession with Dom since the first film.  The new responsibilities of fatherhood have Brian thinking about his financial needs, and the story arc is hinged on the characters’ quest for freedom and security.  This propels the story into the theft of the Drug Kingpin’s hundred million dollars.

After a huge fight between Dom and Hobbs (clearly the Rock could easily kick Vin Diesel’s ass) and an ambush of Hobb’s prisoner convoy (kudos for the near silent bass explosion), the team is ready for the third act finale.  The theft of the vault, tied to the back of two Chargers and towed through the streets of Rio, is a very original concept, and the movie delivers plenty of “oh shit” moments that are truly incredible.  The path of destruction carved through the city is amazing, the arc of the vault careening into cop cars and buildings.  It is hard to conceive of how these scenes were shot, the effects all appear to be practical (there are few moments in the film you notice the CGI effects).  It is a breathtaking sequence, and the sheer number of cars destroyed is astounding.  By the final last stand on an ocean bridge, the carcasses of immolated vehicles stretch far into the distance.  All the cops that died are no big deal, they were corrupt anyway, and probably didn’t even have wives and children, either.  And by the way, Dom’s “cursed” Challenger has been crashed, blown up, and destroyed going on four times now, and they have no problem not only repairing it but transporting it through South America?…just saying.

The film fails to have any dramatic impact because of an unwillingness to sacrifice main characters.  The status quo isn’t changed in preparation for 6 Fast 6 Furious, which is already being written.  Wait until after the credits for a reveal that sets up the next film.  Long ago I predicted that there would be a Fast and Furious film set in Europe, wherein we find Dom and Brian chasing down a nuke on the Autobahn, and that seems to be exactly where the series is headed.  Still, this is clearly the best of the series thanks to a huge budget, and a director who has been steadily improving his skills, making a huge leap forward with this entry.  The movie is solidly entertaining from start to finish, and offers something you haven’t seen before.  Hopefully the next movie will be titled Fast and Furious Forever.